Time is running out to celebrate Ludwig van Beethoven's 250th birthday in style. By the anniversary 2020, the city of Bonn wants to dazzle with a new, top-class festival performance hall.
One has to admit the Beethovenhalle (Beethoven Hall) in the city of Bonn isn't the most impressive piece of architecture. It's named after the former capital's most famous son, born in 1770, but who left as a young man for the music capital of Vienna.
In Vienna, where Beethoven developed his most famous compositions, his artistic legacy has been preserved with the greatest care - and was marketed to tourists early on. Bonn, on the other hand, has struggled to do the same. After all, the sleepy city on the Rhine doesn't quite compare to Vienna's pulsating musical and creative life.
Saved from preservation?
Less than eye-popping: the existing Beethovenhalle
But in 1959, the then-capital built a top concert venue: the Beethovenhalle by architect Siegfried Wolske. Celebrated as a masterful complex, the building continues to serve as host to world class concerts. Classical fans have often headed from the nearby and much larger city of Cologne to Bonn's performance hall for concerts. The light, six-cornered building with its elegantly sloping dome, situated on the banks of the Rhine, has long been designated a historic monument.
The acoustics in the venerated performance hall are no longer quite so contemporary, so many have pushed for creating a space that unifies acoustic pleasure with eye-catching architecture. In 2007, the city of Bonn had decided to build a new festival hall on the site of the existing Beethovenhalle.
Financed by major local corporations (Deutsche Post, Telekom, Postbank), a number of renowned architects offered designs in 2009 as part of an intricate selection process. But very few of them stuck to the specifications: most architects planned to tear down the Beethovenhalle, officially protected by its monument status, and leave their own signatures on the banks of the Rhine. In 2012, there are just two designs left in the running. The architect selected will likely build at a park known as the Rheinaue, a few miles south of the Beethovenhalle along the Rhine. The Wolske structure will be preserved.
Zaha Hadid's diamond-like design proposal
The two leading designs conceive of a concert hall in 21st century style. One is the vision of Iraqi-British star architect Zaha Hadid. She would like to create a diamond with capricious perforations that glows from within. Its concert hall is located inside between arching, bulky interior walls that will offer little openness. The exterior view, however, is full of sharp angles, breaks in the walls and striking inclines. A video animation with brilliant effects presenting the design quickly won over a lot of fans.
The second proposal in the running is even more dramatic - some might even say scandalous, as architecture goes. The design, called "Die Wellen" (The Waves), comes from the Luxembourg-based team Hermann & Valentiny and Partners.
Even more radical: the vision of Hermann & Valentiny
But even the best designs don't do much if the financing isn't secure. Estimated costs are as follows. Basic reconstruction of the existing Beethovenhalle would cost around 30 million euros ($38.8 million), while refitting the concert hall into a top-quality, modern venue would take around 43 million euros. A brand new festival house would set the city back about 80 million euros.
Mayor Jürgen Nimptsch is certain that the costs can be managed. The federal government would be prepared to donate 39 million, and further donors are also ready to top up the city's coffers. They include the state and municipality in which Bonn is located as well as the large bank Sparkasse Cologne-Bonn. As primary sponsor, Deutsche Post DHL has pledged 30 million euros for the ambitious project.
"We very much welcome the mayor's new proposals for realizing a Beethoven festival venue of world-class stature and affirm our commitment to provide financing once it's clear that plans for lasting operations in the venue are in place," said board chairman Dr. Fank Appel.
Local donors and music fans could also contribute a sizeable amount of the funds needed - with some estimates at 25 million.
Guests to pay 'Beethoven fee'
Tourists may also be asked to help foot the bill for a new concert hall. Bonn's hotel owners have said they're prepared to issue a "Beethoven fee" for each guest. With around 1.2 million overnight stays per year in Bonn, that could add up quickly.
"In this way, the citizens of the world can be included in the tribute to Ludwig van Beethoven, whose music has created joy around the world," Nimptsch said.
Local chamber of commerce head Wolfgang Griessl would also like to try to inspire 5,000 fans of Beethoven and Bonn around the world to donate 5,000 euros each for the new building. Calling his initiative "5,000 for Beethoven," he plans to issue calls to patrons of the arts, companies and private individuals, welcoming any donations and noting that payments in instalments are also welcome. If the idea works, it would add up to another 25 million for the festival venue.
Meanwhile, few seem to want to get involved in preserving the existing hall. The primary corporate sponsor of a new building prefers to speak of the Bilbao effect - meaning the immense attention that the city in the Basque region of Spain drew when star architect Frank O. Gehry designed the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum there. Many dream of a similar development in Bonn.