From afar, the Kolumba art museum - designed by Pritzker Prize winning Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor – appears large and imposing. And yet, once inside, visitors are granted an intimate museum experience in the very heart of Germany’s Cologne.

Outside the Kolumba art museum

Entering the cultural sanctuary of the Kolumba is almost like a religious experience.

Until 2007, Kolumba was located near Cologne Cathedral, one of the most impressive Gothic style monuments in the world. The new building created by Zumthor similarly tells of this era, sharing its space with the ruins of the St Columba Gothic church and the 1950’s chapel ‘Madonna of the Ruins’.

The Cologne Cathedral can be seen from the art museum entrance

The Cologne Cathedral can be seen from the art museum entrance

The pieces on display are unaccompanied by description and unbound by chronology.

Entering the cultural sanctuary of the Kolumba is almost like a religious experience. As the eyes glide from the building’s austere grey walls to the collection of art pieces it holds, which date from Late Antiquity to the present, visitors marvel at the serenity evoked by the combination of Zumthor's architectonic work and the unusual religious icons and decorative artworks displayed across the museum’s 16 exhibition rooms.

Exhibition view: first floor at Kolumba art museum

Keith Haring's work exhibited at Kolumba art museum

Keith Haring's work exhibited at Kolumba art museum

The pieces on display are unaccompanied by description and unbound by chronology, allowing visitors to discover and make sense of the collection through inferred meaning and a more intimate encounter.

Ascending to the second floor, visitors are invited to gaze upon more religious art: oil paintings dating back to 1500 and reliquaries of crosses that adorn the museum walls.

The museum’s first floor displays a 12th century marble stone, a drawing by contemporary artist Keith Haring – seeking to criticise the political, ecological and social situation of our society - as well as ‘Crocodiles Lurk in Quiet Ponds’, a video installation narrating genocide in Rwanda in 1994, created by Marcel Odenbach.

Still from a video installation 'Crocodiles Lurk in Quiet Ponds’ by Marcel Odenbach.

Still from a video installation 'Crocodiles Lurk in Quiet Ponds’ by Marcel Odenbach.

From comedy to tragedy and everything in between, the Kolumba art museum captures a snapshot of humanity.

Ascending to the second floor, visitors are invited to gaze upon more religious art: oil paintings dating back to 1500 and reliquaries of crosses that adorn the museum walls. Oil painting ‘The Demon of Progress’ proves another highlight of the Kolumba. It is a work born by the hands of Konrad Klapheck, who carved his name into art's history by painting technical devices like sewing machines and telephones in exquisite colours that, in the words of the artist himself, “are more suitable portraits to describe the human comedy of our days.”

From comedy to tragedy and everything in between, the Kolumba art museum captures a snapshot of humanity. In a location that narrates the story of the metropolis by the Rhine River, which has been occupied by several tribes and empires in various periods of its history, even the Kolumba’s setting proves a work of art.

Find out more about the Kolumba art museum here.

Words: Astrid Scheuermann