Thursday, February 17, 2005

Lethargic Revival

The New York Times has an article about the revival of Berlin as a cultural center of Germany. The major question: is there the money to keep all the institutions of both East and West Berlin alive? The article is a good summary of what has been happening, particularly the new museums that are being built. But it never asks why the municipal or federal government should invest in Berlin's cultural development, nor does it mention to resentment felt elsewhere in Germany that money has gone to re-creating a showpiece, part of a an laready over-budget project to re-capitalizing the city. There is no reference to why Germany needs this cultural capital, especially when many cities already have a wealth of high culture.
The former East Berlin was home to most of the city's major museums and theaters and two of its three opera houses. But these 18th- and 19th-century buildings were in desperate need of repair and renovation. Further, from East Germany Berlin inherited an ugly asbestos-riddled Palace of the Republic, built in the 1970's to replace the 17th-century Hohenzollern Palace but now likely to be razed itself.

Yet, for all that, there is cause for optimism. Organizational problems are being resolved, and long-term reconstruction projects are going ahead. ...

"I think culture is the only real force for renewal that Berlin has for the next 50 to 100 years," said Barbara Kisseler, the city's under secretary for culture. "At the moment, we have more problems than we need. But these are only financial problems, not problems that cannot be resolved."

The biggest headache of recent years was, Can Berlin afford three opera houses? The accountants said no, but politically it was impossible to close any of them. Finally, with a view to cost-saving, a new Berlin Opera Foundation was created last year to oversee the Deutsche Oper in the west and the Deutsche Staatsoper Unter den Linden and the Komische Oper in the east.

The shake-up meant merging the opera houses' three ballet companies into a new Staatsballett Berlin, sharing opera workshops and trimming 18 musicians and seven singers. As a result, the city hopes to reduce its annual opera subsidy by $19 million to $126 million by 2009. At the same time, while income levels here cannot sustain sharply higher ticket prices, the opera houses are being urged to find corporate sponsors.
My other posts about Berlin about the meaning of the Wall and the restorations of the Hohenzollern Palace and the Palace of the Republic: here, here, here, here.

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