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With 2,500 seats the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden (Baden-Baden festival theater) is Germany's largest opera and concert hall and one of the largest venues in Europe. After its opening in 1998 it first got into serious financial difficulties, but managed the economic recovery and since 2002 is run without public subsidies. This is unique in German high culture and therefore serves as a good example for other institutions. The Festspielhaus Baden-Baden offers an attractive cultural program with performances of well-known artists. Today it belongs to the first class of European cultural institutions. Classical music concerts, ballets and operas dominate the program. Five festival periods divide the annual schedule into Winter, Easter, Whitsun, Summer and Autumn Festivals. The Festspielhaus turned Baden-Baden into a festival city of international importance and induces increasing number of overnight stays and sales.
- 1 Program
- 2 General Information
- 3 History
- 4 Building
- 5 Economic Importance for Baden-Baden
- 6 References
Five times a year there is a festival period in Baden-Baden with at least one opera production and numerous classical concerts. The Autumn Festival forms the season opener in late September or early October. It is followed by the Winter Festival in January or February. Since 2013 the Easter Festival with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is staged in Baden-Baden. The traditional Herbert von Karajan Whitsun Festival is part and highlight of the program since the opening of the venue. With the Summer Festival the season ends.
Between the festival periods there are many other classic events. Regularly the Hamburg Ballet - John Neumeier gives guest performances in Baden-Baden. In the last weeks of December the Mariinsky Ballet of St. Petersburg traditionally performs in the Festspielhaus. In order to offer a manifold program there are also jazz concerts, musicals and other modern entertainment shows.
Prior to numerous events introductory talks take place in the foyer on level 3. They are free of charge for the Festspielhaus visitors.
A lot of importance is attached to fostering young people. For example the educational project Columbus - discover classical music enables school classes to visit events at the Festspielhaus at preferential prices of 10 euros per ticket. As a prerequisite the corresponding event has to be prepared in class prior to the visit.
Tickets can be ordered via the official website or the booking hotline +49 (0)7221 30 13-101. As part of the educational program a special ticket for young people is offered, that enables them to attend selected events at a special price of 10 euros.
Directions, Parking, Opening Times
When traveling by car, you leave the motorway A5 at the exit Baden-Baden and head to Baden-Baden. In the city you follow the signs to "Festspielhaus / Casino". Right next to the Festspielhaus there is the Festspielhaus underground parking. Shortly before the events there may occur traffic jams, so it's recommended to arrive early.
When traveling by train, get off at the station Baden-Baden. From there you can go by bus or by taxi. The bus lines 201, 205, 216, 243, 244 and 245 drive to the stop Festspielhaus in around 15 minutes. Since the season 2013/2014 the Festspielhaus ticket is also valid as a ticket for buses and trains of the Karlsruhe Verkehrsverbund (KVV).
The Festspielhaus foyer with its bars opens 90 minutes before the events begin.
Already during the heyday in the 19th century there were plans to build a festival theater in Baden-Baden. None other than Richard Wagner tinkered with the idea to choose Baden-Baden as the location of his festival theater but later decided in favor of Bayreuth.
Also in the first half of the 20th century the association Symphoniehaus e.V. made some efforts to build a festival theater at the Oos river but finally had no success.
In the 1980s the idea was revived. In particular the Baden-Baden patron Ermano Sens-Grosholz worked toward the construction of a festival theater. He established the "Comité zur kulturellen Förderung Baden-Badens" (commission for the promotion of culture in Baden-Baden). Eliette von Karajan, the widow of Herbert von Karajan, became the honarary president of this commission.
Construction and Opening
In May 1995 the Viennese architect Wilhelm Holzbauer and the Stuttgart expert for public constructions Walter Veyhle were tasked with the construction of the Festspielhaus. On May 1996 Hannelore Kohl, who was the chancellor wife at that time, broke ground for the new building. The construction costs remained within budget of around 60 million euros. On 18 April 1998 the house was inaugurated with a celebratory concert by Valery Gergiev and the World Orchestra for Peace.
Impending Insolvency and Public Seed Funding
Already before the opening there were doubts if the planned operational model could work. Management failures and expensive ticket prices lead from the outset to low visitor numbers that were far below the expectations. In combination with an insufficient capital base this nearly resulted in a fiasco - only three month after the opening the Festspielhaus was threatened by insolvency. The operating company DEKRA withdrew and the managers, as well as the artistic director were suspended from their duties. The city of Baden-Baden took over the Festspielhaus for the symbolic price of 50 cents and thereby prevented the bankruptcy.
The new artistic director Andreas Mölich-Zebhauser filled the house during the Mariinsky Summer Festival 1998 with a sensational free ticket campaign and received considerable attention by the press. In autumn 1998 Michael Drautz became the commercial director of the Festspielhaus and Dr. Johannes Bultmann became the director of the artistic division. In spring 1999 a three-year recovery plan was developed and the Festspielhaus filed an application for public seed funding. After a positive plausibility check of this plan by McKinsey & Company Inc. the financing of 6.5 million euros spread over three years was approved and the implementation began. The City of Baden-Baden and the State of Baden-Württemberg each carried half of the costs.
