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 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 16:26 GMT
Graz grabs the cultural limelight
The modern
A floating island is being created in the river Mur

The Austrian city of Graz has been named as Europe's Cultural Capital 2003, taking over from Bruges in Belgium and Salamanca in Spain.

Graz has always been a city of cultural diversity

Mayor Alfred Stingl
The title is an annual award from the European Union aimed at highlighting the variety of culture in the EU.

Over the next 12 months Graz, which is two hundred kilometres south of Vienna, will host hundreds of arts projects.

The city does not boast mountains or Mozart, but it is hoping that the ambitious programme will help it put it on the map.

Tension rises during the final rehearsals for one music theatre production.

With just a few days to go, the pressure is on as director Reinhild Hoffmann puts the finishing touches to a performance that will mark the start of a special year for Graz.

Graz city centre
The centre is quite unspoilt
It is just one of hundreds of productions, exhibitions, films and art installations set will take place in 2003.

The Mayor of Graz, Alfred Stingl, hopes the city's efforts will pay off.

"Graz has always been a city of cultural diversity: theatre, literature, photography, architecture," he says.

"We have a long tradition and we hope we have many visitors from south and eastern Europe as well as Germany and Italy."

Building a future

Graz has one of the best preserved medieval city centres in central Europe.

Map of the region
But 2003 will see a focus on modern architecture, not the winding cobbled streets and ornate houses that give the city its character.

Several ambitious new structures are being built - and radical ideas in design are being explored.

So, will these new structures transform sleepy provincial Graz into a latent utopia?

If you walk over one of the pedestrian bridges over the river Mur which cuts through the city you see one of the most eye-catching examples of Graz 2003.

Floating island
The island takes shape
It is an artificial floating island which has been built in the middle of river, made out of steel lattice and glass, it looks like a huge salad bowl floating in the middle of the river. A big contrast to the baroque buildings that surround it.

"We have three parts of the island: one part is a covered part, a cafe that will turn into a bar in the evening; then we have an open part, an amphitheatre, and in the middle of the two there is a playground for children," explained Manfred Gaulhofer, executive director of Graz 2003.

5,000 events

"You have the castle here on the one side and you will have the look towards the modern arts centre that is being created at the very moment."

Many people here think Graz 2003 will help shake up the city.

art, Wolfgang Amadeus, after the original painting by Jaeger.
There is nothing quite like Mozart
"I think many impressive buildings are going on and the island in the Mur is quite a good idea. I just hope that it will have a longer lasting effect and not be just a flash in the pan," said one Graz shopper.

"It's a great programme. I read that there are five thousand events. I'm from Graz and I will visit, I don't know, most of it, I think. It will be a very great event from Graz," said another.

In 2003 Graz is hoping to pull itself out of the shadow of more famous Austrian tourist destinations like Vienna and Salzburg.

Floating islands and modern art may help, but they are no substitute for Mozart.

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