Frau steht vor einem Publikum auf einer Bühne
Science Slam puts the spotlight on science - as here at Gebäude 9 in Mülheim. Photo: Pedro Torres

lit.COLOGNE and beyond – alternative literary venues in Cologne

With a variety of different concepts, Cologne's alternative slam scene is conquering the city's pub and club venues away from established literary epicentres.

Each spring, the who’s who of literature assemble for the international lit.COLOGNE festival. In 2023, writers from across the globe will come to Cologne for an impressive programme of events from 1 to 11 March. But the city has a number of other, alternative literature events in addition to lit.COLOGNE.

Introducing the new lit.COLOGNE format: lit.pop

This year, lit.COLOGNE is launching a new format, devoted to young, innovative voices. Entitled lit.pop, it will comprise eight events focusing on gender, sex, feminism and politics. First up is an event at Stadtgarten on 4 March (starting at 5pm). Stadtgarten, on the edge of the inner-city park it’s named after, was set up by Initiative Kölner Jazz Haus e. V. in 1986. With its concert venue, club (Jaki), café/restaurant and beer garden, it enjoys a well-established reputation as one of Cologne’s top hot spots for jazz and music – and now for literature too.

The first evening will include a concert featuring readings of works by American author and activist Audre Lorde and literary scholar Klaus Theweleit. At a parallel event in the concert hall, Kristina Lunz will present her book on feminist foreign policy. Afterwards there will be panel discussions and performances revolving around politics and gender equality. And the mini-festival will round off with a queer party, Chin Chin, with a “come as you are but kinky is fine” theme.

But that’s only one highlight of this city so rich in literature. There are plenty more beyond lit.COLOGNE and lit.pop. Here are four innovative spoken word events to get started.

Reim in Flammen

The live poetry party Reim in Flammen is an established part of the region’s slam scene. It’s billed as “Cologne’s most charming poetry slam” and there’s more than a grain of truth in that. Performers new and old take to the stage here at the end of each month, aiming to win over the audience and jury within the space of a few minutes. The action takes place at Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld, located under Ehrenfeld’s railway station, which has been hosting comedy shows, record markets and concerts since 2010.

Reim in Flammen at Clubbahnhof Ehrenfeld, Bartholomäus-Schink-Straße 65/6, 50823 Cologne

Slam ohne Grenzen

The white star and black background in the logo of Limes (and the name itself) are a homage to Hamburg band Slime, who were a major influence in German-language political punk in the 1980s. Located in Cologne’s Mülheim district, the club usually reverberates to the beat of punk rock but in the middle of the month (always on a Tuesday) it opens its doors to the Slam ohne Grenzen (“slam without borders”) event. The admission fee of five euros includes a strong drink but you don’t need alcohol to enjoy the self-composed texts even though – or perhaps precisely because – the spotlight here is on new talent rather than well-known names.

Slam ohne Grenzen at Limes, Mühlheimer Freiheit 150, 51063 Cologne

The Word is not Enough

Slams can be more sedate events as well though. Author Alexander Bach, for instance, hosts one called “The Word is not Enough”, which he’s been billing as the city’s “most elegant poetry slam” for a good 15 years. Alexander comes dressed as Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in “The World is not Enough” in a suit, ironed shirt and bow-tie but there’s no dress code for the slam artists or the audience. There doesn’t need to be either because the location itself oozes an elegant charm. Blue Shell, in the south of Cologne, has been considered an institution ever since it opened in 1979. In recent years, it’s transitioned from a cult pub to a club, now featuring an exciting programme of spoken word events against the backdrop of a bar bathed in cool, blue light. “The Word is not Enough” takes place on the third Sunday of the month.

The Word is not Enough at Blue Shell, Luxemburger Straße 32, 50674 Cologne

Science Slam

Aufnahme aus dem Publikum beim Science Slam. Menschen halten Zettel mit Zahlen in die Luft
At Science Slam, the audience decides the evening’s winner. Photo: Pedro Torres

Slam recitals tend to be about weird and wonderful stories from everyday life but subjects like materials research or molecular biology can make for a powerful performance too. At the end of last year, immunologist Lisa Budszinski from the German Rheumatism Research Centre in Berlin won the German Science Slam championships with her entertaining contribution on gut bacteria. Science Slam will be coming to Cologne again at the end of March, with five young scientists presenting extracts from their research papers at Gebäude 9 between the districts of Deutz and Mühlheim.

Science Slam at Gebäude 9, Deutz-Mülheimer Straße 117, 51063 Cologne

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