Were Richard Wagner alive today, he probably wouldn’t recognize much of his adopted hometown of Bayreuth. The university city in northern Bavaria, better known as one of Germany’s cultural capitals based on its close ties to one of the world’s most famous 19th century composers, has been getting a makeover.
Currently, Wagner’s late home, the villa he named Wahnfried – a compound of the words Wahn (delusion, madness) and Fried(e) (peace, freedom) – is being fully refurbished and expanded, complete with a new permanent exhibition. Next in line for renovation is the Bayreuth Festival Theatre, the opera house built in 1876 under Wagner’s own supervision to showcase his four-piece opera cycle “The Ring of the Nibelung.”
It remains the home of the Bayreuth Festival, an annual homage to Wagner’s body of work.
Non-Wagner related buildings in the town are also being renovated, including another opera house, Markgräfliche Hofoper, which in 2012 became a World Heritage site. When you add in the transformation of Bayreuth’s town hall into a cultural and conference center, you get a total investment of about €100 million ($133 million), according to the town’s mayor, Brigitte Merk-Erbe.
That’s a lot of change for a town of just over 70,000 inhabitants, located in the poorer northern Oberfranken region of wealthy Bavaria. Luckily there are many Wagner fans out there – only €7.2 million ($9.6 million) of the renovation financing has come from the city itself. Most of the money is from the state of Bavaria, the federal government, local foundations and the “Friends of Bayreuth” society.