Empty space with a tainted past

Can a purpose-built Nazi structure be turned into a venue for the arts? That is what the city of Nuremberg is attempting – with plans to use the Congress Hall on the former Nazi Party rally grounds as an interim venue for opera and dance while the city’s State Theatre is under renovation. Though a conveniently empty space, its infamous history weighs heavily.

Bühnentechnische Rundschau

It’s an interim solution with a difference: With the 1905-opened opera house on Nuremberg’s Richard Wagner Platz in urgent need of renovation, the congress hall on the former Nazi Party rally grounds has been earmarked as the State Theatre’s alternative venue and stage crew’s provisional workplace.

The combined conversion of the congress hall and renovation of the old theatre, which Nuremberg’s Christian Democrat mayor Marcus König described in December 2021 as “the city’s biggest single investment since the Second World War”, is indeed a mammoth project in financial terms alone. Conversion and renovation are currently estimated to cost some 500 to 550 million Euros. But with both the room schedule for the opera house and the design for the alternative venue still pending, costs are expected to rise. The mooted total of 800 million to a billion Euros has been at most half-heartedly dismissed.

The city itself does not have the funds to pay for the project. Or so insists Treasurer Harald Riedel, who has repeatedly called on the State of Bavaria to bear “100 percent” of the expense. Though it might seem an unrealistic demand, Bavaria’s Minister of Finance Albert Füracker has in fact agreed – without mentioning any concrete figures – to bear 75 percent of the eligible costs, which would itself amount to roughly 50 percent of the total costs.

Meanwhile, the historic and symbolic burden on the interim theatre is heavy: The State Theatre will be moving from a Nazi-patronized and misused opera house into the frame of a monumental Nazi structure, designed to serve as a pseudo-democratic assembly hall and arena for the political posturing of 50,000 “Aryan Germans”. And today, the conversion concept approved by the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Greens on the Nuremberg Council is in its own way staggering, entailing the accommodation of 650 members of staff in the Nazis’ second-largest mega-structure (only the Prora building complex on the island of Rügen is larger) until the project’s completion in 2025.


Support for the plans to build a lightweight structure in the empty Congress Hall atrium as a provisional venue for opera and ballet is not unanimous. Objections have been voiced by Nuremberg Social Democrats and some historians, who would prefer to see the former Nazi location kept empty as a site of historical education, and have the provisional venue built in front of or next to the congress hall rotunda.

To date, only the following basic outline of a schedule has been set: Conversion of a now vacant part of the Nazi-era rotunda with a yet-to-be-defined extension are due to be completed and ready for use by the start of the 2025 season – and used by the State Theatre for at least ten years. The projected cost of the interim theatre alone is 130 million Euros, 42 million of which should cover the 800-seater extension. Staff at the State Theatre, led by artistic director/head of opera Jens-Daniel Herzog, mostly approve of the plans. And recently the staff and orchestra of the Nuremberg State Philharmonic have also voiced their support for a temporary move to the Congress Hall.

Yet what awaits them at the provisional venue is anything but a congenial workplace, even in practical terms. The congress hall rotunda is enormous, unheated, and damp; most rooms have bare masonry and no windows. In this far-from-welcoming atmosphere, major installation and conversion work is required before public performances can take place. Still, the congress hall’s atrium and rotunda offer approx. 82,000 m² (8.2 hectares) of usable, empty space, albeit with a tainted past. (…)

BTR Ausgabe 2 2022
Rubrik: English texts, Seite 178
von Thomas Heinold

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