Clubs and Festivals in Germany

Jazz clubs in East and West Germany differed in their historic development. In spite of a definite decline since the 1990’s, in spite of the global economic crisis and financial thinning-out at the edges of culture, the density of jazz clubs and music venues with a sizeable jazz contingent is still impressively large.

If one takes a look at their distribution over the map of Germany, one sees hardly any white areas, since over the years the number of jazz clubs that have arisen in rural areas is comparable to those in major cities.

Clubs and associations

German jazz clubs vary greatly in terms of their structure and programmes. Only a few venues such as Munich’s Unterfahrt are in a position to offer a daily changing live programme, so that the jazz clubs in smaller cities, which are often organised as non-profit associations, affiliate with venues in which jazz is only one focus among several others. These clubs for jazz aficionados, often dependent on local municipal support and sponsors, mostly prioritise regional artists. Jazz clubs in university towns and cities are for the most part more cosmopolitan, but they suffer all too often from very limited budgets and a high rate of turnover among their volunteer team members.

Clubs in major cities

As a rule, the larger the city, the better the jazz clubs’ position. In Berlin, for instance, more than a dozen venues exist whose programmes run from Dixieland (Yorck Schlösschen) to jazz with a varieté-tinge (Kalkscheune), star-quality mainstream (Quasimodo, A-Trane, B-Flat), or the local scene (Schlot, Badenscher Hof) to free jazz (Aufsturz, organised by the non-profit association Jazzkeller 69 e. V.) and avant-garde (Ausland). Cologne is home to the Jazzhaus, the Loft and the Altes Pfandhaus, Hamburg to the Cotton Club, the jazz club in the Altes Stellwerk, and the Birdland.

Nonetheless, jazz clubs by themselves are not enough to secure jazz a lasting public. Listening habits and musical socialisation have changed, and not every jazz listener feels comfortable in the typical club ambiente. Future generations of jazz musicians will need to develop new venues to draw their public. Many cities now offer such genre-transcending venues such as Hamburg’s Fabrik, Berlin’s Radialsystem e. V., the Alte Feuerwache in Mannheim, Munich’s Muffathalle, or the Centralstation in Darmstadt.


The density of jazz festivals is even greater than that of the clubs. Hardly a major city exists that does not support one or more jazz festivals. This has a long tradition, as German festivals have always been a popular hub for international jazz events, and enable individual locations such as Moers to make a name for themselves in the cultural landscape. There is a series of festivals that preserve jazz traditions and present artists who happen to be on tour in any case. The significance of such festivals should not be underestimated, because they keep alive enthusiasm for jazz outside of its centres. Each of these events has its own face, stands for a unique flavour, a particular approach to jazz. Many of them are organised by the respective local jazz clubs and reflect their orientation in concentrated form.

The largest jazz spectacles with an international profile divide into high points of the cities’ cultural calendars and countryside festivals with magnetic draw. The JazzFest Berlin, The Deutsche Jazzfestival Frankfurt, the Enjoy Jazz in Mannheim, Heidelberg and Ludwigshafen, or the Leipziger Jazztage cover an extremely wide musical spectrum, because they draw a public of jazz aficionados that is not limited to fans and specialists. Beyond the urban centres, stylistically focused festivals are sometimes tailored to a particular following, who specially travel to the event from all parts of Germany.

Thus, the Moers Festival appeals to newcomers to jazz who see genre boundaries as anachronisms, the Jazz Baltica in Salzau draws gourmets who enjoy moderate jazz in tasteful surroundings, and the European Jazz Festival at Schloss Elmau is tailored to jazz connoisseurs who orient themselves over and beyond American standards. Exceptions such as Berlin’s Total Music Meeting or Dresden’s Dixieland Festival confirm the principle of city-country division of functions. And since 2006, jazzahead! in Bremen has emerged as a mixed event consisting of a trade fair, convention and festival, not only for seismologists of German tastes and trends in jazz, but also as an intersection of a variety of jazz activities in Germany.