We are now well into the Open Air concert season in Bonn’s Museumsplatz and the future of the venue is similarly very much ‘up in the air’. The present Contract for the Open-Air Season is due for renewal in October, but who will take on the challenge?
Despite top acts this season like BB King and local draw Bläck Fööss, a recent interview with Bundeskunsthalle Financial Director Bernhard Spies in ‘General Anzeiger’ seemed to suggest that the future of concerts on the Museumsmile appears bleak. Complaints by the public. Complaints by local traders, falling attendances, crippling renovation costs. Is there still a glimmer of hope that Bonn can avoid losing it’s premier Music Venue?
A recap: The concerts in the square beside Bonn’s Bundeskunsthalle were taken over some four years ago after the very successful, but also prohibitively expensive appearances of high calibre musicians. Elton John, Liza Minnelli, The Who, David Bowie, Rod Stewart… A list of superlative performers which saw the ‘Golden Years’ reach attendence figures of 379,000 (2006), 280,000 (2005). Despite this the revenue was still swamped by the costs. In the end the Kunsthalle’s Business Director Wilfried Gatzweiler was finally, literally, called to account in 2007 and concerts put on ice (ironically, along with the sites use as ice-rink)
Enter ‘KultEvent’. They took over the reigns despite having a fraction of the money and a tradition of superlatives to live up to. How could they get top acts still without the financial clout to offer them? Quite amazingly, they have managed to do so. The financial backing of local big hitting Company Solarworld has helped of course, but also because the Museumsplatz is unique. Anyone who has seen David Bowie at a place like Cologne’s Arena (now Lanxess Arena) will remember how it was to actually SEE Bowie without an eyeglass, Big stars too see the Museumsplatz as an intimate concert hall. About the closest they can get to ‘intimate’ concerts anyway. Away from arena’s and football stadiums.
‘Bonn Open Air’ is ultimately a business of course, and businesses are about money. KultEvent took over the reigns with a projected minimum of 20 shows a year. Instead there have been only 17 or 18 pro year. In an interview, Bernhard Spies finds it unbelievable that the space between the Museums is blocked for 100 days a year when it’s used on only 17. He also bemoans that gastronomy in the square has to ‘put up’ with soundchecks general noise and vandalism depleting its customer figures’ – all the fault of the concerts rather than the economy apparently. He pointed out that the current ‘Liebermann’ exhibition has a Rooftop garden, which couldn’t be used as part of the exhibition on concert days because of the soundcheck noise. Suddenly the ‘only’ 17 days are made out to seem too many rather than too few. Perhaps he should consider that many people in Bonn feel somewhat annoyed that suddenly they have to not only pay for, but also queue to visit, a roof that until now has been free of entrance and popular on sunny Summer days. But he’s a business man, and a roof offering free admission isn’t good business.
Looking at the Tent and facilities on days when the area is concert free it’s plain to see the elements have taken their toll. The Open Air ‘tent’ itself was designed specifically for the space and was, initially anyway, taken down after the end of each season. Then came the idea, backed by Telekom, to use the space (and the tent) as an ice-rink. The result – a ‘Summer Season ’tent left up in freezing temperatures, wind and rain, all year round. Not surprisingly renovation costs are now crippling. Who is responsible for the use as an Ice Rink? Hopefully it’s taken into consideration that the structure takes its worst battering outside of the Concert Season.
The economy isn’t helping either of course. Bläck Fööss had 7,800 visitors in 2007, in 2011 it was 3,300. A similar drop occurred with BAP last year. The venue is built for 8,500 visitors, less than 4,000 is, says Bernhard Spies, a waste; and it’s a waste that The Kunsthalle should not have to cover he says. This is not what the Government funding provided to the Kunsthalle is meant to provide for. The Kunsthalle deserves support from the ‘Bund’ he says, but asserts that the concerts are something local investors and The City of Bonn itself should cover.
At present The City of Bonn claims it is doing its best to help find new investors and hopes to keep the Open Air Season in Museumsplatz. Mayor Jürgen Nimptsch has said that all possibilities, including financial support for an alternative venue, are being considered should there still be no takers for the new, renovation costs inclusive, contract that forced out KultEvent.
So let’s take a look at The City of Bonn as a possible saviour of the Big Tent. It certainly helps Music out with support for ‘RheinKultur’ – A lot of money went towards Bonn’s yearly free concert in Rheinpark. Let’s not forget though that Rheinkultur too was recently on the verge of extinction. It had to be saved by the people of Bonn who valued it. Why is Rheinkultur a free Festival though? Surely visitors would happily pay a nominal admission charge to ensure its survival? 5 Euros for example. The price of a couple of drinks. With the cancellation of ‘Bonn Summer’ and the threatened extinction last year of Rheinkultur and now ‘Bonn Open Air’ the City needs to take an urgent look at where it’s good name for live music is heading.
We can still look forward to moderately successful acts at the Harmonie and the Bruckenforum, but as a top City for top musicians we look doomed. The Market traders have plenty of space in the Summer without the ‘Bonn Summer’ stage, and now we have the very real possibility that BKH’s plan ‘B’ of Gustav Peichl’s original plan for the Open Air ground – that of a garden, fountain and sculptures looms large. For me, such a plan would equate to a ‘Memorial Park’ to the Grand days when top musicians and their music filled the space. Personally I prefer a square that can create memories rather than one where I can go to remember them.