Bayreuth may be synonymous with Richard Wagner, but the city in Bavaria’s Upper Franconia region has much more to offer than just the music of the legendary composer.
Not instantly recognizable - Bayreuth's old palace, not the Opera House.
It may be hard to believe, but Bayreuth is much more than Richard Wagner (1813-1833).
Opera lovers may make the annual pilgrimage for the month-long summer music festival dedicated exclusively to the works of the controversial Wagner -- a vitriolic anti-Semite and a favorite composer of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis -- but the city’s charms are by no means muffled by the heavy sounds of Wagnerian operas (photo).
Placido Domingo is surrounded by flower maidens as he sings in the title role of Parsifal
Elegant and respectable
Away from the Green Hill, upon which the Opera House is located and the scene of Siegfried, Parsifal and the rest of Wagner’s heroes, the city’s rococo parks, fountains, artificial grottos and tree-lined arcades contrast perfectly with the simple grace of Bayreuth's historic houses and public buildings.
The capital of Upper Franconia, the city lies some 80 kilometers northeast of Nuremberg and enjoys a reputation as one of the great cultural centers of Europe. It came to prominence in 1603 when it displaced nearby Kulmbach as the seat of the second of the Hohenzollerns' Franconian principalities.
One of its most legendary partrons was Wilhelmine of Prussia, Fredrick the Great’s older sister, who was intended for the British royal throne but was married off instead to the future Margrave Friedrich of Brandenburg-Bayreuth. Much of the credit for Bayreuth’s elegant ambiance goes to Countess Wilhelmine, who brought the rococo style to the region of Upper Franconia.
Starting in 1732, she commissioned garden designers and landscape architects to transform Franconian farmland around the New Palace into grand parks and gardens. Bayreuth was also artistically noteworthy long before Wagner. The city drew poets like German Jean Paul, who lived in Bayreuth until his death more than 175 years ago. The people of Bayreuth honored him with a dignified funeral-due in no small part to the sharp-tongued bard's delicate words for his adopted city.
Vibrant culture and treat for foodies
Today the 75,000-strong city has developed a small but vibrant alternative scene between Richard Wagner street, the Hohenzollern Ring, and Jean Paul Square. Highlights include artist Wo Sarazen and his sculptures, the Jazz Festival, the Cabaret Days, or events hosted by the University's Africa Center. The Africa Center is actually called the "Iwalewa-Haus", which in African means "Character is beauty".
The best way to get to know the natives of Bayreuth is to eat and drink where they do. You can easily make a culinary tour of the city on foot. Gourmets and connoisseurs might want to start at the 'Operncafe', stop by the 'Weihenstephan', and end the evening in the 'Goldener Hirsch'.
Beer garden buffs can down a few cold ones and listen to the beats at the 'Jazzkeller'. Or pop in by 'Miamiam Glouglou' for a French aperitif before diving into the pasta at 'Noodles' and ending the night at 'Oskar'. The morning after, both the gourmet and the pub-crawler can meet up at the 'Parsifal' drug store and find an antidote to the common hangover.
Students breathe fresh air in uptight city
The city’s lively atmosphere has much to do with the almost 7,000 students at the Bayreuth University, whose laid-back lifestyles have helped loosen up the Franconians, who have a reputation for being stiff and standoffish. Twice a year "the landing pad" on campus is the hub of activity. The university's Open Air Festival and the Tent Festival give students a reason to stay on campus outside of class hours.
These festivals even draw the natives of Bayreuth to the university grounds. Students and native Bayreuthers can often be found dancing together - be it to music from local bands playing during the campus festivals or to the funky beats at the downtown Jazz Festival. And if that doesn't break the ice, there's always the White Beer Festival or the Bürgerfest to launch a new friendship.
To recover from all the festivals visitors can take a dip in one of many thermal springs in the area or go hiking in the forests and hills nearby: the picturesque castles and valleys of the Swiss Franconian area or the thickly-wooded Fichtel mountains.