Getting Into the Black
In the following time the recovery measures took effect. The number of visitors developed positively and the development association Freundeskreis Festspielhaus Baden-Baden e.V. recorded new members. Committed music lovers founded the private cultural foundation Kulturstiftung Festspielhaus Baden-Baden which took over the shares of the operating company that were held by the City of Baden-Baden for another symbolic 50 cent.
The Whitsun Festival in June 2000 included Mozart's opera "Idomeneo". Two hours before the event, there was a technical defect in the sprinkler system. 40,000 liters of water flooded the stage. Only with the support of Baden-Baden's hair artists, who helped drying lamps and electrical devices with their blow-dryers, it was possible to stage the opera the next day.
The first own opera production of La traviata in 2001 received national recognition. The visitor numbers continued to rise and the recruitment of donors and sponsors was successful. In the season 2001/2002 the Festspielhaus got into the black. From then on it was able to finance the operations without public subsidies.
In 2003 the educational program Columbus and the Herbert von Karajan Music Prize were established. In December 2003 The Ring of the Nibelung was shown as a first cyclic performance by the Mariinsky Theater St. Peterburg, under the direction of Valery Gergiev. In the season 2005/2006 the Festspielhaus doubled the number of festival periods of two to four. The international media response was extremely positive about the various productions in Baden-Baden. In the following season 2006/2007 the Festspielhaus presented the French pianist Hélène Grimaud in a first artist portrait. In 2006, the Festspielhaus magazine was awarded the Best of Corporate Publishing.
The 10th Birthday
In the jubilee year 2008 the development association of the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden had more than 1,300 members for the first time. The private cultural foundation had 20 founders at that time and had been able to raise over 20 million euros. On the occasion of the birthday, the university St. Gallen examined the regional economic effect of the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. The study showed an increase of purchasing power in Baden-Baden of 46 million euros, which is generated annually by the Festspielhaus visitors. At the birthday ceremony on 14 September 2008 the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez praised in his speech the "radical idea" to build Germany's largest opera and concert house into a small valley of the Black Forest and run it with private funds only.
Since the 10th birthday, there were numerous highly acclaimed concerts and opera productions in Baden-Baden. Some where also broadcasted live on television and released on DVD. With the children's opera Die chinesische Nachtigall by Esther Hilsberg there was the first opera first release at the Festspielhaus on 27 June 2009. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the Whitsun Festival 2011 together with her husband and watched the newly designed opera Salome by Richard Strauss. During the first children's hands-on concert in November 2011, 200 children played music together with the orchestra of the Karlsruhe University of Music. Since 2013 the Easter Festival of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra takes place in Baden-Baden and no longer in Salzburg. In the first Easter Festival from 23 March to 1 April 2013 the Berlin Philharmonic staged 30 events in front of 30,000 visitors.
From 1996 to 1998 the Festspielhaus was built next to the old town station Alter Bahnhof which lost its original function when the branch line Baden-Oos Baden-Baden closed in 1977. In the meantime the Casino Baden-Baden used the listed neoclassic railway station building as a gambling hall with slot machines. The actual Festspielhaus building was built as a simple and functional new building at the former track system and got connected to the station building by a glass passage. The expensively restored station building now serves as a representative entrance area and is home to the Festspielhaus restaurant AIDA. This approach allowed to cope with preservation demands, representation needs of the Festspielhaus and the short budget of 60 million euros.
The new building has a rectangular plan of 90 x 50 m and is dominated by the 33 m high stage tower. The Viennese architect Wilhelm Holzbauer was responsible for the planning. The Festspielhaus is technically up to date. The ideal values of the acoustics were calculated by the Munich physicist Karl Heinz Müller. The important room acoustic characteristic reverberation time is 1.8 seconds in a fully occupied house and therefore corresponds to the value of the Semperoper in Dresden. Up to 2,500 people can be seated in the auditorium, which has a rising floor and two staggered balconies.
Economic Importance for Baden-Baden
On the occasion of the 10th birthday the Institute for Public Services and Tourism at the University St. Gallen examined the regional economic effect of the Festspielhaus. The income statement of the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden and Festspiele Baden-Baden gGmbH from 2006 and a visitor survey from 2007 served as the data basis. According to the investigation visitors from outside spent 52 million euro annually in the City of Baden-Baden. Of this, about 15 million euros were spent on tickets and meals at the Festspielhaus. 17 percent of the annually registered overnight stays in commercial establishments in Baden-Baden were caused by Festspielhaus visitors. These are 80,000 overnight stays per year.
- History & Development at the official Website of the Festspielhaus
- Manfred Söhner Baden-Baden. Kunst und Kultur entlang der Oos Aquensis Verlag Baden-Baden 2007, ISBN 978-3-937978-10-9 p. 13 et seq.
- Ulrich Coenen Von Aquae bis Baden-Baden - die Baugeschichte der Stadt und ihr Beitrag zur Entwicklung der Kurarchitektur Aachen, Mainz 2008, ISBN 3-8107-0023-1 p. 607 et seq.