Fragile Facade

Bayreuth, Home Of Richard Wagner, Gets a Controversial Makeover

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Under Construction: Richard Wagner's late home, Wahnfried, receives an overhaul.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Richard Wagner is one of Germany’s most famous composers and remains disputed for his influence on Adolf Hitler’s Nazi ideology.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Richard Wagner was born in 1813 in Leipzig. He moved his family to Bayreuth in 1871, overseeing the building of the Bayreuth Festival Theatre to showcase his opera cycle “The Ring of the Nibelung”.
    • Bayreuth, in northern Bavaria, became the Wagner family’s adopted home and still holds an annual festival dedicated to his operas.
    • Wagner’s political views, anti-Semitic writings and glorification of Germany are believed to have influenced Adolf Hitler, though to what extent his work was misappropriated remains a key debate among historians.
  • Audio

    Audio

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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.

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