Meet in Green Cologne

October 25, 2019

IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

Cologne (in German, Köln) is Germany’s fourth largest city and the historic, cultural, and economic capital of the Rhineland. Its prime position on the intersection of the Rhine and a major east-west land trade route made it a key inland port and industry hub centuries ago, while the remains of the Three Wise Men, held in its cathedral, gave it religious significance. These qualities attracted new residents and visitors, establishing the city as a centre of culture, learning and art too.


Today, Cologne is home to a future-proof mix of industries and describes itself as a “cosmopolitan and modern metropolis”. However, its Inner City still holds reminders of its historic past. The seeds of the city were sown when the Romans established a fortified settlement here in 19 BCE, then declared it a colony (Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium; ‘Colonia’) in 50 CE. Cologne’s Roman Tower, with its well-preserved mosaic decoration, was built in that period and you can also see the foundations of the Roman governor’s residence, which were uncovered under the Rathaus (city hall).




IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

Cologne Cathedral, Germany’s most visited attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, towers over the city. Built between 1248 and 1880, it’s the third highest church in the world and boasts amazing art and stunning stained glass windows. Its relics of The Three Wise Men are protected by the Domschweizer, the Cathedral's version of Swiss Guards.


Alter Markt and Heumarkt form the attractive centre of the traditional trade and handicrafts neighbourhood, and you’ll find fountains and monuments in the Old Town too, alongside rustic narrow alleyways lined with breweries, restaurants, museums and traditional old houses.


Cologne is an accessible city, easy to reach by high-speed train connections and less than 15 minutes by train from Köln Bonn Airport, which has its own train station and offers flights to over 130 destinations, while Frankfurt and Düsseldorf Airports are less than an hour away. Trans-European bus lines run to Cologne and of course, you can always travel there by ship along the Rhine!


With this accessibility in its favour, not to mention its fame as a place of diversity, history, pilgrimage business, recently the city has turned its attention to showing the world it’s not just a great place for a holiday, but also an ideal place for sustainable meetings and events.



IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

A green city of gardens


Cologne is bustling, yet there are plenty of green spaces to enjoy nature and a little peace and quiet. A large part of the city’s footprint is parkland, open areas, woods, lakes and sports facilities. The Rhine Park is adjacent to the Congress-Centrum Koelnmesse and there are two major parklands roughly aligned with the old concentric fortifications: the Outer Greenbelt, a wooded area stretching for miles around the city’s western and southern edges, and inner parklands that include zoological and botanical gardens.


That’s not quite enough green space for a city set on sustainability, though, and students and lecturers from the University of Cologne, together with residents, are transforming urban areas into green oases via the Urban Gardening Project. Alongside this scheme is the Urban Gardening Manifests project, working in environmental education, biodiversity and sustainability while involving the community in preserving and developing green spaces.


Gardens need biodiversity to thrive and the City works with the HonigConnection, a project promoting and supporting bees and beekeepers, to increase green spaces and reduce ‘insect poverty’. Last year, the project inspired 20 youth centres to plant 10,000 crocuses.





IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

A vision for a sustainable future


Cologne is a hotbed of collaborative projects working towards greater sustainability. One of the largest is SmartCity Cologne, bringing together individuals, companies and associations to develop ideas and technologies to make Cologne an even better place to live. Launched in 2011 by the City and local energy provider Rhein-Energie AG, the project works to promote more conscious and sustainable use of energy. Another project, Cologne Global-Sustainable by Allerwelthaus Köln, aims to raise awareness of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and bring about local implementation.


Together with the Cologne Municipal Sustainability Alliance, they’re bringing people together to call for sustainable development—and for political commitment to sustainability rather than just individual.


Zero Waste is a network trying to reduce Cologne’s waste. It organises events, campaigns and workshops to raise awareness and encourages people to work together for a “zero waste Cologne”. Alongside Plastic2Beans, a Cologne-based start-up promoting plastics recycling in Ethiopia, Zero Waste runs a “garbage-free, sustainable and social” pop-up café in the summer.



IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

Cologne’s also the perfect setting for numerous businesses with sustainability at their core. The Ship, which will be Germany’s most digitalized office building, is earmarked for completion by 2020. It will bring together creators and doers, providing a platform for developing new approaches, products and services. It’s the brainchild of the founders of Fond Of Bags, a bag brand that’s now also a platform for sustainability and development of potential in services, products and people. It’s also the parent company of several other businesses, including Funktion Schnitt, which sells high-quality, made-to-last tops made from sustainable, anti-allergenic, skin-friendly and naturally antibacterial materials.


GS1 Germany supports other businesses in their efficiency and sustainability efforts, setting standards for everything from procurement to sales. They award their Pro Planet label to goods from companies that have significantly improved in the hotspots of their product category, while their non-profit Lean and Green initiative certifies participating companies that have successfully reduced their carbon footprint.




IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

Hosting your sustainable event in Cologne


Germany’s event industry has its own sustainability code, Fairpflichtet (Right and Fair), which stakeholders are encouraged to adopt, showing their commitment to economic, ecological and social responsibility.


Green venues and accommodation


Cologne’s signatories include KölnKongress GmbH, which operates eight venues of varying size. They range from the historic Gürzenich, which dates from 1447, to the more modern Congress Centre Koelnmesse. Some of the venues can be used together and each is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and cutting edge technology. The Tanzbrunnen Köln, with its theatre, open-air grounds and the Rheinterrassen is ideal for open-air events or concerts for up to 12,500 spectators.


For something a little different, why not hold your event at the Zoo? With a maximum capacity of 400 people indoors and 1,000 outdoors, it’s a spacious venue offering sustainably sourced food, meat from guaranteed animal-friendly sources, 100% organic hot drinks and MSC-certified fish. Or you could hold your smaller event at Canyon Chorweiler, the nation's first non-profit district workshop and climbing hall. Run on green electricity, this venue offers meeting facilities, a range of organic products in its bistro, and a built-in breakout activity--the high ropes course in the climbing hall! Another novel location is Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld, located in three arches below a train station, which relies on green electricity and offers two conference rooms. If you’re a cinema lover, though, GLORIA might appeal. This re-purposed 1950s cinema has won the Green Club Award and uses energy-saving light and sound equipment. Cutting edge technology meets vintage flair!


The Food Forum & Nachhaltigkeit is an event venue, a co-working space for start-ups focused on sustainable food, and a sales agency for eco-friendly products. Book your event here and you may get to try the German-made sustainable snacks they’re promoting. Nomoo ice-cream (literally ‘no-cow’) is vegan, and free of artificial additives and plastic packaging. With every small cup you eat, you’re protecting 121 cm² of rainforest. If you’re feeling adventurous, try a Swarm energy bar too, made from dates and insect protein!




IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

Conference facilities are offered by several well-known hotel chains in Cologne, allowing you to use the same venue for your event and delegate accommodation. The Radisson hotel group has a long-standing commitment to sustainability and each hotel has a unique Responsible Business Action Plan. The carbon footprint of each meeting is calculated and offset through First Climate, which supports sustainable development projects and investments. Radisson Meetings focuses on minimising food waste and eliminating single-use plastics. The group’s Park Inn, Köln City West, holds a Green Key certification and the Radisson BLU Cologne has charging stations for electric cars.


The Marriott group are working towards their own 2025 Sustainability and Social Impact Goals alongside the UN SDGs. The Cologne Marriott has already installed LED lighting, motion-detector controlled lighting in many areas, and a waste separation system. They no longer carry straws or plastic-packed snacks and have reduced their use of PET bottles. The hotel participates in Earth Hour every year and has an e-car charging station in its underground car park. Its sister hotel, The Courtyard by Marriott, gets much of its power from its rooftop solar panels.


