Culture

Germany’s reputation as a musical nation is still based on names like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel and Richard Strauss. Students from around the world flock to its music academies, music lovers attend world-class festivals like the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth and the Donaueschingen Festival of Contemporary Music.

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But other names also define Germany's musical legacy in the 20th and 21st centuries. Karlheinz Stockhausen pioneered in the field of electronic music. Kraftwerk's robotic rhythms transformed pop music and provided some of the building blocks for hip-hop. And newer German artists continue to captivate young audiences around the world with

their Teutonic takes on modern rock and unique visual flair. With some 180 public and 190 private theaters, Germany is also known for having some of the most experimental theatrical and dance productions worldwide. Even small towns boast opera houses, ballet troupes and theaters, all of which contribute to the well-established network of state, municipal, traveling and private theaters.

LITERATURE

Germany is a book country: With around 94,000 titles published or re-published annually, it is one of the world’s leading book nations.

The International Frankfurt Book Fair, which is held every October, is still the international publishing world's meeting place, while the smaller Leipzig Book Fair in the spring has also made a name for itself as a reading festival for the general public. Since reunification, Berlin has established itself as a literary center and international city of publishing, from which exciting big city literature is emerging, the likes of which Germany has not experienced since the end of the Weimar Republic. The annually bestowed German Book Prize honors the best novel of the year.

VISUAL ARTS & DESIGN

From Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer and 19th-century romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich to the expressionists of the early 20th century and the multi-faceted approach to the arts initiated by the legendary Bauhaus, Germany has an extraordinarily rich artistic tradition.

Contemporary German artists, photographers, and designers have continued to help redefine what is considered avant-garde internationally. Meanwhile, the large concentrations of German and international artists who reside in art cities such as Berlin, Cologne, and Munich have made these cities attractive locations for art and design fairs, boutique shops, galleries, and exhibition spaces.

FILM

Germany is a country of film legends. In the 1920s, Berlin's famed Babelsberg studios was one of Hollywood's top competitors.

It was also a laboratory for a new form of high art where Fritz Lang crafted the vivid dystopia of Metropolis and Marlene Dietrich melted hearts with a bat of her lashes in The Blue Angel. Today, a new generation of filmmakers is winning international acclaim with smart takes on tough topics. In 2007, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's spy thriller The Lives of Others snagged an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and showed the world that German films can keep international audiences gripping their popcorn.

ARCHITECTURE

Germany has a thriving architectural scene which includes big names on the German and international stage as well as up-and-coming German architectural firms. Following the reunification, Berlin became one of the main centers for modern architecture but it has also undertaken great measures to restore and preserve its historical masterpieces, including the magnificent Museum Island.

Current trends include a leaning toward a multiplicity of forms, as seen in Daniel Liebeskind’s extension to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Norman Foster’s Reichstag dome, and the Gehry buildings on the Düsseldorf waterfront, or toward Bauhaus-inspired minimalism such as Berlin’s new central railway station by Meinhard von Gerkan. It is in green building and ecological improvements, however, that German architecture really leads the way.

CELEBRATIONS AND FESTIVALS

Germans love to celebrate, although much of it is done in private. Here are some of the more interesting annual customs which have become institutions around the country, and, in some cases, around the world.

In Brazil, they celebrate mainly in Rio; in the U.S. it's principally New Orleans. The carnival season, also known as Mardi Gras elsewhere, is celebrated nationally in Germany. Called "Fasching" in Bavaria, "Karneval," in the Cologne area or "Fasnacht" in the SouthWest , season kicks off on November 11 at 11:11 a.m. (also called St. Martin's Day in southern Germany) and escalates on Shrove Monday through fever pitch, reached on Shrove Tuesday, the eve of Lent in the Christian calendar. The first written record of the Köln carnival is from the year 1341, so Germans have been partying for a long time!

