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What's on in 2021?

Paula Rösler | Stefan Dege
January 1, 2021

Cancellations, delays, extensions: the COVID pandemic still promises to overshadow events in the near future to come. Regardless, here are some cultural highlights to look forward to in the New Year.

Neon sign of 2021
Image: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

German music composer Ludwig van Beethoven turned 250 in 2020, but celebrations have been rescheduled for June 2021, with open-air concerts for the public in the musician’s birthplace in Bonn.

The Beethoven Anniversary Year has been extended in Germany up to September 2021 after most projects planned for 2020 had to be slashed because of the pandemic. In the New Year, music lovers will also be able to listen to the 10th symphony – an unfinished work by the composer that has been completed with the help of artificial intelligence.

Beethoven statue
There should be 251 candles on Beethoven's birthday cake this year, but the pandemic forced last year's celebrations to be postponedImage: Sonja Werner

Read more: A World Without Beethoven?

More than just Beethoven

Two major German bands will also be using the occasion to celebrate their anniversary years as well. Die Fantastischen Vier (The Fantastic Four) are celebrating 30 years of their existence with a concert on June 11, 2021, and Kraftwerk, considered a pioneer of electronic music will look back at half a century of music-making a day later on June 12.

And the next day, on June 13, British singer Robbie Williams will perform in front of his fans at an open-air concert at the university grounds in Bonn, the "Hofgarten."

Robbie Williams singing in a red suit
Robbie Williams also had to postpone his 2020 concert in Bonn due to the pandemicImage: Reuters/K. Pfaffenbach

Two festivals in one

The Berlin film festival (Berlinale) was largely unaffected by the coronavirus in 2020, when its 70th edition ended on March 1. Just a day later, the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Berlin and a week later, the WHO announced the novel coronavirus disease to be a global pandemic.

But the organisers of the Berlin Film Festival have had to restructure the 2021 event because of COVID. The festival will not take place in February as scheduled, but will rather divided into two parts. An event in March will include digital meetings with online movie screenings only for professionals in the film industry and the European Film Market (EFM).

In June, organizers are planning a summer festival with screenings in cinemas and open-air theaters. The exact plans will be published in February.

Berlinale 2020 awards
The Berlinale had to get creative with organizing its screenings and awards ceremoniesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Soeder

What happens to the new James Bond?

Fans have been waiting with bated breath for the new Bond movie, "No Time to Die," which is due for release in cinemas in April 2021. But it's not clear whether that's really going to happen, especially since the film's release date has now been postponed four times.

Initially scheduled for release in October 2019, the date was shifted after the film changed directors. Then the script had to be reworked - with the release then slated for April 2020. But then COVID struck and the producers decided to move the release to November, which then was also shifted. Now the film is to come out in April 2021 - but who knows if it will? 

Read more: Billie Eilish releases new James Bond theme song

Meanwhile, the Warner Bros Hollywood studio has modified its plans for the pandemic. New movies will be released on streaming services and theaters simultaneously, it announced: "No one wants film back on the big screen more than we do," Warner Bros CEO Ann Sarnoff told the media recently, adding, "we know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the US will likely operate at reduced capacity through 2021."

Read more: How TV is refining its secret recipe

Daniel Craig as James Bond
Shaken and stirred: the changing release date of the latest James Bond film have caused global confusionImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Uncharted territory for book fairs

Meanwhile, book fairs in Germany, which are usually much more than pure trade fairs, are hoping for a big comeback in the New Year. The Leipzig book fair is not going to take place in its usual form in March this year, and the meet will most likely be moved to the end of May, considering the pandemic.

That will also be the time when the organizers will hand out the "Leipzig prize for European Understanding 2021" to Johnny Pitts for his book "Afropean: Notes from a Black Europe." 

The festival had to be cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic, but its director Oliver Zille is hopeful and wants to go back to the traditional schedule in 2022.

Olga Tokarczuk at the Frankfurt book fair 2019
The Frankfurt book fair, which regularly hosts Nobel Prize-winning authors like Olga Tokarczuk (seen here in 2019), is the most important event of its kind in the worldImage: Reuters/R. Orlowski

The Frankfurt book fair is a prime example of how the pandemic has changed the cultural industry. The event's future as the most important book event of the world is in question, as a trade platform as well as a public reading event. In the corona-engulfed autumn of 2020, the fair went completely digital.

