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The Beethoven Business

DW staff / dpa (kjb)May 14, 2007

Visitors to Bonn are certain to go home with a Beethoven souvenir. After all, the former capital has learned to make the most of its connection to its famous son.

Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770, but lived most of his life in ViennaImage: DW/Mouchtar

They come from all over the world and have one thing in common -- they've come to follow in the footsteps of Ludwig van Beethoven. In Bonn, where the composer lived from his birth in 1770 until the age of 22, that's not hard to do.

Beethoven is practically everywhere -- visitors are bound to come across his serious-looking profile on everything from suspenders and umbrellas to ball-point pens and chocolate truffles.

The larger-than-life statue of Beethoven on Bonn's central Münster square, across from the main post office, has long since become an important landmark in the city. In fact, the monument's consecration in 1845, timed to coincide with the composer's 75th birthday, was celebrated with a three-day music festival organized by none other than Franz Liszt.

Ludwig van Beethoven Denkmal in Bonn
This monument was erected for Beethoven's 75th birthdayImage: dpa

"It definitely belongs in my Germany photo album," said tourist Xianguo Zhong from Shanghai while posing for the camera together with the colossal composer.

Beethoven sells

Every year, some 500,000 tourists and business travellers, many of them from Asia, stop in Bonn. Along with Bonn's many museums, Beethoven is one of the former capital's most significant attractions.

The annual Beethoven Festival, in particular, draws the crowds. It has its roots in Franz Liszt's 1845 festival and is a special highlight for music lovers from all over the world.

Bonn tourism officials have quickly learned that, quite simply, Beethoven sells. In addition to her picture in front of the statue, Xianguo Zhong went home with a t-shirt with a picture of the composer on it.

"In China, every kid knows who Beethoven is," she said. "We read stories about him in elementary school."

Souvenirs galore

Beethovenhaus in Bonn
Beethoven's birth house attracts around 100,000 visitors per yearImage: DW

The museum gift shop in the composer's birth house has over 800 Beethoven souvenirs on offer, including beer glasses, thimbles, playing cards, stationary and ties all printed with a variety of Beethoven motives.

Each year, around 100,000 pilgrims visit the house on Bonngasse, where they can view some of the composer's instruments, hand-written correspondence and original manuscripts -- and take home reproductions of the "Moonlight Sonata" or "Für Elise" manuscripts printed on silk scarves and porcelain plates.

Particularly enthusiastic Beethoven fans can even take home a bit of the composer himself -- at least from the shoulders up. Visitors can choose from 20 different types of Beethoven busts measuring between five and 55 centimeters (two to 22 inches) tall and costing up to 1,000 euros ($1,350).

The gift shop's best-sellers, however, are the CDs of the composer's music. They even offer a recording that simulates Beethoven's hearing loss with changes to the volume and sound of the music.

The birth house also holds a substantial Beethoven archive and library. A chamber music concert hall designed by renowned Cologne architect Thomas van den Valentyn opened next door in 1989.