Margravine Wilhelmine shaped Bayreuth with her buildings, while Richard Wagner influenced it with his unique talent for composing. The city also offers a lot of Franconian flair, good beer, a house for African art and world-class piano makers, reporter Markus Stein knows all too well. Photos: Frank Heuer
All the “Aaahs!” and “Oooohs!” for Bayreuth
Baronesses and counts must have been left amazed as they climbed out of their carriages. This is supposed to be an opera house? It looks like nothing more than a town house. The “Musentempel” (Temple of the Muses), itself almost inconspicuously inserted into this ensemble of buildings? And then there is this unadorned entrance. Mon Dieu!
However, just a few steps away, in the theatre space, the nobility will have cheered aloud with many a “Aaaah”! and “Ooooh!”. Or, as they say today: “Wow!” A baroque bouquet of surprises indeed! Understatement on the outside, pomp and splendour on the inside – all in shades of green and gold wherever the eye casts its gaze. Visitors are treated to floral tendrils, cords, putti and even marble columns. And all made of wood and canvas. Thanks to illusionistic painting with an impressively three-dimensional effect.
Taraaa! Margravial Opera House
The Margravial Opera House (Markgräfliches Opernhaus), one of Bayreuth’s great sights, actually consists of two buildings. The self-supporting lodge house was fitted into a shell of stone, along with a huge wooden sound box for baroque music shows. Miraculously, the theatre was spared the onslaught of fire damage and can be found in its original spec.
The breath-taking effect of the colours was also regained after careful restorative work. The house, inaugurated in 1748, is considered to be one of the most important theatre buildings of the 18th century in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only when viewed from its rear do you realise how big the building actually is.
“Eremitage”, “Sanspareil”, “New Palace”
The building was initiated by Margravine Wilhelmine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1709 to 1758), daughter of the Prussian king, sister of Frederick the Great and wife of Margrave Frederick. This talented “immigrant Franconian” also composed, wrote “libretti” and staged operas herself.
As regent, according to historians, she contributed to the country's modernisation and blessed Bayreuth and the surrounding area with Ludwig II-style buildings: in addition to the opera house, she also commissioned the “Eremitage” (Hermitage) with its landscape garden and the “Neues Schloss” (New Palace) with its “Hofgarten” (Court Garden) in Bayreuth, the “Sanspareil” landscape garden in Wonsees and the “Schloss Fantaisie” – a castle and, today, museum – in Donndorf.
Africa – on Germany’s “Roter Main”
Bayreuth is situated on Germany’s so-called “Roter Main” or “Red River Main”, one of the two headwaters of the Main River, between the Fichtel Mountains and Franconian Switzerland. The city is home to roughly 75,000 inhabitants, ten thousand of whom are students at the University of Bayreuth, which has housed the largest Institute for African Studies in Germany since 1975.
Iwalewa translates as “character is beauty”
Just a few steps from Wilhelmine’s gem – an art nouveau house – is the “Iwalewahaus”, itself part of the university. (Iwalewa comes from the Yoruba language of Nigeria and translates as “character is beauty”). African artists live in the city for half a year and exhibit their artworks here.
Iwalewa House has a unique collection of modern visual art from Africa. If you want to look beyond the Eurocentric art world, you can’t miss this sight.
Get going and be amazed!
Bayreuth’s city centre is clearly laid out and the sights there are easy to discover on foot. But beware of Bayreuth’s cyclists, they are always in a hurry! From the opera house, you can reach Maximilianstraße and its eastern continuation, Richard-Wagner-Straße, the city’s promenade and shopping mile, in no time at all.
During the tour, refreshments will no doubt be provided. The offerings range from street cafés, to vegan soul food, to takeaway without waste packaging and snack stands selling the long, thin Bayreuth “Broodwörschd” – to old Franconian inns like the famous “Wolffenzacher”.
Sweets are also tempting, for example, at Confiserie Klein, where you can let the Bayreuth celebrities – Wagner, Wilhelmine, Liszt and Jean Paul – melt in your mouth, i.e. chocolates decorated with their depiction. Or you can try the range of creamy specialities at the “Tortenschmiede” café in nearby Ludwigstraße.
Premium view and a crypt
Continuing west on Maxstraße, you come to the Margravial Old Palace, the seat of the city’s tax office, with its octagonal castle tower. A step-free spiral staircase leads up inside to the top of the tower. Donkeys used to transport their loads on it. From the top, you can look out over Bayreuth, including over to Richard Wagner’s “Festspielhaus” (Festival House) situated on the city’s Grüner Hügel (Green Hill).
At the foot of the tower, in the city’s Rococo-style “Schlosskirche” (castle church), Margravine Wilhelmine found her final resting place with her husband and daughter in a burial chamber. Former Margraves great and good from previous generations can be seen in the “Stadtkirche” (city church), a few steps further on. 26 family members are buried there in the crypt. A video presentation worthy of seeing provides information about the individual fates and the historical background.
