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Germany strives to kickstart culture in a world blighted by virus

Musician Cristina Gomez Godoy casts an excited glance towards the leafy stage where she is about to perform in front of an audience for the first time in three months.

Germany strives to kickstart culture in a world blighted by virus
A one-on-one concert in Dresden during the corona crisis. Photo: DPA

“I'm actually nervous,” said the oboist, 30, a member of Berlin's Staatskapelle orchestra, which has been unable to perform live since concert halls were shut in March to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Gomez and four colleagues are tuning up for a short concert in the courtyard of an apartment building in Berlin, accompanied by the buzzing of bees and against a backdrop of ivy tumbling down the walls.

The show illustrates how arts organisations across Germany are having to think creatively as they strive to get up and running again in a world where they must coexist with the coronavirus.

“It is a pleasure for us as musicians to play together again, despite the smaller format, and I think the audience will enjoy it too,” Gomez said.

The courtyard has space for only a handful of socially distanced audience members, while those who live on the upper floors have enjoy the best seats lounging on window ledges, beers in hands.

 

Ursula Dyckhoff, 77, lives in an apartment on the first floor. “It was wonderful, the acoustic and the view too,” she said after the concert.

Limited audiences

Libraries, museums and art galleries were allowed to reopen in Germany in April and the government published guidelines in May aimed at getting the rest of the cultural sector back to work, at least in some form.

But many challenges remain, especially for theatres, concert halls, opera houses and cinemas.

The guidelines include limiting numbers and ensuring 1.5 metres space between all, meaning auditoriums will have space for only a fraction of their normal audiences.

Berlin's Volksbühne launched its 2020/21 season in mid-June with the caveat that capacity in the auditorium will be cut to just 130, from the usual 800.

In neighbouring Austria, the Vienna State Opera has resumed performances to audiences of just 100 at a time, compared to 1,700 on a normal night.

The Salzburg Festival will also go ahead this summer with the repertoire reduced by about half and limited to a select few venues.

 

Performers, too, must remain socially distanced, meaning fewer of them on stage — bad news for freelancers in particular, who have already seen their income fall off a cliff during the pandemic.

The Berlin Philharmonic offered a first glimpse in early May of what indoor orchestral concerts might look like in a post-lockdown world with a socially distanced concert featuring just 15 musicians.

Thanks to generous state funding, German arts organisations are better placed to cope with reduced income from ticket sales than many of their European and international peers.

But even they say there is only so long they can survive like this.

Rescue package

The government has announced a one-billion-euro ($1.1 billion) rescue package for the culture sector, with targeted help for venues such as theatres and cinemas that rely more heavily on earned income.

But critics say it is a drop in the ocean.

“This… shows the value of culture, for example in comparison to the nine-billion-euro subsidy for an airline,” Berlin's pointman on culture Klaus Lederer said, referring to a state aid deal on the table for Germany'sLufthansa.

Some orchestras and theatre companies, such as the Deutsches Theater and Berliner Ensemble, have for now resorted to performances outdoors.

The Deutsche Oper has performed in a car park, and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin has even played on the top deck of a bus.

 

But they are looking ahead to an uncertain future when winter follows summer.

As with the lifting of other lockdown measures, specific rules and dates for the reopening of arts venues will vary across federal states, which have the final say on what is allowed and when.

The German Orchestras Union (DOV) is calling for concerts to resume swiftly across the whole of Germany.

“For freelance musicians especially, this is … about sheer survival,” said DOV head Gerald Mertens.

“Smaller formations, especially in churches, smaller venues and in the open air, should be able to perform again as soon as possible.”

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CULTURE

Where to celebrate Diwali 2022 in Germany

The holiday of Diwali kicks off on Monday. Here's where you can celebrate all around Germany.

Where to celebrate Diwali 2022 in Germany

With over 100,000 Indians in Germany, and over 175,000 people of Indian descent, it’s little wonder that Diwali – the famous five day Hindi festival of lights starting this year on Monday October 24th – is being celebrated all around the Bundesrepublik

READ ALSO: Indians in Germany: Who are they and where do they live?

Even the House of Parliament in Frankfurt is honouring the holiday for the first time with a special reception on October 30th.

Diwali takes its name from the clay lamps or deepa (the event is sometimes called Deepawali) that many Indians light outside their home. With the days shortening in Germany, there’s all the more reason to celebrate light — especially over lively music, traditional dance and authentically spicy Indian cuisine.

We have rounded up some of the top events to celebrate around Germany, both the week of Diwali and afterwards, stretching into mid-November. If you have an additional event to suggest, email us at [email protected]

October 24th in Heidelberg

Happen to be in Heidelberg? Then it’s not too late to head to the Sweet Home Project, which will be cooking up a storm starting at 6:30pm. The menu includes an assortment of Indian sweets and savoury dishes. The collective only asks that participants bring along a candle (and a hearty appetite).

If you miss this event, and are still craving some (really) spicy traditional cuisine, the Firebowl Heidelberg is hosting a Diwali party on October 29th, replete with lots of food and drink and Bollywood beats the whole night. 

October 29th near Frankfurt

For those who fancy a Feier with a full-buffet, this celebration in Dreieich delivers through an all-you-can-eat dinner with traditional fare. Starting at 5pm and stretching into the early hours of the morning, the festive feast includes traditional Bollywood music by Derrick Linco. There’s also a dance party for kids, who receive free admission up to seven years old and €25 up to 14 years. Normal tickets go for €40 per person.

A previous Diwali celebration of traditional dance and music in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Sebastian Kahnert

November 4th near Düsseldorf

On November 4th at 6pm, the Deutsch-Indische Gesellschaft Düsseldorf will be hosting a family-friendly party in nearby Ratingen with classical Indian music and dance, a huge dinner and Bollywood music led by DJ SA-ONE. Tickets cost about €40 each, but children under six receive free entry. 

November 5th in Bonn 

The Indian Students Association of Bonn-Cologne will be hosting its biggest event of the year: for €10, event goers can try an array of Indian food, play classic games and tune into cultural performances. 

READ ALSO: Moving from India to Munich changed my life

November 12th in Essen 

Whether you like traditional bhajans or meditative ragas, this concert will capture many of the classic sounds of Indian music with artists such as Anubhab Tabla Ensemble, Debasish Bhattacharjee and Somnath Karmorak taking center stage. The performance starts at 5pm and costs €10. 

November 12th and 13th in Berlin

Indian food fans will get to enjoy 12 stands devoted to Indian cuisine and products, all coming from the local Indian community. The weekend-long festival will also include stand-up comedy from the Desi Vibes Comedy Group. Karaoke fans will also enjoy singing along with the Sounds of India group, followed by an after party on Saturday. All this only costs €2 at the door. 

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