A “mindful” journey through the ruins of WWII in Cologne
  • Europe /
  • Germany /
  • Cologne

Discovering the remains of the city that was bombed and destroyed over ninety per cent of its entirety

Old St. Alban
Air-view of the city in 1945.
(by Adam Jones, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Air-view of the city in 1945.

During the Second World War, the first bombs fell on Cologne on 18 June 1940. The British RAF’s Bomber Command intensified the air war from 1942 onwards. At the end of May 1942, Operation Millennium was responsible for the air raid with over 1,000 Allied bombers that also hit the centre of Cologne. Later, on 29 June 1943, what remained of the city was again heavily hit by Royal Air Force planes at night and by USAAF bombers during the day. 

However, the maximum use of fire bombings (i.e. firestorms) planned by the British Bomber Command had no immediate effect. The use of disruptive bombs penetrating underground served to destroy water pipes to prevent the fire brigade from putting out fires. Still, in the first attacks on 30 May 1942, the proximity of the Rhine River prevented the unleashing of a large fire cloud. On that occasion, 1,700 small fires started by 12,000 outbreaks destroyed only 3,300 buildings. It took the following 261 attacks to annihilate 90 per cent of the city centre during the entire war. Over such an extended period, Cologne also became the “dumping ground” for excess bombs during the round trips of British bombers over Germany.

During the attacks between 16 June and 9 July 1944, the second raid killed 4,377 people and destroyed a 1,900-year-old historical heritage in 77 minutes.

The ruins of Old St. Alban Church still stand in memory of these disastrous events. An Allied bomb hit it during the 1945 raids, destroying more than four hundred years of history and art. The ruins of this medieval church remind us that work and centuries of history can be erased in a second, but what cannot be erased is its remembrance. Its ruins remain in the memory of the prisoners of war, the civilians and soldiers killed, and as a testament to the devastation and madness of war.

The pillars and bays of the hall and apses with window openings are still visible; the windows and roofs are missing. On 23 December 1954, Cardinal Frings permitted utilising the church’s holy ground to erect a monument to the dead of the world wars on its ruins.

The kneeling figure, entitled ‘Mourning Parents’, is a replica of a statue located in the German war cemetery in Vladso, Belgium. The artist is Kathe Kollwitz.


1. Antoniterkirche

2. Old St. Alban

3. St. Kolumba

4. NS-Documentation Centre

5. Cologne Cathedral