A walk through the city’s historic “Gassenviertel”
Back to the pulsating life of the city: the “Gassenviertel” quarter. There, between Maxstraße, Dammallee and Kanzleistraße, small shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants line up neatly. Von-Römer-Straße is considered a party mile. Cobblestones, old walls and narrow paths give the neighbourhood a historical flair. Numerous houses have been carefully renovated, some have scaffolding or are waiting for a long-overdue makeover. An ideal habitat for students, alternative types and party people.
21 taps for beer lovers
Jump over the “Hohenzollernring”. And into the “Liebesbier”. An impressive 21 taps line the long bar there. The large room, with steel beams and dark wooden floor, is styled with a cool, industrial design.
Leather-covered chairs at the wooden tables, country feeling thanks to the open fireplace. The bakery and brewery behind glass: this is where the gastronomic heart of Maisel & Friends beats. In fine weather, of course, the party continues outside on the large terrace, as you’d expect from Bavaria.
“Our brewery has existed since 1887, and the lifestyle brand “Maisel & Friends” with its modern beer specialities since 2012,” says beer sommelier Michael König, a native of Upper Franconia. Among other things, he is responsible for the beer selection at “Liebesbier”; he has more than a hundred different regional and international barley-based treats on offer. “We don’t just want to present ourselves, but also the products of other friendly breweries,” as the sommelier describes the concept.
Brewing projects with BBQ pros and artists
However, one of our own favourites should not be left out of the limelight, the “Limited Line” straight from the brewery workshop. “We create these brewing experiments, for example, in cooperation with hobby brewers, with barbecue specialists or with artists,” says König.
All-round beer experience with tasting sessions, museum and rock cellar
The current highlight is a “Strong Sour Ale”, for which the Berlin street artist Hera created the label. It bears her name and tastes thoroughly quaffable – with citrus and fruity notes and a pleasantly sour finish.
The brewery’s Beer Experience World – Maisel is the largest of five Bayreuth breweries – and also includes tasting sessions, a shop, a museum in historic brewing rooms and a walk through old “Felsenkeller” (rock cellars).
Richard, Richard Wagner
As a visitor to Bayreuth, there’s barely any getting around him. For some, a brilliant composer, for others a rather dubious character. You can also experience Wagner in Bayreuth outside the confines of the “Bayreuth Festspiele” festival in summer.
The Wahnfried residence with its modern Richard Wagner Museum is open to visitors all year round, as is the city’s famous “Festspielhaus”. Both destinations are connected by the “Walk of Wagner”.
With nineteen stations, it leads through the city of Bayreuth and illustrates a different theme to do with the composer each year, currently “Wagner und die Frauen” (“Wagner and women”). In the park in front of the Festspielhaus, the open-air exhibition “Verstummte Stimmen” (“Silenced Voices”) has been on display since 2012. Display panels commemorate Jewish singers and musicians who participated in the festival and were later persecuted or murdered during the Nazi era.
Ebony and Ivory
Back to the city, and to the piano manufacturer Steingraeber & Söhne. Richard Wagner played on their pianos and was their neighbour for two years. As a golden figure, he sits in a window of the factory building. Hammer blows emanate from this one-of-a-kind manufacturer. The company headquarters and salesrooms are just a stone’s throw away in the magnificent Friedrichstraße.
“Around 1850, Bayreuth found itself without a piano maker. It would be like there being no computer shop in a city today,” says Udo Schmidt-Steingraeber, who has been managing director of the company for many years. “Back then, a piano belonged in every living room! The piano maker Eduard Steingraeber from Thuringia took advantage of this. He moved to the city of Bayreuth and founded the company in 1852. Today, according to a US ranking, Steingraeber is one of the six best piano makers in the world!” says Schmidt-Steingraeber proudly.
“We build traditional instruments for all types of piano music; we also offer special designs for old styles of playing or experiment with electronic enhancements,” he continues. His tip for music-loving visitors is the Jazz Festival in November. “There, you can listen to top-class jazz in a cosy atmosphere, it’s big-city class, for sure!”
The piano maker offers guided tours of his keyboard kingdom and also organises concerts himself in his own music hall. You can even discover modern culinary compositions in the Steingraeber House, in the “eila tasting centre”!
To the “Finale” at the Hermitage
Wilhelmine had anything but a big city in mind when she had the courtly “Eremitage” redesigned and extended. Her husband had eventually given it to her. The garden complex is located to the east of Bayreuth – visual axes allow for wide views of the landscape. The Margravine had the New Palace built with the Temple of the Sun and the Orangery, grottoes, pavilions, arcades and even a “ruin theatre”. And, of course, water features galore.
Every hour on the hour there is a tense wait at the water basin in front of the orangery. The torch-bearing Apollo on the Temple of the Sun shines golden. The shower show begins. Water gods, nymphs and dolphins spew the water forth, derived from far away, and up into the air. Sparkling baroque joie de vivre.
After five minutes, the show ends. Move on to the Lower Grotto, fabulously surrounded by tall trees, where the game is repeated. Water pours from more than twenty fountains, from all corners and ends, even from many a naked architectural frivolity. If that’s not worth a “wow”!