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Germany is definitely a theater country. The oldest still existing German theater performance, dating back to the 17th century, is religious in origin and content, conceived as a ritual rather than theater in the modern sense. The Oberammergauer Passionsspiele were first staged in 1634, and has since become one of the most famous passion plays in the world. Even today, as it is staged every ten years, it attracts thousands of visitors.
However, German theater is also considered to have certain responsibilities as a way of reflecting upon the country’s contemporary society, history and collective memory. This purpose might explain why theater is so heavily subsidized in Germany. Box-office sales cover only 15% of an average public theater’s expenses which is why many German theaters receive financial support from the government - in a way, every taxpayer in Germany does their part to preserve this cultural pillar. That way, Germany is holding on to a diverse theater landscape. All in all, there are over 180 public theaters, and 190 private, independent theaters in Germany as well as 30 festival stages.
German Theaters: Types and Genres
Of course, not every German theater sees itself as a typical Regietheater, driven by a serious, artistic, socially responsible, or controversial directorial vision. Some public German theaters stage rather conservative interpretations of classical dramas and ballet suites. However, theater-goers who prefer big musical productions or comedies will also find their place.
There is also Kabarett or Kleinkunst, a satirical, often politicized form of stand-up comedy, performed by small fringe German theater groups. Other German theater productions focus on children and teens. Moreover, countless amateur drama groups throughout Germany are united by their love of theater in all its forms.
German Theaters: Festivals
Theater festivals takes place all over Germany and theater lovers can choose among about 30 of them. The Theatertreffen in Berlin awards the best annual theatrical performances from the entire country. The euro-scene Leipzig is a showcase for experimental theater and contemporary dance, and the Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen is one of Europe’s most famous theater festivals.
Open-air theater is especially popular in summer. Families might enjoy stage performances of children’s stories and fairy-tales at the Luisenburg-Festspiele Wunsiedel, set against the magnificent, rocky and wooded backdrop of Germany’s oldest open-air theater. Fans of historical settings, however, will love the Xanthener Sommerfestspiele, with performances in front of the medieval cathedral or in the ruins of a Roman amphitheater.
German Theater: Foreign-Language Performances
For many newly-arrived expats, the language barrier might be a problem, though. The great majority of theater performances, with the exception of well-known operas, are indeed in German. There are a few exceptions though, with English ensembles such as the American Drama Group Munich or the Bonn University Shakespeare Company.
German Theater: Further Resources
- Theaters in Berlin (German only)
- Theaters in Bonn
- Theaters in Cologne
- Theater Dortmund (German only)
- Theaters in Frankfurt
- Theaters in Hamburg (German only)
- Theater, Dance, Opera in Munich
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