 

Major celebrations:

Cologne: Everything begins on "Fasteloven " (women’s carnival), the thursday before Shrove Tuesday with a huge parade at which perfect strangers clad in elaborate costumes kiss one another. In bars, revelers sing along to songs with "deep" lyrics like "The caravan is moving on, the sultan is thirsty." It's culminating in the huge Rose Monday's parade. The city's bars make 40 percent of their annual revenue on that day alone. While the huge Rose Monday's parade is mainly touristic, the "Schull- und Veedelszoech" (school- and neighborhood-parades) on sunday are more originally and preferred by the residents. More information: Karneval in Köln Mainz is Germany's other big carnival city. Their Rosenmontag parade featured more than 150 floats totaling 7 Kms in length with over 9000 participants. Celebrations in both Mainz and Cologne, which rival eachother fiercely for top honors,

are broadcast live by German television. Southern Germany, especially Swabia, refers to the time of the year as Fasnet, and keeps closer ties to ancient. Alemannic customs of pre-Christian times. The Black Forest city of Villingen-Schwenningen is known for a large festival in this vein, as is Freiburg im Breisgau, one of Baden-Württemberg's prettiest cities. Worth seeing is the "Narrensprung" (jester's jump) in Rottweil. Munich is also not to be outdone, although its Fasching celebrations are not equal to those of Mainz and Cologne, since (after all) it is the Oktoberfest city! Nonetheless, the Bavarian capital manages to field a lively display which culminates in February on Shrove Tuesday with the Dance of the Market Women in the city's famous Viktualienmarkt. Northern and Eastern Germany also celebrates, although those visiting any of the other carnival towns will tell you their celebrations lack the "oomph" of those found farther south, usually making a crack about "Prussian orderliness: to boot.

Oktoberfest

The grand daddy of the big Wedding Parties, the Oktoberfest commemorates the honor of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen in 1810. The festivities began on October 12, 1810 and ended on October 17th with a horse race. In the following years, the celebrations were repeated and, later, the festival was prolonged and moved forward into September to allow for better weather conditions. Because September nights were warmer, visitors were able to enjoy the gardens outside the tents and the stroll over the fields much longer without feeling chilly.

The festivities for 2006 are scheduled from September 16 - October 3. The giant celebration has a parade all its own, too - the Oktoberfest Costume and Riflemen’s Parade. The parade will fall on September 19th in 2006. Teh monthlong festival also includes other festivals such as the parade of the Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries, the official Tapping of the Keg,

the Oktoberfest Mass, „Böllerschießen“ (handheld canon salute) in front

 

of the Bavaria statue. More information all about Bavaria's biggest bash is to be found at Oktoberfest.

Silvester

Is what the Germans call New year's Eve. Named after Saint Silvester, said to have been Pope from 314 until he died in Rome on December 31, 335, the party is likely another attempt by the Catholic church to combine old pagan rituals with an overshadowing Christian event, as are many other holidays and traditions such as those found at Christmas, Easter, the Solstices, etc.

Germany's most glamorous, terrific celebration takes place - where else? - in the capital city of Berlin. In 2005, the theme was a kick-off party for the FIFA World Cup events of 2006 focusing on football (soccer to Americans). Traditionally at midnight huge displays of fireworks light up the skies all across the largest German city, while church bells are rung. Open air parties as well as numerous private and public parties, dances, balls and celebrations take place all across the city with live television coverage and an atmosphere which easily rivals that found at New York's Times Square events, marked by a double-cheeked kiss and hearty wishes for a "Guten Rutsch!" or :good slide" into the new year, usually accompanied by a (champagne) toast.

Among the most interesting traditions found still in practice for Silvester is the pouring of lead to predict the upcoming year. Small leaden figurines are melted in a spoon over a candle and the molten lead is then poured into a bucket of cold water. The resulting shape is then interpreted to predict what kind of a year one will have. Traditional interpretations range from an anchor (signifying help when needed) to such bizarre items as the axe (disappointment in love), a ram (expected inheritance), fish or pig (good luck), hat (good news), scissors (important decidion impending) or spider (your luck is hanging by a thread). The custom is still in use although not nearly as common as it once was. Other important traditions often found at parties and larger celebrations include the Feuerzangenbowle, a punch into which alcohol infused sugar cones drip when set ablaze; shooting handguns to scare off evil spirits (now outlawed in most cities including Berlin); throwing dice to (again) predict the upcoming year for prizes ranging from hotdogs through pretzels; and many others.

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