Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Bayreuth at the end of June was a Bayreuth before the festival, before the crowds, and before the heat. In a cool delayed spring, things were at best expectant.

If you were looking for locals, the place to start was down the hill by the river in the Shopping Centre, the Rotmain Centre (named after the river), a plain two storey could-be-anywhere affair but warm inside with the ground floor full of food outlets. Behind the Centre runs a pretty little stream, its banks wild and grassy, which we would cross over on an old stone bridge to the hotel just beyond.

It was a simple pleasure then to wander the old town, from The Town Square along the main street, Maximillian Strasse (both now pedestrian zones which sort of work, but sort of don't when there aren't the crowd numbers to fill them up) heading up towards Richard Wagner Str and then Wahnfried.

Little side streets left and right were all but empty, waiting under heavy skies.


Off to the left and down the hill, the glorious treasure of the World Heritage Listed baroque 1748 Margravial Opera House is now covered for restorations, its gorgeous (painted wood) interiors away from the public eyes for years I expect.  How this wonder has survived war and fire is a miracle itself. 

(Here's some of last years without-flash photos, which aren't allowed of course, but the guide was lovely, and kept turning her back).

There's a few Frederick's in this story: 

Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth was the cultured and beloved ruler/monarch who was responsible for the building of the Opera House, which would later attract the attention of one Richard Wagner because of the size of its stage, but be rejected because of the size of it pit and small (500) capacity no doubt. And so evolved the building of the Festspeilhaus. 

                                                                                    Frederick von Brandenburg-Bayreuth

This Frederick's first wife, by arrangement, was to the rather more dominant and thespian Wilhelmine of Prussia who would indulge her talents as writer, director, actor and the like in the great splendour.

Now she was the sister of Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Grosse), amongst a zillion other things responsible for, mature years lived, and now buried at Sanssouci (where rumours of his sexual interests, or not, swirled). He was the young officer who was captured fleeing away from (father) if not to (England) with another young officer and companion, Hans Hermann von Katte, whose beheading for treason he was forced to watch, himself pardoned.

                                                            Frederick the Great as Crown Prince

Monday, August 12, 2013


The real reason for leaving the sun and food of Italy and going back over the Alps to Munich was to drive from there to Bayreuth where K had some meetings. 

Leaving Munich in drizzly rain we went first to Dachau, just off the A9, and on the way - as if Dachau is on the way to anywhere. For all that one reads, or sees, or hears, or is warned about, this hideous place remains as something that can only be experienced. There are few words if any, except those of the survivors, that suffice. We hardly spoke in the hours we were there; it is unspeakable. I was tempted to say inhuman, but the bald fact of it is that is is human. It is what humans do. That's the horror of it. And it is silent. And empty, a completely empty godless place.

(The assembly area with the maintenance building beyond, with the admission room and bath house on the right, all now major memorial exhibition rooms)

All entry and exit was through the gates in the Jourhaus, notoriously claiming "Arbeit Macht Frei".

It is well to start with and seek some consolation at the International Memorial just inside the Jourhaus.

The camp, a model for all others, was essentially a double row of barracks (34 in total of which two have been reconstructed) divided by the camp road which now runs towards the religious memorials and convent. Initially designed for 6,000, there were over 30,000 (some list more than 60,000) when the Americans arrived in April 1945. Block 3 was the realm of appalling Rascher and his medical atrocities.

There is now a crossing at the far end of the camp, over the water ditch and through the barbed wire, into the vastly bigger area that was the SS training ground, headquaters and barracks. Immediately beyond the first line of trees is the crematorium building whose rooms I would discover were not all for ovens, oh no. To my unexpected horror there is one huge room in which were piled the dead awaiting cremation, and another the most dreadful sickening proto gas chamber.