The freelancer's guide to Cologne

The freelancer's guide to Cologne

How to run your own business from a city as vibrant as Berlin, without the price tag

Germany’s fourth largest city has long been a hotspot for beer lovers searching for the perfect brew; young creatives looking for excitement; and talented freelancers seeking new horizons.

Although it may lack the charm and intrigue of some destinations in western Europe, Cologne has gained a reputation as one of the country’s coolest and most forward-looking, liberal cities. It’s a reputation well deserved. 

A buzzing arts and music scene thrives among the city’s countless galleries, museums, theatres and concert halls, while the trendy Belgian quarter is home to scores of independent fashion boutiques and concept stores. 

Come nightfall, the traditional Brauhaus pubs are alive every day of the week with locals gathering to swill thin glasses of Kölsch; the city’s signature beer. 

There’s history to take in too. Dominated by the twin spires of its iconic, 157m tall gothic cathedral, the narrow, cobbled streets of the Old Town have, despite being near-obliterated and rebuilt during WWII, retained their architectural heritage. 

Life as a freelancer 

Job opportunities abound in North Rhein-Westphalia, the county of Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Essen and many of the smaller cities, which together make up Germany’s economic and industrial powerhouse. 

It’s an area roughly the size of Wales, but with a population not far off Australia’s, and Frankfurt, the country’s financial hub, is just an hour away by high-speed ICE train.   

Some of the world’s biggest companies have invested serious money into Cologne, with many drawing on the talent and flexibility of the area’s highly-skilled contractor workforce. 

The automotive industry is particularly well represented here; Toyota, Volvo, Citroën, Mazda and Renault have all set up operations in and around the city. 

It’s also where you’ll find the HQs of Lufthansa, Germany’s flagship carrier, RTL, a major German TV network, and REWE Group, one of the country’s biggest supermarket chains.

With the city’s ever-growing freelancing scene comes a wealth of co-working spaces catering to every taste and working style. Some of the best can be found in Ehrenfeld, Cologne’s trendiest district and a base for hundreds of micro businesses in the creative and arts industries. 

Jaco Beydermüller runs his film production business from Ehrenspace, a former artists’ studio turned workhub on Venloer Strasse. 

 “Almost everybody is self-employed in coworking spaces here,” he said. “We work in all kinds of industries at Ehrenspace; there are app developers, PR and marketing consultants, an e-bike designer and more – it’s a real community. 

“That’s why we moved our office here; it feels like one big living room.” [It looks like one too – there are big sofas, a dartboard, a table tennis table and a fridge full of beer] 

Lena Hauschild, a freelance graphic designer, claims more German businesses are taking on freelancers than ever before. 

She said: “People are really opening up to flexible working. Cologne’s a great place to do it – you can find small one-off jobs or long-term projects. 

“There are lots of online communities for local freelancers to get together, and we often work together in cafes and coffee shops.”

While there are big rewards on offer for freelancers prepared to brave the German bureaucratic system, it’s important to remember that this is a country with a penchant for making things complicated. 

The high standards of English in North Rhine-Westphalia mean fluent German isn’t a must for everyday exchanges – but you’ll need a native speaker on hand to help you set up shop. 

Tax rules differ depending on whether you’re self-employed or a freelancer, and the kind of property you live in makes a difference too. You’ll need to provide detailed information on your finances, your business and health insurances and so on.

How to get there 

Cologne is well connected to the UK by air, with flights departing from Heathrow, Stansted, Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh. 

Köln Bonn Airport is hotly contested by Ryanair and Eurowings, which means one-way flights can be bagged for as a little as a tenner, and the flight duration is a little over an hour. 

Taking the Eurostar is equally feasible; the journey time from St Pancras is around four and a half hours with just one change in Brussels. Fares begin at around £60.

Where to stay 

If you’re visiting for a short-term project, there are accommodation options to suit every taste and budget. A studio apartment near the city centre will set you back around £50 per night booked through Airbnb, and mid-range hotels are similarly priced. 

Hotel Domstern, located just around the corner from Hauptbahnhof (the main train station), offers great value; the price for a double room starts at £60, with a generous breakfast included. 

Or if you’re pushing the boat out, opt for the Hyatt Regency on the opposite bank of the river; you’ll get five-star luxury and unparalleled views of the cathedral and Old Town across the water. Expect to pay around £160 for a double room. 

Freelancers looking to make the move for good will be pleased to find that Cologne is considerably more affordable than Berlin, Hamburg or Munich. A one-bedroom flat in one of the city’s more desirable districts will typically cost between £550 and £800 per month, comparing to £800-£1200 for a two-bed. 

What to do at the weekend

There’s green space aplenty within the city boundaries, with a vast expanse of parkland stretching in a ring around the centre. Perhaps the best for a Saturday stroll is Rheinpark, which encompasses 40 hectares of picture-perfect views over the river, a cable car, and a thermal spa. 

The city also boasts some of the best shopping in the country with hundreds of international and luxury brands residing around Hohe Straße and Schildergasse. 

Later in the day, Cologne won’t disappoint those ready to let their hair down. There are more than 3,300 restaurants, pubs and bars, with live music to be found every day of the week and a vibrant club scene from Wednesdays to Sundays.

By Mark Williams