In the footsteps of Wagner, Liszt and Jean Paul

The Bayreuth Festspielhaus
The Bayreuth Festspielhaus | Photo (detail): © Bayreuth Marketing und Tourismus GmbH

Bayreuth is famous around the world primarily as the city of Richard Wagner. Pianist Maria Saulich is currently working on setting up the event program for the Wagner Anniversary 2013 celebration and told us a bit about what makes this Bavarian city so attractive.

In an interview, humorist Vicco von Bülow, aka Loriot, was once asked the question “What is total happiness for you?” His reply: “Arriving in Bayreuth.” Why do you think people can be so happy here?

Well, I can't say my sentiment are quite as intense as Loriot's, but for people who like a manageable city with a good dose of greenery and cultural history, Bayreuth is certainly an attractive option.

Bayreuth is famous abroad mostly for the annual Richard Wagner Festival on the “Green Hill”. What would inspire you to travel to Bayreuth – especially from a great distance?

I have only been living here for about two years, but any visit would have to include the Festival Theater, the Wahnfried House, the Margrave's Opera House, the Baroque Theater, which has been a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site since 2012, the New Palace, the Steingraeber House and even the Hermitage – all worth a trip to Bayreuth in my opinion.

Which building impresses you the most personally?

Definitely the Festival Theater. Its rich history atop the Green Hill is simply fascinating. You can feel it when you walk around up there.

Where is your favorite place to be in the city?

I enjoy strolling down Friedrichstraße, through the small lanes around the Historical Museum and through the palace gardens.

Does Bayreuth offer some entertainment for children as well?

Well, not having children myself (yet) I can only tell you what I know from my own line of work, which does have a lot to do with young people. The City of Bayreuth Music School, for example, offers a varied program for children, adolescents and adults who are interested in music. The main focus of my job as the assistant to the director of music and theater is the program Youth Audiences for Wagner 2013. The anniversary celebration program is also geared toward school children and older students with the aim of getting young people in touch with Wagner through educational events while also getting them excited about culture in general.

Romantic Jean Paul lived and wrote in Bayreuth as well. Where are the romantic pockets of the city?

I think the small bridge in the palace gardens is very romantic, and I am sure there are loads of other places but I am still discovering them…

Composer and pianist Franz Liszt died in Bayreuth. The house where he passed is now a museum. Does it have any particular meaning for you as a pianist?

Of course! That small museum has an extraordinary atmosphere and I really enjoy being there. I love looking at the old books and pictures, deciphering the original manuscripts and studying drafts from famous or even unknown piano scores. One time at the Liszt Museum, for example, I noticed the closing of the second Legend. In my printed version at home it is written differently from the one in original handwriting at the museum. Very interesting!

At the Steingraeber House there is an original Liszt grand piano in the rococo hall where concerts are often played. I recently played a concert myself on it. It is so easy to play and was a real treat as far as the sound it creates. To know that Liszt himself played on this instrument is of course crazy to think about.

Where does one go to find a bit of greenery?

The Fränkische Schweiz (lit. Franconian Switzerland) or the Fichtel Mountains are right at your doorstep here and offer wonderful destinations for hiking and day trips.

Bayreuth's first university was founded way back in the 18th century, but at the time the inhabitants weren't fully behind the plan. After some rather violent rioting, the university was moved to Erlangen. Are the people of Bayreuth still so critical?

At this point, the University of Bayreuth is a pretty well established entity. What I continually notice here, though, particularly with regard to visitor numbers at concerts, is that very few Bayreuthers are willing to risk something new. There is a sort of “I don't know it, so I'm not going” attitude. Concerts in which no famous festival stars are playing have correspondingly bad turnouts. If I could wish for something it would be a bit more openness on their part.

What culinary specialties can you recommend here?

I love hearty Franconian cuisine and have a hard time deciding on just one, but some of my favorites are Schäuferla (pork shoulder), blaue Zipfel (bratwurst cooked in vinegar) and Leberknödelsuppe (liver dumpling soup). Even the traditional Franconian platter with bread and cold cuts is great…I love it all.