At an age when most seniors take it easy, Papa Joe was still playing jazz. On his 90th birthday, in April 2015, the musician sat at a piano and burned up the keyboard for his guests. While Papa Joe passed away in October of that year, his memory lives on in the two bars he founded in Cologne’s historic district. This is especially true in Papa Joe’s Biersalon Klimperkasten, which is at once quirky, friendly, and bursting with music.
The Klimperkasten—meaning “stacking cabinets” in Luxembourghish—is, like the architecture of the neighborhood in which it’s located, a blast from the past. Its walls are lined with knickknacks, from vintage dioramas to an impressive seasonal gingerbread house display. But this isn’t just any old kitschy collection. The bar features objects from the early age of automation, when visual illusion machines and self-playing pianos were the height of entertainment technology. Visitors can slide a coin into the kissing machine to see whether their pucker is amateurish or amorous, frigid or—at the top of the scale—dynamite.
The true centerpiece of the establishment, however, is Papa Joe’s collection of self-playing instruments and music machines, which still function via coin-operated boxes. This includes the Pneuphoniker Tünnes un Schäl (try saying that five times fast while playing a tuba), an assemblage of musical marionettes advertised as “the world’s first self-playing tuba-accordion orchestra.” The elaborate self-playing organ collection is a museum in itself, with six of the organs dating to the Roaring Twenties. One dates back to 1886. This aptly illustrates the collision of time periods within the establishment: While the bar compares itself to a “19th-century gin house,” it enthusiastically celebrates the music and innovation of the 1920s. But the ambience is a happy kind of anarchy, and after a few steins of the house’s draft beers, you’ll likely be more concerned with snacks and jazz than historical consistency
Visitors to the bar should prepare themselves for a rotating series of raucous events. Accordions join the jazz serenade, and the Klimperkasten has been known to host ballroom dance evenings and live recitals of erotic poetry, which are rumored to be rather NSFW (unless your workplace is, of course, the Klimperkasten itself). One would expect nothing less from a joint named for the illustrious Papa Joe, who even thought ahead to create the guest list for his own memorial. His love of laughter is immortalized in “Papa Joke,” an animated marionette that emits hearty guffaws at the comedic stylings of, well, another animated marionette. In the ample drinks and antique organ jams of the Klimperkasten, he chuckles on.
Know Before You Go
Papa Joe's Klimperkasten boasts live daily music and no cover charge. There's another location, Papa Joe's Jazzlokal, on Buttermarkt, whose 4:00 p.m. jazz special may suit the early birds.