Conducive to symphonies

Breeding Creativity

Conducive to symphonies

Komische Oper Berlin. Photo by Hanns joosten

‘Fidelio’ is being performed at Komische Oper the day I’m offered a tour of the theatre. But we have a punishing schedule, and no time to take in the performance.

The smallest of the three opera houses here, Komische Oper (or Comic Opera House) has a reputation for innovation and encouraging avant garde productions. Its promoters see it as the birthplace of the modern musical theatre. It was declared opera house of the year in Germany in 2007.

Opera houses aplenty

But as Komische’s press officer Andre Kraft explains, opera is part of the culture in Germany. More people go to opera and theatre here than they go to football matches, he says. No wonder Germany has nearly 100 opera houses — as many as the rest of the world put together, which explains the huge number of new productions here — 560 for the next season.

The USA, on the other hand, has only five opera houses. Germans take their opera and theatre seriously, says Kraft. So does their government. It supports the arts generously. Komische Oper alone receives a state grant of 30 million euros a year. This facilitates programming three years in advance, and supports the production of special operas for children.

Some 30,000 children throng the Komische Oper each season, and tickets are relatively low-priced. At the low end they cost 8 euros, on the steep side, 72 euros. In New York an opera ticket is no less than 250 euros, says Kraft.

Like many heritage buildings in Berlin, the Komische Oper’s façade was destroyed by bombing at the fag end of World War II, and its modern linear exterior conceals a neo-baroque theatre hall that miraculously survived the bombing practically unscathed. A sprawling city of 3.4 million, Berlin offers visitors an amalgam of the modern with the old with many a grim reminder of the aftermath of war.

The Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church partially destroyed in the 1943 bombing, is one such iconic landmark. Juxtaposed against the dark, surreal remains of the 19th century church is the hexagonal tower of the rebuilt one. The hot summer sun brings out the glint in its glazed blue glass.

Not many would recommend an evening out at Kreuzberg, a West Berlin neighbourhood associated with immigrants, but for an Indian traveller, the large multicultural settlement offers an array of international cuisines and sites closer to home.

Eateries and restaurants here, some with rather exotic décor, offering Turkish, Greek, Indian, Mexican food lend Kreuzberg's streets a buzz lacking in the more sedate zones of Berlin.

It’s an hour-and-half from Berlin to Dresden by road. Formerly a part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), it is hard to believe that Germany’s seventh largest city has been laboriously and artfully restored over just a few decades. The restoration of the Zwinger Palace continues unobtrusively to this day even as thousands of tourists mill about its oval grounds.The Holocaust  memorial. Photo by author

Dresden recently marked the 65th anniversary of the aerial strafing by Allied forces that destroyed most of the city’s cultural centre. The bombing that began on February 13, 1945, killed nearly 25,000 people, say historians. Though their assessments were later questioned, the US and Britain claimed their targets were Nazi Germany's manufacturing hub in the Dresden suburbs.

Standing before the Frauenkirche, the baroque Church of Our Lady, reconstructed over seven years using 3D technology to analyse old photographs, it is difficult to believe the church reopened just five years ago. Our guide draws our attention to the fact that stones recovered from the rubble were used to rebuild the landmark. As a measure of reconciliation, a trust set up in the UK raised funds for the Dresden Cathedral’s reconstruction.

Tourism has brought back an old-world charm to the narrow pedestrianised lanes of Dresden, where quaint horse-buggies clip-clop past some of the world’s most expensive designer outlets like Gucci and Armani. But around every corner one can unearth the threads of history.

As they have in the past, recently, thousands of neo-nazis held a commemorative march on the streets of Dresden to mark the  anniversary of the 1945 bombing. There were thousands of other protestors out to block them. In Dresden, the serene calm seems almost deceptive.

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