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

NS-Documentation Centre
(by Bryan MacKinnon, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(by Bryan MacKinnon, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

The Cologne Documentation Centre on National Socialism (NS-Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Köln) is the former headquarters of the Gestapo here in Cologne. Today it is a museum created following a resolution of the Cologne city council on 13 December 1979. It has become the most significant regional memorial museum for the victims of Nazism in Germany, documenting the atrocities of the Third Reich. 

The Cologne Gestapo, in May 1941, ordered the rounding up of more than 6,000 Jewish residents remaining in Cologne; they were locked up in so-called ‘Judenhäuser’, buildings or quarters dedicated to their isolation. By the end of the same year, almost the entire Jewish population of the city was ghettoised in the Cologne-Müngersdorf deportation camp. From here, they were destined for the abomination: deportation to the notorious extermination camps of occupied Eastern Europe. Trains connecting the ghetto to these destinations of no return departed from Cologne to the Messelager Köln. 

The Gestapo used the building from 1935 to 1945 as an administrative centre and prison with ten cells. The structure survived the war without being bombed, remaining virtually intact. The ten cells were housed in cellars and used for interrogations and the incarceration of those judged to be ‘enemies’ of Nazi Germany.

Up to 30 people were crammed into these small spaces in terrible and inhuman hygienic conditions. The prisoners were subjected to torture, through which the Gestapo extracted confessions from prisoners. The tour of this facility includes a historical review that explains and illustrates the course of events in Germany and the role of this notorious headquarters of the Nazi secret service. During the visit, one can admire unique shots that immortalise the devastation of the Cologne bombing, yet another and final act of violence before the war’s end. 

With the pressure of the Allied advance in the final moments of the war, Nazi officers ordered the murder of more than hundreds of people in the inner courtyard of the same building. The latters were in fact held at hard labour inside the facility as foreigners, prisoners of war and persecuted. 

This stage is an essential word of mouth and symbol of the atrocities towards minorities persecuted by the Gestapo during WWII.

We now make our way to the last and most famous building in Cologne, which miraculously was spared from destruction: the so-called Kölner Dom.


1. Antoniterkirche

2. Old St. Alban

3. St. Kolumba

4. NS-Documentation Centre

5. Cologne Cathedral