The Rhinegau Music Festival is among Germany's most well-known and best-loved music events. The recipe for its success: unusual performance venues, concerts of high quality and a healthy dose of wine.
A pass through the overcrowded parking areas at various venues of the Rheingau Music Festival shows that the event is an audience magnet, with guests each summer from all parts of Germany and beyond.
Festival-goers can indulge wide-ranging interests at Rheingau. With over 155 concerts at 40 different venues, the program includes classical, jazz, cabaret and literary readings - all high-caliber, with top performers.
Inspired by a landscape
Music fans weren't always drawn to the area along the Rhine between the town of Bingen and the city of Wiesbaden, a region long the province mainly of wine lovers. Taking inspiration from the Pablo Casals Festival in southern France, music lover Michael Hermann founded the Rheingau Festival in 1987.
"The idea was to hold it in a landscape similar to that of the South of France - here in the incredibly beautiful Rheingau region," Hermann said. "I love wine anyway, but we wanted to enhance wine with music."
The first season, with 19 concerts, was a financial disaster, but Hermann stuck with his idea, testing the waters with a second season.
On the way up
Visitor numbers soon skyrocketed, and the festival grew to one of Germany's longest, currently running for nearly three months.
Following a formula established by other major festivals, the Rheingau fest's director employed a strategy of drawing well-known names while introducing the stars of tomorrow.
"We see it as a major responsibility to engage young artists and help them with their careers," he said.
The whims of the weather
Many of the Rheingau Festival's concerts take place in historic palaces, churches or vineyards, but they're often scheduled to take place outdoors - weather permitting. Though the region is blessed with plenty of sun, the weather can also be capricious.
Once, Michael Hermann recalled, the Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini faced not just chilly weather and rain but a lack of a changing room and an orchestra that was running late. Frustrated, the conductor was ready to cancel.
"'Do you want me to die out there?' he asked me angrily. Luckily, the orchestra arrived right at that moment, and the rehearsal began. I quickly organized a camper with a heater, a fresh towel and a good bottle of red wine. Everything went off without a hitch," Hermann said.
Looking back fondly
In the past 25 years, Michael Hermann has collected plenty of stories about artists, guests, the weather and the festival venues. Meanwhile, the Rheingau Music Festival has become one of Germany's top summertime events.
The director is proud of one thing in particular: "Although we are privately organized and receive no public funding, we're now on par with the major, world-renowned festivals."
Hermann says he will continue to work hard to insure a stable financial footing for the Rheingau fest, whose three-fold enticements remain the region's historic and culturally rich landscape, great music programming and a healthy glass of wine or two.