Nuremberg’s Temporary Opera House.

By: Frank Cadenhead
February 19, 2022

It was called “Starlight Bowl” and it was an outdoor performance space in the center of the vast Balboa Park in San Diego. I have so many memories of the San Diego Symphony and their Summer concerts. Mostly light fare but usually programmed with classics from Mozart symphonies to Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. As a young boy I was delighted to go on those warm nights. I remember a notable event, a single visit by the touring New York Philharmonic – I was probably 15 at the time. I had taken my copy of Mahler’s Fourth for Maestro Bernstein to sign. He did sign it and he asked me what I thought of Mahler and his interpretation of the symphony. I could not believe that this musical God, with his popular “Young People’s Concerts” a TV icon, was actually talking to me and wanting my views.

A recent photo of the Starlight Bowl indicates it is still there but abandoned, covered with vines and with grass poking through the cracks in the floor. It appears to be unused for some decades and the San Diego Symphony has recently inaugurated an impressive new outdoor summer home adjacent to, and with a wonderful view of, the harbor.

It was only a few years later, in the early 60s, that I was in the US Army and assigned to the European Army headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany. One sunny summer day, high in the tree-covered mountains on the other side of the Neckar river, I was walking down an unmarked path and discovered a vast outdoor amphitheater, much like the Starlight Bowl, with a stage large enough for a full symphony orchestra and chorus. It wasn’t that old and could easily accommodate a summer calendar of events. But it had been abandoned with its own ivy vines and grass poking through holes in the cement floor. The story of this abandoned venue was whispered to me by a local a few days later… it was built for Nazi Party rallies and therefore this space, while impressive and still there, was put out of mind by the Heidelberg populace.

All this came back when reading about the dilemma of the people of Nuremberg and a vast arena still standing in their town. Nuremberg was not far to drive on those very efficient Autobahns and my army friends would visit the city to find those places where Nazi rallies were held. The principal one was just outside the city center but not a single sign identified where to turn or how to reach this place. A few in my military unit did research and any of us who wanted could visit the famed place and view that large field filled with thousands in those films of the rallies. But Nuremberg, like the rest of Germany, sees the period of Hitler as well in the past, unlike my time there in the early 60s where most around were alive during that period. The idea of using a vast Nazi space for opera, however provisionally, would have been inconceivable then. That is far in the past for most German citizens today and a major part is just a large, unused building available for temporary use by the local opera company.

Now, here is the news from December 16: “In Nuremberg, as expected, the city council officially approved the former Nazi site at Volkspark Dutzendteich as an alternative venue for the opera house. Now it can be understood how the horseshoe building from the time of National Socialism will be used exactly.”

“The Nuremberg Opera House will close in the Summer of 2025 and the work on the building is expected to take 10 years. the cost are currently estimated at 700 million euros with another 200 million to finance an alternative space. Since there is no alternative site available in the city, the former Nazi structure will be converted to a temporary facility for at least a decade while the opera house is under renovation. The initial planning has a performance hall of “lightweight” construction either in the inner courtyard or outside the horseshoe while the workshops, rehearsal rooms or offices will be created in the torso of the congress hall. After the opera renovation, these spaces should be able to continue to be used by the cultural scene.”

This has a sense of moving forward for the Germans. All students are extensively exposed to the history of the Nazi period and share the shame of history. All of those alive during that period are mostly gone and the new generations, while never forgetting the past, can begin to more forward. It’s better to spend money on music studies for the young than leave potentially useful structures abandoned and build new ones from the ground up. Hitler will always be part of German history but almost all other European countries have their own unpleasant histories to deal with. Never forget the history but understand that it is now the present and future to give to our children.

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