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Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 01:35 GMT
Graz set for Europe's cultural crown
Graz, Austria's second largest city, is hoping to become Europe's Capital of Culture 2003
The clock is ticking in the city's race for cultural glory
The BBC's Michael Voss

The southern Austrian city of Graz, the provincial capital of Styria, is gearing up to become the 2003 European Capital of Culture.

Graz is the second largest city in Austria, but without the pull of mountains or Mozart, it has long lived in the shadow of smaller but more famous towns such as Innsbruck and Salzburg.

Now it hopes that the Capital of Culture title will earn it the recognition it feels it deserves.

This year two cities hold the title - Salamanca in Spain and Bruges in Belgium.

The Sturm Graz football stadium - a testament to the city's most famous export
The city's stadium - a testament to its most famous export
It is an annual award from the European Union aimed at highlighting the EU's many and varied cultures.

It can also boost tourist numbers by as much as 40%.

Cultural 'muscle'

One of the city's biggest assets is its football team Sturm Graz, and its new stadium is named after the city's most famous son - Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a nearby gym, amid the rows of modern exercise machines, there is a small "Arnie" museum.

In it are the original dumbbells and weights he used to become Mr Universe before muscling his way to Hollywood.

"We get tourists here from the US, Great Britain and many other parts of the world," said the gym's Henrika Bergmann.

We have always felt overshadowed

Susanne Hoeller
Now the city authorities hope that the rest of the world will soon discover the other charms of what is often described as Austria's hidden gem.

"We have always felt overshadowed because the typical tourist route is to go to Vienna and Salzburg and perhaps Innsbruck as well," said Susanne Hoeller of the Graz Tourist Board.

"But we are very optimistic that Graz will be on the tourist map in the future."

The pedestrianised old town is one of the best preserved medieval city centres in central Europe which since 1999 has been as Unesco World Heritage Site.

Bustling town

But this is no museum. At weekends the narrow streets are bustling and at the first hint of sunshine, everyone herds for the numerous outdoor cafes and restaurants.

With a population of 250,000, it used to have a reputation as a sleepy old town to retire to. But no longer.

Millions are being invested in extensive renovation programmes
The Graz skyline reveals heavy renovation
It is a large university town, and throughout the year it hosts avant guard arts and jazz festivals as well as classical concerts and opera, all of which will feature throughout 2003.

As well as bringing recognition and tourists, becoming a European Capital of Culture also means plenty of renovation.

Giant cranes dominate the skyline with more than 50 million dollars being spent on improvements, including a new ultra modern arts centre and an ambitious floating island on the River Mur.

And now, the race is on.

See also:

10 Sep 02 | Media reports
29 Sep 02 | Country profiles
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