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Culture

Renewing Europe From the Fringes

The south-western Irish city of Cork is this year's European Capital of Culture. The small port town aims to show it's the country's secret capital.

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Cork: Showing Europe what it has to offer in 2005

Wherever you go in Cork, it smells like the sea. When the high tide pushes the river back into the city, the salty scent of the nearby ocean hangs in the air.

Almost all the major ocean liners dropped anchor in Cork on their way to America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Titanic started its final journey here. Thousands of ships took more than 3 million Irish emigrants to America. Those who stayed faced hardship and repressive English colonial powers.

"Cork was always known as a city of rebels," city guide Noreen explained.

Cork

City view of Cork seen from Shandon

Cork is many things -- a city of canals, poets, artists, sailors, Huguenots and Jews. The fateful year of 1920 also left an indelible mark on the city as on the rest of Ireland. When the Corkonians refused to submit to their colonial masters any longer, British troops killed the mayor and burned down the city center. His majesty's taxpayers later had to finance the city's reconstruction.

Urban renewal

The past decade has also been one of renewal for Cork. The city center got a facelift, thanks largely to Catalonian architect Beth Gali. Gali put an end to ugly, cramped streets by creating numerous new squares, paving sidewalks with creative patterns and designing streetlamps that stretch towards the sky like cranes. Tight, congested roads no longer define Cork's image.

"Europe must regenerate itself from the fringes to the inside, not from the center to the outside," Shane Malone of Cork 2005 said in explaining the organizers' aims for the year of culture. "We are a small city on Europe's fringes, but we can offer a lot to the continent's cultural life."

The 4,000 events planned for the year include folk, choral, jazz and pipe organ festivals as well as film showings and literature competitions. Poets from the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 will read their works. New plays, sporting events, a chess tournament and cultural offerings from schools and ethnic groups are on the program.

"As a port city, we're traditionally open to new things," Malone said.

Showing its stuff

Cork mit der Hauptstraße

City view of Cork with the high street

It's said of Ireland that every fourth building is a church and every third is a bar. In Cork, there are perhaps fewer churches, but several more bars. The local scene is meant to dominate center stage during the year of culture, but some "big" names will also show their stuff. Architect Daniel Libeskind is set to give a talk and a pavilion he designed will be opened in the city park in the summer.

"Cork will have the unique opportunity to demonstrate its cultural significance on the international stage," Mary McCarthy, Cork 2005 program director said. "The designation as cultural capital was the catalyst for the city's rejuvenation. The legacy will endure."

So far, Cork -- with around 130,000 inhabitants -- is the smallest city to be named European Capital of Culture since the EU created the title in 1985. Amsterdam, Avignon, Bologna, Glasgow, Graz and Weimar are among its predecessors.

But compared to the other cities, Cork is working with a relatively modest budget: €13.5 million. Liverpool will have around €100 million to spend when it celebrates 2008 as Europe's cultural capital.

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