The University and Theatre City of Göttingen
Idyllic and cultivated
The good reputation of the City of Göttingen in Lower Saxony is due largely to its renowned university. Nicola Bongard, dramaturge for youth theatre at the Deutsches Theater, explains why life is wonderful here in spite of the fact that space is rather limited.
Ms. Bongard, at the entrance to the Ratkeller in Göttingen it says in Latin: “Outside Göttingen there is no life; if there is life, then not this kind of life “ …
Well, that prompts me to say something heretical. Only someone from Göttingen could have come up with a saying like that. To the people of Göttingen, I would say this: don’t get me wrong, you can indeed live a wonderful life here and almost forget that it is less idyllic and cultivated elsewhere, but as someone who has lived elsewhere for many years, I have a criticism to make about that particular point. Some people from Göttingen do not look beyond their tea cup, like to sweep before their own door and are not particularly keen on change.
But that is just one side of the coin. The other is that the city has a young feel to it on account of its many students and tourism, both of which bring lots of languages and freshness into the city – and lead to the limited space and crowdedness typical of Göttingen.
What should no visitor to the city miss?
I swear - and I say this not just as a dramaturge at the Deutsches Theater - you absolutely must go to the theatre! Best of all, to the studio, the venue of the Junges Schauspiel, which has been putting on very special productions for children and young people for the last four years. They are fresh and original, they have their finger on the pulse of the times, and above all, they also set formal standards. They do a lot of book adaptations - the team is well known for them, even in the independent scene. Another thing I would recommend is a visit to the unique salt works to relax and to lie on the water.
What is your favourite place in the city?
I like sitting by the River Leine – there are many nice places there. One pleasant place is Café Hemer’s wood-fired bakery. And a bit further out, Wendebach Reservoir.
Which building do you find the most impressive?
The most impressive is, unfortunately, the new town hall – a quite incredibly ugly building that can be seen from various directions when you look towards the town centre and that has nothing at all in common with the rest of Göttingen, which is full of beautiful buildings.
You have a young daughter. Does Göttingen have anything special to offer children?
The special thing about Göttingen for children is definitely that all the important places – nature and the city, culture and sport – are close together. Above all, though, and I have to say it again, what Göttingen has to offer in the area of children’s theatre is really special. My daughter has just started school in year five at the IGS in Göttingen. People say, and I hope, that that school is also something very special. Last year it was nominated Germany’s best school.
Georg-August-Universität has been held in high esteem since it was founded in the eighteenth century. 44 Nobel laureates came from Göttingen or worked here. Students make up approximately 20 per cent of the more than 120,000 inhabitants. How does the university influence the city?
For one thing, the students make the city appear young. I think the locals take a certain pride in their famous people, but the students live very much in their own world. There is a big subculture which does not particularly noticeably get through to the outside world.
On what subjects it is easy to enter into conversation with people from Göttingen?
Their theatres – the Junges Theater and the Deutsches Theater. People’s views are divided.
In what way?
Every year, the question is raised as to whether Göttingen can and wants to afford two municipal theatres. The Junges Theater is only young in name, it has existed since 1957 and it has a quite normal municipal theatre programme. Yet many people in the city, particularly on the political left, regard it as the more innovative theatre. The location is more hip and the theatre-makers seem more alternative. It is certainly true that its audience continues to be younger and “more leftist.“ These people see the Deutsches Theater as a statuesque cultural palace, elitist, traditional, sedate, conservative - not really from their own experience, but on account of a traditional view, hearsay, as it were.
Yes, and then there is the other side that perceives that in reality the modern, original formats are to be seen at the Deutsches Theater, that it is there that risks are taken, exciting new writers are staged and exciting young directors are given a chance. Children’s and youth theatre have their own department there that goes far beyond anything in the traditional children’s (Christmas) programme and the obligatory youth club productions of any other theatre in the country.
What do you miss in Göttingen?
Independent cinemas. It is really bad that apart from the little alternative cinema Lumiere, we only have Cinemaxx in the city. And I also think the city lacks a modern museum with museum education programmes and exciting exhibitions. Oh yes, and good cycle tracks. I wish the buses would disappear from the city centre and that younger children could ride their bikes without any danger. But that is a classic maternal perspective. When I moved to Göttingen from Hanover, many people said that I was going to Bullerby. In fact, I did have much more space to roam in Hanover, more generous cycle tracks and pavements, far fewer awful one-way streets and traffic lights. Space is very limited here.