The Pullman brand is part of the Accor group, whose PLANET 21 initiative lists 21 “commitments for a better world”. Cologne’s Pullman Hotel offers a Green Meeting conference room rate and has beehives on the rooftop, from which it makes its own honey, and an e-car charging station. It’s committed to increasing its use of local produce, as is the Hilton Hotel. The Hilton already uses mostly regional products from local suppliers, and for new meetings and events bookings for October, they will donate the cost of every 10th delegate to "Plant-for-the-Planet" for tree-planting.


The 25hours hotel The Circle is a novel circular building overlooking the Cathedral, offering guests free bike rental, care products from Stop the Water, and sustainability-friendly Canvasco or Freitag bags to use during their stay, while the Ameron Hotel Regent Köln has a robust recycling policy that separates all types of waste. The hotel also reduces water waste, energy usage and its carbon footprint by using regulators on taps, extensive LED lighting, and regional produce where possible.


Dorint Hotels are now a member of the International Tourism Partnership (ITP), which has set global sustainability goals for 2030, including targets for youth employment, water management, human rights and the reduction of CO2 emissions.



IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

Green food and drink


There are plenty of sustainable options for catering your event or eating out in Cologne. Broich Catering & Locations takes sustainability seriously and was the first caterer worldwide to receive the Green Globe certification. It uses crooked but delicious organic, regional produce, reducing food waste and boosting income for producers.


Lemonpie is a certified German Sustainable Company, using 100% green electricity and regional produce while working hard to reduce paper waste and ensuring all their business vehicles are energy-efficient. The company provides catering services and event management, with 15 years’ experience in organising bespoke events of all sizes. They offer a range of venues, including the former Butzweilerhof airport (now Motorworld, home to the private collection of Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher) and the MMC TV and Film Studios.


Kirberg Catering’s menus are based on seasonal and regional products, reducing food miles. They hold sustainability awards and organic certifications, focusing on upcycling, energy-saving production, precise transport planning, and waste prevention and separation for energy production through organic waste. Their disposable tableware is made from natural raw materials and their straws are made from corn starch. They also introduced the Dank Augusta concept in the Botanical Garden of the Flora, offering delicious foods at a bar where people can fill a picnic bag and enjoy eating their picnic on the restaurant's terrace. For a more sustainable cup of coffee, try Hey! Coffee or Caffee Gliss. Hey! Coffee only uses plastic-free, biodegradable coffee cups and, wherever possible, regional products. Their office runs on green electricity and some of the vehicles run on environmentally friendly gas. At Caffee Gliss, only exclusive roasts from local, pesticide-free and herbicide-free farms are used, and each coffee can be traced from cup to tree.




IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

If coffee isn’t enough, wander to Bunte Burger or track down one of their food trucks, serving certified organic drinks and vegan dishes, or try Kaffee & Kuchen, whose motto is “slow food and full taste”. It offers plenty of freshly-prepared vegan options and a different lunch menu every day. For a retro feel, try Café Vevi in the Belgian quarter, serving vegan-only cuisine (including homemade muesli bars!) in a vintage setting. Déli & Smooth prides itself on health food, all of which is vegetarian or vegan, including vegan breakfast waffles and exotic lattes like their pink rosewater latte. Vietnamese vegetarian and vegan dishes are on the menu at Chum Chay, tucked away in a small courtyard in the city centre, but if you prefer a buffet-style meal, try Sattgrün, where everything from curries and pasta to cakes and puddings is vegan, GM-free, cholesterol-free and lactose-free, or the Peacock Green Deli, where dishes are cooked fresh daily, using high-quality, regionally-sourced produce.