Meanwhile, Frankfurt book fair chief Juergen Boos is calculated in his optimism with regard to the future: "In the future, there will be a mix of offline and digital events and that will be the new normal," he said. For 2021, the fair is scheduled from October 20 to 24, and its 2020 guest country Canada will be able to present itself anew.

Royal irritation

With an abuse scandal hanging over their heads, renegade members of the younger generation speaking up and cases of the novel coronavirus in their own family, the British royals have had a rather tough year. And it doesn't look too good for the Windsors in 2021 either:

Prince Andrew, the second-eldest son of the Queen, is embroiled in an abuse scandal with deceased US investment banker Jeffrey Epstein. It could become uncomfortable for the 60-year-old prince and his family when the trial against Epstein's associate Ghislaine Maxwell begins in July. Will she testify against Andrew?

Queen Elizabeth II.
Probably not amused: Queen Elizabeth II. has had another "annus horribilis" in 2020Image: Victoria Jones/AP/picture alliance

And then there’s Prince Harry.The 30-year-old grandson of Queen Elizabeth and his 39-year-old wife Meghan Markle have officially loosened their ties with the Royal Family in 2020, creating a global sensation. But as the couple wants to be financially independent, having denounced their royal duties, what's to come? Megan and Harry continue to live with their one-year-old son Archie in California for the time being, but the idea of any sense of peace returning to their family back in the UK seems elusive.

Meanwhile, the elder royals will have to continue to shield from the virus in 2021, despite some milestone anniversaries being lined up: Queen Elizabeth II. will celebrate her 95th birthday on April 21. Celebrations later in the summer could still be overshadowed by the pandemic. And her husband, Prince Phillip, will turn 100 on June 10. 

Read more: Season 4 of 'The Crown' spotlights era of female leadership

1700 years of Jewish life in Germany

The German-Jewish festival year 2021 is another event for many to look forward to. The anniversary will mark 1700 years of Jews living in Central Europe. The first documented mention of Jews in Cologne dates back to December 11 of the year 321 when the Roman king Constantine released an edict allowing Jews to assume public office. The document proves that Jewish communities were an important part of European culture since late antiquity. Further excavations in Cologne will soon result with the opening of Jewish culture museum in the city - as well as a possible recognition by UNESCO.

Mennorah seen at a synagogue in Cologne
More than death and destruction: Germany celebrates 1,700 years of Jewish life in 2021Image: Getty Images/AFP/P. Stollarz

Various states, communities and religious groups in Germany plan to use this anniversary to celebrate "1700 years of Jewish life in Germany," highlighting the diversity of modern Jewish life with concerts, discussions and exhibitions which will be marked with humor, but also with commemorations of the painful history of Jewish life in Germany.

Read more: 'Shalom Alaaf': Cologne carnival music is becoming more political

Europe’s cultural capitals

For 30 years, Europe’s cultural cities have highlighted the diversity in the continent with their annual cultural capitals.

For 2021, the European parliament and the Council chose the cities Timisoara in Romania, Elefsina in Greece, and Novi Sad, Serbia’s second-largest city, to represent the richness of European culture.

However, because of the ongoing pandemic, the distinction for Novi Sad has been rescheduled for 2022, and to 2023 for Timisoara and Elefsina.

Carnival in the pandemic?

The German carnival slogans "Alaaf" and "Helau" will certainly be heard 2021 as well, but the pandemic has taken its toll on Germany's carneval hubs like Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz.

Many highlights that are part of the festival – like the Rose Monday procession – will not be taking place as planned. In Cologne and Düsseldorf, the triumvirate of the prince, the farmer and the virgin will rule for two consecutive years – 2021 and 2022. Everything is a bit different, but carnivalistas refuse to give up hope: In Düsseldorf, the motto of the carnival is "We celebrate life."

Carnival mask
Carnival festivities in the Rhineland will still be overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemicImage: Gladys Chai von der Laage/imago images

Read more: Can Germany keep its Carnival events small?

In Cologne, the festival committee wants to present the Rose Monday procession as a miniature edition, with the help of puppets. The traditional carnival parade will take place, but as a puppet show at Cologne's Hännesche Theater. It wlil include everything from "Blaue Funken" – Cologne’s oldest Carnival group – to dancers, bands and much more.

The grand finale will also feature the Cologne Triumvirate: the prince, the farmer and the virgin. And they promise to have carnival floats that make fun of everyone.

Adapted from German by Manasi Gopalakrishnan