Music lovers — especially those with a passion for Wagnerian opera — will revel in this daytrip from Munich (or Nürnberg) to Bayreuth. Taken directly from the pages of my recent guidebook Daytrips Bavaria, it tells you exactly how to get there and how to get the most out of this popular festival town hidden away in the wilds of Franconia. Enjoy!
For admirers of Wagnerian opera, a daytrip to Bayreuth is a delightful pilgrimage — perhaps the highlight of their entire visit to Germany. Others may find this to be a day largely wasted in the boondocks of Franconia. How much joy you get out of this trip is determined by your musical tastes, and only you can know the answer to that.
There was a town here long before Wagner was ever born, of course. During the 18th century this was a minor cultural oasis under the influence of Princess Wilhelmina, the very talented sister of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. An ineptitude for diplomacy led to her being married to the exceedingly dull Margrave of Bayreuth, a fate made bearable by creating what few treasures the town has to offer aside from those associated with the composer.
The annual Bayreuth Festival, which had its premier on August 13th, 1876, has since turned this provincial Bavarian town into a world-class mecca for music lovers. Organized by Richard Wagner (that's him on the left) for the express purpose of performing his own operas in his very own theater, it helped revolutionize the status of composers from glorified servants of the nobility to entrepreneurs. More than that, it began the entire concept of annual music festivals, now held all over the world.
Although it's a bit lengthy for a daytrip, dedicated fans will find this excursion well worth the effort. Bayreuth may also be visited from other Franconian bases, such as Nürnberg.
Trains leave Munich's main station between roughly 6 and 7:30 a.m. for Nürnberg, where you connect to an hourly train to Bayreuth, or the faster. more luxurious ICE train bound for Dresden. The entire journey takes about 2½ or 3 hours. Return ttrains operate until mid-evening, again changing at Nürnberg. Get schedules at W: bahn.de.
By Car, Bayreuth is 231 km (144 miles) north of Munich on the A-9 Autobahn.
Unless you really love crowds, you should avoid coming during festival time, which lasts from late July until late August. The local Tourist Information Office(Kongress-und-Tourismuszentral), T: (0921) 885-88, W: bayreuth-tourismus.de, is at Luitpoldplatz 9, a few blocks south of the train station. Bayreuth has a population of about 75,000.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Some good places for lunch are:
Da Corrado (Sophienstr. 22, near the Kunstmuseum) A modern Mediterranean restaurant in the oldest part of town, with a terrace by the ancient walls. T: (0921) 515-900. €€€
Oskar (Maximilianstr. 33, west of the Altes Schloss) Both traditional and New Franconian cuisine. T: (0921) 516-0553. € and €€
Gastätte Porsch (Maximilianstr. 63, 2 blocks west of the Altes Schloss) Inexpensive dining on Franconian fare. T: (0921) 646-49. €
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Leave the Train Station (1) and walk down Bahnhofstrasse to the tourist office on Luitpoldplatz. Across the square is the 17th-century Altes Schloss (Old Palace) (2), home of the ruling margraves until 1754. Destroyed in 1945, it was later rebuilt and now houses government offices. Amble through its courtyard and visit the Schlosskirche (Palace Church), which contains the tombs of Margrave Friedrich and his wife Wilhelmina. From here you can take an interesting stroll through the oldest part of town, now home to the new Kunstmuseum (Museum of Art) (3) with its rich collection of German 20th-century art from such masters as Otto Dix, Schmitt-Rottluff, Max Beckmann and others. T: (0921) 764-5310, W: kunstmuseum-bayreuth.de. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-5, also on Mon. in July-Aug. €. You might also stop at the 15th-century Stadtkirche (Town Church) on Kirchplatz before continuing on to the first major attraction:
HAUS WAHNFRIED — RICHARD WAGNER MUSEUM (4), T: (0921) 757-2816, W: wagnermuseum.de. Open April-Oct., daily 9-5, remaining open until 8 on Tues. and Thurs.; Nov.-March, daily 10-5, remaining open until 8 on Thurs. Closed certain holidays. €.
Richard Wagner built Haus Wahnfried (photo, above) in 1873 as his first, and last, permanent home. Born in Leipzig in 1813, he had always been a wanderer, fleeing both creditors and the police until his strange relationship with the mentally unbalanced King Ludwig II began in 1864. This solved his persistent money problems — he had always lived lavishly on a precarious income — but the composer's political manipulations and loose morals quickly gained him enemies, and he was forced into exile. Eventually, Wagner's ego required that he have his very own opera house, where his works would not be contaminated by those of other composers. Thus the move to Bayreuth, a place so remote and yet within the confines of Ludwig's Bavaria that his adoring public would have to come to him.
Haus Wahnfried remained in the possession of Wagner's descendants until 1973, when it was deeded to the town. It has since been restored and is now open as a fascinating museum of the composer's life; one that explores his creative genius without overlooking the blemishes. Visitors may relax in the drawing room and listen to recorded concerts of his operas. Allow plenty of time for this small but intriguing museum.
Wagner, who died in 1883, lies buried along with his wife Cosima in a simple grave at the rear of the house. Continue past this and wander around the lovely Hofgarten to the:
NEUES SCHLOSS (New Palace) (5), T: (0921) 759-69-21. Open April-Sept., daily 9-6; Oct.-March, daily 10-4. €.
Begun in 1753, this late rococo structure reflects the refined tastes of Princess Wilhelmina, who lived here until her death in 1758. Its many charming rooms, filled with period furniture, may be seen on guided tours given frequently.
Now follow Ludwigstrasse to Wilhelmina's great masterpiece, the:
*MARKGRÄFLICHES OPERNHAUS (Margrave's Opera House) (6), T: (0921) 759-69-22. Open April-Sept., daily 9-6; Oct.-March, daily 10-4. €.
Otherwise known as the Old Opera and first opened in 1748, this is an absolutely delightful jewel, right up there in the same class with Munich's Cuvilliés Theater. Every 45 minutes, visitors are treated to a delightful sound-and-light show (in German) with Baroque music and fantastic illuminations. Richard Wagner was originally attracted to Bayreuth by the thought of using this elegant theater for his festival. Alas, its stage proved much too small for both Siegfried and the dragon, let alone all those Valkyries. In the end, of course, he built his own opera house, which you should visit next.
Return to the train station and take the route on the map to Wagner's Festspielhaus (Festival Theater) (7), the most famous sight in Bayreuth. Set atop a small hill overlooking the town, this curiously nondescript structure was begun in 1872. Wagner was hardly able to raise the money for a cornerstone, to say nothing of an entire opera house, so in the end he had to appeal once again to Ludwig. The king, somewhat peeved at the choice of Bayreuth and by now short of cash as a result of his lavish castles, came up with just enough for this unadorned building. Plans to add an elaborate façade at a later date never materialized.
Inside, however, it is a marvel of technical ingenuity. The acoustics, achieved at the expense of audience comfort, are world-renowned. Singers can be heard above the roar of the orchestra, which is buried in a deep pit. The huge and highly mechanized stage was decades ahead of its time, as was the lighting. T: (0921) 787-80. Guided tours are held in Dec.-April on Tues.-Sun. at 10 and 2; in Sept.-Oct. on Tues. through Sun. at 10, 10:45, 2:15, and 3. There are no tours when the theater is in use from late May through July, or in Nov. €. Tickets for performances are invariably sold out long in advance.
From here it is an easy downhill walk back to the train station.
Copyright © 2007 and 2009 Earl Steinbicker.