Udo Ranz, landlord of Fridolin-Eck Photo: Jann Höfer

Kölsch kick-offs

Cologne is a football-crazy city and everyone’s equal at the city’s football bars. We take a look at a pub landscape that’s hard to beat.

Admittedly, Cologne’s 1. FC Köln club don’t always impress on the pitch – but what team does? It certainly doesn’t dampen the locals’ love of the game – not in the stadium and certainly not in the city’s football pubs. During Bundesliga weekends and major tournaments alike, you’ll find fans bopping at the bar, cheering for their favourites and sometimes even crying over their beer.

So at this June’s Euros there won’t be just the one big football temple – there’ll be lots of small ones too, with international fans joining the locals to enjoy the matches and a glass of kölsch beer. Or maybe two.

Fridolin-Eck: passion for the game

It’s that typical Cologne feeling of being somewhere where you meet friends you’ve never actually seen before that makes the atmosphere at Fridolin-Eck so special. This iconic local on Fridolinstraße in the heart of the Neuehrenfeld neighbourhood is presided over by Udo Ranz. Obviously, it’s nicer when the 1. FC team win but even when things don’t go to plan, Udo’s credo is, “Stay together to stay strong.” A bit like watching from home, the game plan here is all about sharing a good time together, irrespective of which scarf you’re wearing – well, almost! Football enthusiasts gather at Udo’s place to have a drink before heading off for the stadium, to follow the excitement on screen or even just to sing along to local classics. The kölsch is served at your table – accompanied by some friendly banter.

But at some point I’d had enough. I took the severance pay they were offering and I’ve been behind the bar here ever since .

Udo Ranz, landlord of Fridolin-Eck

It’s obvious Fridolin-Eck and the patrons that frequent it have a special place in landlord Udo’s heart. “There are highlights and anecdotes every day here,” he tells us. “There’s never a dull moment.” And how could there be? He doesn’t mind if guests occasionally turn up with a kebab from the takeaway around the corner either. Instead, he just gives them a plate “so they don’t make a mess.” Udo loves it all. “If I didn’t enjoy it anymore, I wouldn’t want to keep running the place. I’d just stop doing it.”

Udo took on Fridolin-Eck a decade ago because he wasn’t enjoying his job at the Ford plant where he’d been for 25 years. “But at some point I’d had enough. I took the severance pay they were offering and I’ve been behind the bar here ever since,” he explains. Making the move from the production line to hospitality was no problem. “My parents led a happy life in the business, having started out almost 30 years ago.” He learned everything there is to know about running a pub. His guests love him, especially when they see the nimble 56-year-old in action filling glasses, chatting, giving people hugs and still managing to join in when hoarse voices launch into the typically buoyant songs of the natives. 

Point One: the place to go for your football fill

The queue outside Point One on Venloer Straße in the Ehrenfeld district is long. The crowd started arriving long before the whistle was blown. It’s cold and they want to get inside, in the warm, to Sahin Erdogan. With his Turkish roots and impressive beard, Sahin’s not your classic Cologne pub landlord but he can fill the constant flow of glasses just as quickly. The kölsch isn’t the only important thing at Point One though – football takes centre stage here. Sahin’s aim is to show as many matches as possible. Be it 1. FC Köln, Germany’s national squad, the Champions League or the second division, at Point One you can see practically anything and everything that happens on the pitch.

Point One

Zum Goldenen Schuss: more than just a football pub

Zum Goldenen Schuss on Antwerpener Straße in the Belgian Quarter is where the students and the mid-thirties crowd head for a grand football night out. 13 years have passed since Tobias Breit, Friedrich Lindenstruth and a few friends turned their dream of their own soccer bar into reality. And their symbiosis of a corner pub and a club has proven a resounding success, shunning neon lights for indie chic and combining the match screenings fans love with the flair of a club. Apart from football, there are themed parties and DJ sets too. And in the winter, guests can warm up with a fortified mulled wine at the outside bar.

Zum Goldenen Schuss

Stiefel: a worn boot

And then there’s Stiefel on Zülpicher Straße in the student district the locals refer to as Kwartier Latäng. A jazz club in a former life, this place has been around a while and the interior reflects that. Today, landlord Stefan Freund offers fans of alternative music a cosy refuge that comes with its own distinct flair and walls adorned with graffiti and stickers. It’s no coincidence Stiefel (which means “boot”) has been used as a location for a number of films.

Unusually, the landlord here supports two teams. Naturally, his pub welcomes fans of 1. FC Köln but supporters of Borussia Mönchengladbach are equally welcome. Perhaps even a little bit more. But does it matter? The only thing that’s important when you’re watching football in Cologne with Udo, Sahin, Tobias, Friedrich or Stephan is the love of the game, a love of kölsch and, like the locals, a love of togetherness.

Five more soccer bars for a great night of football

  • Gottes Grüne WieseBismarckstraße 53, 50672 Cologne, on Instagram

This pub is crazy about all things football. Cup finals, Bundesliga, Champions League and national squad matches – they show them all! And if all that staring at a screen gets too much, you can let off some steam with a round of table football or take part in the football quiz they sometimes hold.

  • Kölschbar Lindenstraße 56, 50674 Cologne, on Instagram

A mixture of bar and corner pub, Kölschbar is a permanent fixture on the Cologne pub scene. People come here to watch the soccer, play table football and to savour a Mexikölner or two – the bar’s special, not-for-the-faint-of-heart take on the Mexikaner shot.

  • Lotta Kartäuser Wall 12, 50 678 Cologne, website

Lotta is the place to be if you’re into music and Cologne’s carnival festivities as well as football. This  alternative pub in the Südstadt district shows FC St. Pauli games and women’s matches in addition to the FC Köln ones. For those who want to put their own skills to the test, there’s a pub quiz once a month and a football table.

  • Hammond Bar – Metzer Str. 25, 50677 Cologne, website

Hammond Bar is a true Cologne pub. Patrons gather to watch football and the popular Tatort crime show. On Sundays, fans of the beautiful game can join in another game – trying to solve the case.

  • Südkurve Luxemburger Str. 228, 50937 Cologne, website

Südkurve means the south bank of a stadium and if you haven’t managed to get tickets for Cologne’s south bank, your best option is to watch the matches here, from the comfort of the city’s second-best Südkurve. Located on Luxemburger Straße, this traditional-style pub screens Champions League and DFB cup matches as well as 1. FC Köln games.

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