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Culture

Bayreuth Bans Plastic Dogs

City officials in the northern Bavarian town of Bayreuth have banned 70 plastic dogs from the town's famous Green Hill, where the Wagner Music Festival is currently taking place.

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He'll have to find another playmate

Dog attacks and canine excrement are the most frequently cited reasons why a growing number of people want man's best friend banned from Germany's public parks.

But even the most fervent dog-haters would be hard pressed to justify a decision by Bayreuth's municipal authorities to remove 70 or so Newfoundlanders from the town's fabled Green Hill, home of Richard Wagner's legendary Festspielhaus.

The big black dogs sitting obediently and placidly at every park bench leading up to the opera house designed and built by Wagner himself cannot bite or foul the pavement because they are made of plastic.

The 70-centimeter (21.5-inch) figurines are part of a large-scale art installation, entitled "Wagner's Dog", by German sculptor Ottmar Hörl, to coincide with this year's Bayreuth Festival, the annual summer music festival dedicated exclusively to the composer's works.

De-mystifying Wagner

The idea behind the exhibition was to help de-mystify the composer and make him appear in a more human, sympathetic light, Hoerl explained.

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The dog sculptures were waiting for visitors near benches throughout the hill

Wagner was a dog lover and his own mutt, Russ, is buried alongside the composer in the garden of his villa, Wahnfried, now a museum and home to the Richard Wagner Archives.

But the town fathers have decided to enforce the "mile-ban" around the Festspielhaus, which prohibits the erection of any foreign objects around the theater.

And the dogs, which have won the hearts of many festival visitors as well as the town's inhabitants, must go.

Hörl was enraged, not least because the order came from the town's own arts commissioner.

"An arts commissioner must protect artists and their art," he said. "This commissioner must go."

Festival officials had no objections

Even the organizers of the Bayreuth Festival appeared to distance themselves from the authorities' decision.

"We don't want every artist using the festival as a backdrop for their performance art," said spokesman Peter Emmerich.

Hundeskulptur in Bayreuth

A man sits next to one of the sculptures

But Höhrl's installation was popular with visitors and the festival therefore had no objections, he said.

The town authorities themselves were not immediately available to comment.

It was not the first time that Wagner's dogs have hit the headlines. The plastic dogs are proving so popular that a large number of them have been stolen, causing the town police to issue a statement that the thieves, if caught, would be punished severely.

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