How Munich residents saved an art nouveau gem
Concerts by acclaimed jazz and classical musicians, operas, theater plays, ballet performances—The schedule of the Prinzregententheater is packed with cultural highlights each month. As hundreds stream into the theater night after night, who ever would guess that the beautiful premises at Prinzregentenplatz were doomed to decay just a few decades ago? It is only thanks to the idealistic and financial commitment of Munich residents, and the tireless efforts of one of Munich’s most important contemporary theater-makers that the art nouveau building has seen a rebirth of the vital activities that characterized the theater’s early years.
Ironically, the existence of the theater was jeopardized even before the first foundation stone was laid. At the end of the 19th century, Munich already had a considerable number of theaters and many officials believed there was no need for another, especially in the underdeveloped eastern part of the city. But, Ernst von Possart—the director of Munich’s court theater—was committed to the project.
Possart’s arguments in favor of an additional theatrical building were mostly of a political nature. Munich owned the rights to perform works by Richard Wagner, along with Berlin and Dresden. The composer, however, built his festival house in Bayreuth, leaving Munich with no theater that could meet the special requirements of Wagner’s grandiose works. Von Possart predicted that Berlin would soon build a Wagner theater of its own, if Munich did not move quickly to do so. This would have meant a setback for the city’s cultural hegemony in Germany, which was already at risk at the time. Thus, Possart proposed creating a theater that could house Wagner festivals and also build a larger audience by presenting theater classics to a broad public. Coinciding with Possart’s endeavor, real estate prices in Munich’s East stagnated and the theater director knew how to seize the opportunity: Von Possart could build the theater at a low price, and simultaneously raise property values in the developing district of Bogenhausen. Finally, Prinzregent Luitpold approved to the project, and even awarded the private commercial company Possart had founded to run the theater the honorary title “Prinzregenten-Theater.”
The art nouveau building by architect Max Littmann incorporated motifs from the ancient world, the Renaissance and the Baroque period. It was inaugurated in August 1901 with a performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In the following decades, the Prinzregententheater hosted annual Wagner Festivals during the summer and numerous world premieres of operas and theater plays up until the takeover of the Nazi regime. The theater was not spared from damage during the war.
Luckily, however, only unimportant parts of the theater, such as the restaurant section, were destroyed in 1943. In fact, the theater was able to host Munich’s first classical concert after the end of the war, and it became a renowned international opera house by hosting the Bavarian State Opera after the Nationaltheater was destroyed. By 1963, however, the Bavarian State Opera moved back to their quarters at Max-Joseph-Platz. A year later, the Bavarian Building Authorities closed the Prinzregententheater due to dilapidation.
Just a few months after the closing, Munich residents founded an association to help the Prinzregententheater. In the face of their efforts, Bavarian officials reverted to an age-old argument: Munich’s theater scene was already sufficient, they maintained, and there was no need to reinvest in the deteriorating building. The high hopes of culture-loving Münchner probably would have not have been enough to sway city officials, if the enigmatic theater-maker August Everding had not decided to dedicate his life’s work to the reestablishment of the Prinzregententheater.
Following in Possart’s footsteps, Everding used brilliant social and political skills to instigate many important theatrical projects in Munich and Germany between the 1970s and 1990s. As the so-called “General Director,” or head of all Bavarian State theaters, Everding founded the Bavarian State Ballet and the festival “Bavarian Theater Days.” During his presidency of the German Stage Association, Everding managed to foil numerous plans to close theaters throughout Germany. Aside from those important achievements, the fate of the
Prinzregententheater was always his highest priority.
By the 1980s, Everding and other committed citizens managed to finally convince the Bavarian Parliament to restore the Prinzregententheater, albeit only partially. In 1988, the Prinzregententheater opened with renovations in a few areas: the beautiful auditorium resembling an amphitheater, and the foyer (Gartensaal), which boasts impressive wall paintings with flora and fauna motifs. A small stage was established in front of the iron curtain. Everding’s plans, however, far exceeded mere renovation.
What he really envisioned was the creation of a vital theater center that would present high-class performances and promote young talents. Thus, it was considered Everding’s true coup when he managed to raise enough money and persuaded politicians to extend the Prinzregententheater’s premises and create a theater academy. For this miraculous achievement in times when financial shortage for cultural institutions was everyday news, Everding earned the nickname “Cleverding”—an epithet he never quite appreciated.
Everding lived long enough to proudly observe the reestablished opulent programming of the Prinzregententheater and the development of the Bayerischer Theaterakademie August Everding
, which successfully educates students in acting, directing, musical performing, light design and music theater to this day.
Both the productions of the Prinzregententheater and the public activities of the academy are listed at munichfound.com/whatsup
or go to www.prinzregententheater.de
© MF Adler/Oct 08