Germany’s highlight: Bayreuth

Germany’s highlight: Bayreuth

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Countless sights in Bavaria compete for a tourist’s attention. Romantics might choose the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle, history buffs are drawn to Nuremberg’s dark past and culture hounds in Munich would happily stay put indefinitely. Small wonder Bavaria’s 10th-largest city doesn’t make quite the touristic splash of its better known neighbors. 

Bayreuth, a city of 77,000 in Bavaria’s Franconian region, lies alongside the Roter Main, one of two rivers that merge to create the mighty Main, between the Fichtel and Franconian Jura mountain ranges. First mentioned in 1194, it profited from a strategic position at the intersection of several trade routes. Fortune favored Bayreuth when the margraves, noblemen assigned by the Holy Roman Emperor to defend its border areas, took up residence. The flourishing of culture, art and architecture peaked during the reign of Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth from 1735 to 1763, due in large part to the outsize influence of his wife Wilhelmine, sister of Frederick the Great.

Margravine Wilhelmine’s Bayreuth

Following her marriage in 1731, Wilhelmine moved from Berlin to Bayreuth and quickly got busy reshaping the town into a center of refinement and intellectualism. Following the fire that consumed the old palace, the New Palace was built in an intimate Rococo style, along with a Baroque opera house fit to rival its most lavish contemporaries in Vienna and Dresden. Other sites associated with this remarkable woman include the Hermitage complex and the “Margravine Wilhelmine's Bayreuth” museum, housed within the New Palace. Many visitors name the tour of the Margravial Opera House, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2012, as a highlight of their time in Bayreuth.

Festival Opera House

Bayreuth’s history is also intertwined with Richard Wagner, a composer of dramatic operas based on Germanic legends and holder of controversial religious and political views. Wagner settled in Bayreuth in 1872 and four years later, the Festspielhaus or Festival House, opened with the premiere of “The Ring of the Nibelung” cycle. Following Wagner’s death in 1883, his relatives continued to assist in the organization of operatic music festivals, a tradition that remains at the heart of Bayreuth’s cultural calendar to date.

The plain brick façade of The Festspielhaus is at odds with what’s found within. One of the world’s largest opera houses is also considered one of its greatest, due to its one-of-a-kind acoustics, seating in direct line of sight to the stage, a sunken orchestra pit and a stage that places the singers in intimate contact with the audience. Outside the July-August festival period, guided tours are offered daily. Conducted in German, English handouts help with comprehension. Other Wagner sites include his home, Villa Wahnfried and his unmarked grave in the surrounding garden.

Maisel Brewery tour

After all that culture comes the reward. The Maisel Brewery, best known for its wheat beers, has been delighting drinkers since 1887. An hour-long, self-guided audio tour through the Maisel's Bier-Erlebnis-Welt presents brewing techniques of past and present, along with old glasses and advertising signs. The tour is optimally concluded with a frothy glass of the local gold. Prost! The gem that is Bayreuth has been unearthed.


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