Bayreuth is a city in northern Bavaria, Germany, on the Red Main river in a valley between the Frankish Alb and the Fichtelgebirge, at an altitude of 1120 feet. It is the capital of Upper Franconia. In 1914 its population was was 34,500 inhabitants; in 2008 the population was 73,048.
The city is believed to have been founded by the Counts of Andechs on an unknown date in the Middle Ages and was first mentioned in 1194. The city centre still possesses the typical structure of a Bavarian street market: the settlement is grouped around a road widening into a square; the Town Hall was located in the middle. The church stood apart from it and on a small hill stood the castle. Some sixty years later the town (at that time a tiny village) became subordinate to the Hohenzollern state, and when this state was divided, Bayreuth belonged to the Principality of Bayreuth's county of Kulmbach. The city suffered several plagues and wars until in 1430 it was destroyed in the course of the Hussite Wars. In 1602 there was another plague, and fires damaged it in 1605 and 1621.
The turning point of the town's history was in 1603, when Margrave Christian of Kulmbach (Brandenburg-Kulmbach) decided to move his residence to Bayreuth, where it remained until 1769. The development of the new capital stagnated due to the Thirty Years' War, but afterwards many famous baroque buildings were added to the town. Margrave Christian died in 1655. His grandson Christian Ernst, who ruled from 1661 until 1712, was an educated and well-travelled man, whose tutor had been the statesman Joachim Friedrich von Blumenthal. He had built the fountain of the Margraves (1700) and an equestrian monument (1712), placed at first in the courtyard of the Old Castle and now in the middle of the square in front of the New Castle. In 1701 the township of St. Georgen was founded by the Margrave George William, later absorbed into Bayreuth in 1811 to become a suburb. St. Georgen was the seat of the knightly Order of la Sincérite, instituted in 1712 by the same Margrave. The meetings of the Order were held in the neighbouring ordens-Kirche, built in 1705-11.
Bayreuth's Golden Age was that during the reign of Margravine Wilhelmine, the favourite sister of King Frederick The Great. Several parks and castles were built which constitute much of Bayreuth's present appearance, together with the Opera of the Margraves, the most beautiful extant baroque theatre (built 1744-8) in Europe.
In 1769 the last margrave of the Principality of Bayreuth died without an heir, and the state was annexed by the neighbouring Principality of Ansbach. Bayreuth was no longer a state capital. Soon after it became Prussian (1792), French (1806) and finally Bavarian (1810).
Wagner and Bayreuth
The city is best known for its association with the composer Richard Wagner, who lived in Bayreuth from 1872 until his death in 1883. Wagner's villa, "Wahnfried", was constructed in Bayreuth in 1874 under the sponsorship of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The composer is buried behind the house, which was converted after World War II, when it was damaged by USAF bombings, into a Wagner Museum. At the corner of the Wahnfried Strasse and Liszt Strasse is the house in which Franz Liszt died in 1886.
Just to the north is the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, an opera house seating 1650, specially constructed (again funded by Ludwig II) by the famous architect Semper in 1872-6, for and exclusively devoted to the performance of Wagner's operas. The premieres of the final two works of Wagner's Ring Cycle (Siegfried and Götterdämmerung); of the cycle as a whole; and of Parsifal took place here. Every summer, Wagner's operas are performed at the Festspielhaus during the month-long Richard Wagner Festival, commonly known as the Bayreuth Festival. The Festival draws thousands of attendees each year, and has consistently been sold-out since its inauguration in 1876. Currently, waiting lists for tickets can stretch for up to 10 years or more.
Owing to Wagner's relationship with the then relatively unknown philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, the first Bayreuth festival is thought to be a key turning point in Nietzsche's philosophical development. Though at first an enthusiastic champion of Wagner's music, Nietzsche ultimately became hostile, viewing the festival and its revellers as symptom of cultural decay and bourgeois decadence, an event which led him to turn his eyes to what he saw as the more esteemed values of morality held by society as a whole. Nietzsche's book Human, All Too Human developed out of this experience, a summary of which appears in his later book, Ecce Homo, and where many of these concerns are expounded upon in garrulous detail.
Much later Bayreuth became popular with National Socialists. Their leaders often attended the Wagner festival. It was one of several cities in which town planning was administered directly from Berlin, due to Hitler's special interest in the town and the festival. Hitler loved Richard Wagner's music and frequently attended performances in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus becoming a close friend of Winifred Wagner, the composer's daughter-in-law, after she took over the Bayreuth Festival.
On January 9, 1927, the now paralysed author Houston Stewart Chamberlain died in Bayreuth, which flew flags of mourning as the hearse, drawn by horses draped in black, halted in front of the Chamberlain house. He was taken to Coburg for cremation.
World War II
During World War II, a small subcamp of Flossenburg concentration camp was located outside the city. It was bombed by the Americans and sixty-one inmates were marched to Flossenburg itself on 14th April, 1945, the day the Americans arrived in Bayreuth.
Although of no military significance whatsoever, Bayreuth was heavily bombed at the very end of World War II by the United States Air Force. At noon on 5th April 1945 the first bombs fell destroying the area around the railway station and, in a second attack, whole rows of houses in the town. The cotton mill was hit burying at least 100 young foreign workers. Seven firemen were burnt to death in their fire engines. Villa Wahnfried was also hit, destroying one side and the cellar which was full of people. (The house was subsequently looted). On the 8th April the American planes returned with more bombs resulting in more death and destruction and mass funerals, interrupted by dive-bomber attacks and another massive incendiary-bomb raid. However the "most terrible day in the history of Bayreuth" was 11th April, when the American bombers returned in a large-scale air-raid with direct hits on the post-office, the old town hall in the Palais Raitzenstein, the nearby Layritz House with its beautiful Rococo facade, the House of German Education, the printing works, and the prison. Many prisoners including a number of Czechs and Poles died helplessly in their cells. Thirty-five percent of the city was destroyed and about a thousand people died.
- Jean Paul Richter, author, moved from Coburg to Bayreuth in 1804 until his death in 1825.
- Richard Wagner, composer.
- Siegfried Wagner, composer & conductor.
- Winifred Wagner.
- Houston Stewart Chamberlain, author, biographer, philosopher, natural scientist, genius.
- Baedeker, Karl, Southern Germany, Leipzig & London, 1914, p.152.
- Baedeker, 1914, p.152.
- Baedeker, 1914, p.154.
- Baedeker, 1914, pps:152-154.
- Hamann, 2005, p.122-3.
- Christine O'Keefe.Concentration Camps.www.tartanplace.com/tartanhistory/concentrationcamps.html
- Hamann, 2005, p.398.
- Hamann, 2005, p.394-401, "Bayreuth Bombed".
- Hamann, Brigitte, Winifred Wagner, first published in Munich, Germany in 2002; first published in London, Great Britain in 2005. ISBN 1-86207-671-5