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Coveted opera tickets

July 28, 2010

If you're not a celebrity or the chancellor, getting tickets to the Bayreuth Festival is close to impossible - but not entirely. On the legendary Green Hill, the black market is well established.

Angela Merkel arrives at the Bayreuth Festival in 2009
Somehow, Chancellor Merkel manages to get a ticket every yearImage: AP

"Since 1991, I have tried to pre-order tickets, waiting patiently in line for two tickets to any show at Bayreuth - "Tristan" or the "Ring" - anything," said Kerstin Hall from Hamburg, who traveled to Bayreuth to finally experience the festival in person for the first time this year.

In past years, she had received a rejection letter every time, reading: "Unfortunately, there are no more tickets." Finally, Hall decided there must be another way.

"If it wasn't for a helpful acquaintance and a very friendly scalper, I never would have had a chance to come to this wonderful festival and visit this lovely town," said Hall.

A stroke of luck

Ulrich Goessele's strategy for getting his hands on a ticket to a performance at the Bayreuth Festival is to go to the concert hall at 7:00 am. When the box office opens at 1:30 pm, he'll be at the front of the line. There's always a chance that tickets have been returned.

"Two or three years ago, we lined up here and then the woman at the box office asked, 'Does anyone want tickets to "The Flying Dutchman"? And then we got them!" he exclaimed.

If that doesn't work this year, Goessele has a back up plan.

Michael Glas stands in front of the theater in Bayreuth, holding a sign that reads "Looking for a ticket"
"Looking for a ticket" - to sell for three times the original priceImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"That's the most well-known scalper here," he said, pointing to a man wearing a black shirt, standing next to a bicycle. Now Bayreuth's best-kept secret is out of the bag.

Along with many others hoping to profit from the ticket scarcity in Bayreuth, the scalper stands in front of the concert hall each morning, holding a sign that reads "Looking for Tickets."

He hopes to snag a ticket at normal price and then turn around and sell it for a profit. On the black market, tickets can sell for three to four times above their regular price of 120 euros ($156).

More fans than tickets

"There's still a discrepancy between the tickets offered - we have 53,900 seats to give out [over the course of the festival] - and the registered ticket requests, which are nearly half a million," said festival spokesperson Peter Emmerich.

The festival naturally disapproves of the ticket black market, but there's not much it can do about it.

"We're not so naive as to think that we can stop black market sales by instituting a few controls or printing names on tickets. All we can do is live with it," added Emmerich.

When opera fans walk away from the box office disappointed and empty-handed, the scalper with the bike send them to a small hotel in a nearby town.

There, the manager explained, that something strange had happened: A couple had booked a package trip, which included opera tickets and an overnight-stay, but didn't show up. Looking somewhat embarrassed, he said he could offer their tickets, before they went to waste - at three times the official price.

Still, compared to how much they would cost on eBay, that's a good deal.

Author: Anastassia Boutsko (rf)

Editor: Kate Bowen