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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July, 2003, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Germany's cultural crisis
By Rosie Goldsmith
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

Dresden is suffering the effects of the economic crisis

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents travelled to Germany and found the tradition of lavish state support for arts under threat.

Germany has always been proud of its arts, with more theatres, opera houses and museums than many other countries. Most of these have been generously funded by the state.

But times are changing, and the German economy is in trouble.

Unemployment is high and Germany's health, education and social services have all suffered. And the latest casualty of the crisis is its unique approach to arts funding.

The German miracle is over.

Our subsidies have been frozen and it is impossible to continue providing good opera on this basis
Louwrens Langavoort, Hamburg State Opera

Compared with Britain and France, Germany's arts have always been spread out locally and regionally, not just concentrated in the capital.

This goes back to the days when Germany was divided into small kingdoms and principalities, with a centuries' old tradition of arts funding by local princely patrons. So almost every small town can boast a museum and theatre.

Now the commitment and tradition is being questioned.

Clinging on

Hamburg State Opera General Manager Louwrens Langavoort
Louwrens Langavoort has decided to leave the Hamburg State Opera

The city of Hamburg in the north of Germany is renowned for the high quality of its arts, but it is the battle over money that is attracting headlines now.

The musical director of the State Opera, Ingo Metzmacher, has resigned. And the general manager, Louwrens Langavoort, is leaving too.

"We have had to stop some productions going ahead," he told Crossing Continents.

"We employ 800 people and most of our money from the state has to go on paying their salaries.

We need subsidies to experiment and to find new talent
Louwrens Langavoort, Hamburg State Opera

"Our subsidies have been frozen and it is impossible to continue providing good opera on this basis. Can you imagine an opera chorus with sopranos but no tenors?"

Hamburg's State Theatre - with a staff of 400 run by director Tom Stromberg - is also clinging on.

But with Germany's economy in crisis and the unemployed needing jobs, why should the arts get such generous funds anyway?

"Germany produces the best theatre in the world," Mr Stromberg explained. "We need the subsidies to experiment and to find new talent.

"We want to do things that are not always comfortable but are creative. Today's politicians want us to produce only popular, money-making theatre which brings in the tourists."

Change of direction

Politician Dana Horakova
Dana Horakova wants to bring the arts to more people

The politician Tom Stromberg has in mind is Hamburg's new Arts Minister, Dana Horakova.

She has been the focus of the bad feeling. Not only has she had to make the cuts, but the arts elite calls her favourite projects "populist" and "philistine".

Such as the proposed "Aquadome", a cross between an aquarium and a music hall.

Mrs Horakova used to work as a journalist on a tabloid newspaper, and in Germany there is a sharp distinction between "high" and "low" art.

I cannot give them any more money, but no one can these days
Dana Horakova, politician

She told the programme: "I want to win over people to culture who were not born with a volume of Goethe in their hands.

"We need more glamour and big attractions in this city. We must invest in the future too, not just the past."

And of her "enemies" she said: "Of course, it is natural that the directors are voicing criticism.

"They are leaving because I cannot give them any more money. But no one can these days."

Dresden's arts depression

If the economy in Hamburg is ailing, then Dresden, the arts showcase of the former East Germany, is on its death bed.

State coffers are twice as empty and unemployment queues twice as long.

Beautiful, baroque Dresden on the Elbe River has suffered a lot: the Anglo-American bombing of 1945, the economic strictures of Communism, last year's disastrous floods, and now economic recession.

In Dresden's Job Centre, 24-year-old Antje cannot understand why any money at all should go on the arts.

"The money could fund hundreds of jobs," she protested. "Most of my friends are unemployed."

Heike, who is 28, says she used to visit Dresden's museums and theatres.

Germany has been living beyond its means for too long
Jobst Fiedler

"These days the entrance fees are too high and I cannot afford them. The arts are for tourists only."

But one man, an unemployed engineer, defends the arts, "Dresden's economy is bad. We need tourists and their money because that will help the whole city."

Germany has very few solutions to the crisis, except to cut and reform the state system.

Jobst Fiedler is a high-flying "Mr Fix It" in both the arts and the economy.

He says: "Germany has been living beyond its means for too long. The system is bloated.

"We cannot just defend the arts because it is our tradition. We need new arguments. We need new forms of sponsoring. We must be more radical and flexible.

"It is not a matter of just slicing off 1% or 2% from a budget. It is a question of which theatres and museums must go. These are hard times."

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 31 July, 2003 at 1100 BST.

Crossing Continents


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Germany's suffering arts
24 Jul 03  |  Crossing Continents
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