The coronavirus pandemic has hit the Beethovenfest Bonn with full force, with most events being postponed until 2021. Of the extensive program that was to honor Ludwig van Beethoven on the 250th anniversary of his birth in 2020, only one project is going ahead: “Bauprobe Beethoven,” or  “Beethoven, A Scenographic Mock-Up.”

A theatrical inspection tour

In this “theatrical site inspection,” the Berlin artists’ group Rimini Protokoll plan to fill a large absence in Bonn’s storied Beethovenhalle (Beethoven Hall) venue as it undergoes major reconstruction. 

“Not a single note will resound in Bonn’s Beethoven Hall during the Beethoven Jubilee,” note the artists of the building, which opened in 1959, that they say symbolizes postwar Germany’s “history of rebirth, glory and affluence, but also of neglect, strife and loss of meaning.”

Read moreWhy Beethoven? 11 answers from Kent Nagano

Founded by Daniel Wetzel, Helgard Haug and Stefan Kaegi in 2000, the Rimini Protokoll develop stage-works, interventions, performative installations and audio plays alongside everyday “experts” who have gained their knowledge and skills beyond the theater. Among their performances was a mock “World Climate Conference” to coincide with the 2015 Paris climate summit. 

Three people wearing high vis and helmets stands at a construction site

Rimini Protokoll members (left to right: Daniel Wetzel, Stefan Kaegi and Helgard Haug) in front of the Beethovenhalle

The collective’s latest intervention will happen at the Beethovenhalle construction site on September 12-13 as small groups (maximum 15 people due to coronavirus restrictions) will be taken on staged inspections during the mornings and afternoons. Leading the way will be so-called “experts in everyday life” that include amateur actors and people whose work and lives were closely connected with the Beethoven Hall.

“After a long search, we found 10 people who have an interesting biographical or intellectual connection to the Beethovenhalle,” Helgard Haug of Rimini Protokoll told DW. 

Among them is a former chief of protocol who oversaw visits from four German presidents in the Beethovenhalle, a former mayor, an art historian, musicians, and the technical director of the house who maintained the venue for four decades. A man who in 1983 was convicted of arson in the hall, and the “Pretzel Woman,” a Bonn legend who cared for the physical well-being of the concert visitors, will also be part of the tour — and will be revealing their own secrets to create a unique story around the venue.

Symbol of the Federal Republic

An aging symbol of the old Federal Republic of Germany in the former capital Bonn, a long dispute over the modernist hall’s future ended up in a commitment to a €166 million ($197 million) renovation. Not due to be finished before 2024, Beethovenfest Bonn had lost its most important venue. Ironically, it will host the only show in town for the largely cancelled celebration.  

“The Beethovenhalle was something like a pink elephant in the room,” said Beethovenfest project manager, Thomas Scheider, of the decision to invite the Rimini Protokoll to make use of the iconic venue, if not for an actual performance. “The only place where there was not supposed to be a performance in the anniversary year is now the only one left,” he noted.

“This building stands symbolically for the Federal Republic, just as the Palace of the Republic [in Berlin] had this function for the GDR,” Stefan Kaegi of Rimini Protokoll told DW. “It was a popular gathering place for private and public events, for political and cultural moments. But it is also a metaphor for remembering and for how to revive memory.”

Musical homage

Of course, music should feature at any Beethovenfest event, and Berlin-based US-American composer Ari Benjamin Meyers was commissioned to write a work for the Beethovenhalle event.

Inspired by the “Great Fugue,” Beethoven’s last great work, Meyers has created a musical intermezzi performed by the Asasello Quartet that will sound out during the intermissions as the audience wanders from one expert to another. Meyers described Beethoven in a DW interview as “the first ever contemporary composer.” 

Potential attendees should note that a helmet and safety vests will be provided by the organizers; sturdy shoes and an open ear are required.