Bach to the Future: Fans Want to Rebuild Composer's House
In the city of Goethe and Schiller, classical music fans want another famous former resident to be honored in Weimar. They're seeking to rebuild the home of Johann Sebastian Bach, who composed some of his most important works in the city.
It may be a small city, but Weimar is the pinnacle of German high culture, more densely populated with great historical figures than perhaps any other in the country. Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Liszt, Wagner, Strauss, Nietzsche, Gropius, Feininger, Kandinsky, Klee and Thomas Mann have all called it home. Most of these luminaries get their due in some form in the city. But one is conspicuously absent: Johann Sebastian Bach.
"We need this site to commemorate Bach," says Myriam Eichberger, a professor at the Liszt School of Music who has organized an impressive roster of supporters for a petition on behalf of her campaign. The signatories include Nobel prize for medicine recipient Günter Blobel of Germany, South African Nobel prize for literature recipient John Coetzee, as well as star Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, known the world over for his televised annual performances of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's New Year's Concert. Around 11,000 Bach fans worldwide have signed the online petition at change.org. They are seeking the reconstruction of the former building Bach lived in and for the historical cellar to be made accessible to the public.
The composer, of course, lived in other places around the state of Thuringia where he is commemorated today, with Bach houses located in Wechmar, Arnstadt and Eisenach, not to mention quite a number of churches where the musician played the organ, got married or had his sons baptized.
The Elephant in the Room
So far, though, it hasn't been the seeming glut of pilgrimage sites dedicated to Bach in Germany that has thwarted efforts by Eichberger and her fellow campaigners. The spanner in the works is Arabella Hospitality, a company which belongs to Munich's billionaire Schörghuber family.
In Weimar, the Schörghubers operate Hotel Elephant, a five-star establishment that has always been the prime address on the square. Both Goethe and Hitler count among the prominent guests who have overnighted at the inn. It so happens that the hotel also owns the property where Bach's house stood until its demolition in 1989. The local chapter of the Communist Party ordered that it be torn down the final winter before the Wall fell. Today it is used as a parking lot with 70 spaces, which Arabella Hospitality manager Reinhold Weise says are "essential and important for the hotel."
Even if the company that owns the hotel were to consider repurposing the property, Weise has other ideas for it, including a spa area and additional guest rooms. If those plans were to go ahead, the parking spaces could be relocated to an underground garage, Weise says. That, though, is a horror scenario for Bach fans because it would put the historic cellar at risk.
But such plans won't be pursued anytime soon. Arabella Hospitality doesn't believe the Weimar site is lucrative enough at the moment to justify significant investment. "We're a company that relies on generating profits," Wiese says.
For now, the site will remain a parking lot, providing Myrian Eichberger with more time to promote her campaign. "I'm a flutist and I'm quite capable of holding my breath for a long time," she says. Eichberger has already lined up initial funding. Bach fan Blobel, who now lives in New York, has offered to purchase the contested property at Markt 16.
A Boost for Tourism?
Eichberger also thinks that ought to be more attractive to the Hotel Elephant than an underground car park. The hotel is featured as a setting in Thomas Mann's classic "Lotte in Weimar," a fact from which the hotel continues to profit today, Eichberger says. A memorial to the composer right next door could be even more lucrative, she adds.
"With all due respect to Thomas Mann," she says, "Johann Sebastian Bach was a titan."
Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2014
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH
Click on the links below for more information about DER SPIEGEL's history, how to subscribe or purchase the latest issue of the German-language edition in print or digital form or how to obtain rights to reprint SPIEGEL articles.
- Frequently Asked Questions: Everything You Need to Know about DER SPIEGEL
- Six Decades of Quality Journalism: The History of DER SPIEGEL
- A New Home in HafenCity: SPIEGEL's New Hamburg HQ
- Reprints: How To License SPIEGEL Articles