At Edelgrün, the base menu is vegetarian, but meat and fish can be added to any dish and local, seasonal, ethically-sourced produce is used in their smoothies, snacks and main meals. Spatz uses mainly organic and local produce in its freshly prepared dishes, from cookies to crunchy salad bowls, while the Nale restaurant focuses on healthy, locally-sourced ingredients and eco-friendly packaging and storage. Both offer options not just for vegans and vegetarians, but meat-lovers too.

IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

Greener ways to get around


Most of Cologne's metropolitan area is a low emission zone, cutting pollution in the city centre. KVB runs Cologne’s bus and tram services and is a member of the international sustainable development charter (UITP). It’s working towards an environmentally-friendly fleet and ensuring that all its electricity comes from green sources, and is adding 50 more e-buses to its fleet in 2021. It offers online ticket buying that reduces paper waste. KVB also offer a bicycle rental system, called KVB-Rad, with bikes bookable via an app or a phone call. The CongressTicket is a discounted travel card that allows conference organisers and participants to unlimited 2nd class travel on public transport within a selected area, with a minimum order of 50 tickets.


Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s train operator, focuses on reducing greenhouse gases and plan to at least halve their emissions of greenhouse gases by 2030, and regularly measure and publish their CO2 footprint. DB Railway Event Tickets, offered in partnership with the Cologne Convention Bureau, get you to Cologne from anywhere within Germany for as little as €54.90, travelling on Deutsche Bahn’s long-distance trains (which consume only green electricity).


Then there's the KölnCard, which can be bought at the Cologne Tourist Board and includes free public transport within Cologne and up to 50% off at many museums, restaurants, shops and attractions.




IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

Cologne: the perfect place to breakout


What’s your ideal incentive or breakout activity?


You could wander around any of the city’s more than 40 museums, more than 130 galleries, 12 large Romanesque churches or, of course, Cologne Cathedral, take a city tour by rickshaw or bike or get real historical insight on a TimeRide tour, which takes you 100 years back in time as you sit in an old tram and travel the old tram line, from the banks of the Rhine to Alter Markt, with the aid of Virtual Reality glasses. For a different kind of tour, try #urban CGN Ehrenfeld — a Street Art & Street Life tour that examines how this innovative industrial area has transformed into an upcoming area for creativity and nightlife – or the sound of #urbanana Pop Trail, which leads you around 17 of the city’s musical, legendary hotspots and tells their tales.


The Rhine has many beautiful riverside villages to explore, but with Greencentive, you could have the chance to keep the river and its surrounding cleaner with a garbage clearing-session on the riverbanks. The project also organises sustainable activities such as mushroom-picking, upcycling, seasonal cooking and making your own cosmetics?



IMAGE: Cologne Convention Bureau

What about a trip to one of Cologne’s 70+ theatres, the lit.COLOGNE, the Philharmonie, the Opera or the Schauspielhaus? A food festival like the Streetfood Festival, where everything is cooked in front of you or Fine Food Days Cologne, which brings together top hotels, locations and chefs? For music lovers, there’s clubbing in the Ehrenfeld or Belgian Quarter neighbourhoods or festivals like At The B-Sites Festival, which offers social ticketing: you pay what you can honestly afford from within a price range.


You can also enjoy Christmas markets: big, small, traditional or hip—and Cologne’s many flea markets, including the Antikmarkt im Gürzenich, held in the historic Gürzenich building, and one at the Rheinenergie Stadium, where anything new is actually forbidden.


What about Stand Up Paddling at Fühlinger See lake or a cooking workshop at Cologne's largest lakeside kitchen studio? Or perhaps a geocaching tour in a Tesla organised by Sportscompany, whose motto is: “We inspire people sustainably!”?


Whatever activities you’re interested in, they’re bound to be available if you hold your event in Cologne. Your greatest difficulty will be trying to fit them all in! Alongside the city’s accessibility, history, culture, eco-friendly and efficient transports, amazing green spaces and wealth of sustainable service providers and venues, this choice of breakout activities makes Cologne an ideal location for your next green meeting or event.





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