It may be a gimmick, but it seems to be working: ‘Long Night’ fever has broken out in Germany over the past few years, giving after dark visitors a chance to see more than a discotheque.
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The Long Night of Museums started in Berlin seven years ago, in January. Since then, two times a year, many of the city’s 100-plus museums and cultural institutions have opened their doors at the unusual hour of 7 p.m. and kept them open until as late as 3 a.m.
In addition to showing their regular collections, they offer a special program of music performances, guided tours, talks and readings.
The concept was such a hit that dozens of cities across the country now host their own annual Lange Nacht des Museen, and it has spread out all over Europe, leading to the Nuit Blanche in Paris and the Rotterdamse Museumsnacht, among many others.
Moreover, the idea of the Long Night has spread beyond museums, to just about any cultural area imaginable. Long nights of literature, music, and theater are on offer all year round, in all major German cities and many smaller ones.
'Long night at the manicurist'
Many university towns also host a "long night of science," when research labs open their doors to the public. Zoos around the country host "long nights," and there is even an event called "Late Shift: Long Night of Industrial Culture", where visitors can tour rehabilitated industrial sites in the Ruhr valley.
"It seems there is a long night of everything now. Long nights at the hairdressers, long night at manicurists," says Wolf Kuhnelt, chief of events in the museum education department of the Museums of the City of Berlin, where the Long Night concept got its start.
The idea started as a collaboration between the museums and marketers who were looking for new ways to promote Berlin, Kuhnelt says. They decide that in addition to opening at night, every museum would have to provide entertainment somehow related its mission.
The end result? An appeal to a wider audience, Kuhnelt says. "It takes the fear away from going to a museum, changes it into something entertaining."
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"Some people say ‘Oh, those long nights, I don’t go to them. They’re so crowded’," Kuhnelt says in a mock whine. "To them I say, 'Well, go on a Tuesday morning.' This is different, you go and meet people, you can be louder and enjoy it."
But even things that have long been populist by nature are trying out the long night concept. There is the Long Night of Shopping in Berlin, when stores stay open until 2 a.m.—a bold move in a country that until recently had laws against stores being open past 6 p.m. on weekdays.
Once a month, the hair salon Haarem in Cologne holds its Nachtschnitte, or Night Cuts events. Customers can come in and get a haircut between 8 p.m. and midnight, while at the same time enjoying a cocktail and live music, according to the salon's owner, Katrin Hoffmann.
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Even people with friends in high places have tried out the Long Night concept. Last summer, the bible was read to musical accompaniement from midnight to 4 a.m., in Munich, Stuttgart and Salzburg simultaneously. The name of the event? Die Lange Nacht der Bible.
Sometimes, a Long Night does more than just shift normal daily activity to after-hours. Case in point: the growing popularity of long zoo nights. In Cologne, most people come to the Summer Night at the Zoo "because they want to know what the animals do at night," says zoo director Dr. Gunther Nogge.
During the Sommernacht im Zoo, the zoo grounds are open from 7 p.m. until midnight , and special lighting is put in place so that people can watch the animals. It has been held every August for the past five years, and is so popular that this year it had to be spread out to the adjoining Botanic Gardens.
"Some animals, such as big cats, wolves and owls, are more active at night," Dr. Nogge notes. The success has spawned twilight zoo tours every Friday during the rest of the year, which generally book up far in advance.
'A certain magic.'
Kuhnelt, of the Berlin museums, has become something of a Long Nights afficionado, collecting advertisements for various Long Nights that he sees in newspapers. He cites the "Long night of Consumer Protection" in Berlin as being the most unusual.
Why has the concept caught fire in this way? Kuhnelt insists it is due to the catchy "Long Night" title.
"There’s a certain magic to it. It suggests something forbidden. You’re supposed to come home at night, take care of the children and cook dinner, not go out all night long. Its more fun this way."