Bayreuth 1999 ~ Part I
The Festspielhaus at Bayreuth

It was Friday, July 23rd 1999 that the reality of it all hit me.  I was in a Citibank branch in Chicago, picking up Deutschmarks.
Back in January, when I found that I had the opportunity to attend this year's Bayreuth Festival I was indeed elated and excited.  Airline tickets and car rental were organised and then I got caught up in the business of living and working and there was barely time to sit and savor what might lay ahead.

Saturday July 24th, the Deutschmarks and I were on an airplane at O'Hare Airport.  Beside me was a trusty companion named Carol who was the keeper of the guidebooks.  This was her first visit to Bayreuth also and it followed her recent Ring Cycle in San Francisco.

Eight hours of flight later, at 6 am local time, Frankfurt appeared through the clouds and soon we were in a milling mob shuffling slowly towards the German Immigration counters.  I had to get in the EEC Citizens line as I hold a British passport and as I stood there I noticed the suntanned face of my friend from Florida who goes by the name of Parsifal13 (see Curmudgeon's Corner) as he breezed through the Non-EEC line to meet up with Carol.  After 30 minutes in line I joined them and we declared our German Jamboree officially underway and completed the necessary "Jamboree Officially Underway" forms.

Through the seething masses of travellers we made our way to the Hertz desk. When the clerk there saw our mound of luggage she tried to talk me into forgoing the Mercedes I had booked back in January and instead taking a Volvo or Ford Mondeo station wagon.  "Nein!" I cried and taking her by the hair, slammed her head down onto the stapler on the countertop.  Now a little dazed, she completed the necessary paperwork.  I declined the optional insurance explaining to her that I was going to drive this car so fast that if we hit anything we would die in a ball of flame and twisted metal and there would be no one left alive to sue me.

The car had a capacious trunk which swallowed our luggage.

Within a half mile we were steaming down the A3 toward Nuremberg at a steady 100mph.  I was being kept awake by a thermos of Starbucks coffee prepared in Chicago some 12 hours before.

While it often has no more than two lanes, the A3 is smooth as glass and rolls over hill and dale through scenic countryside as it heads Southeast toward Nuremberg.  As it was Sunday there were no trucks on the Autobahn and the roadwork crews were at home, though their cones were there to slow us down occasionally.  The bridge across the valley brought me the familiar vista of Wurzburg, which I had not seen since 1972 when I had lived in Nuremberg and toured the region.

In the outskirts of the latter, we had to change course and follow the signs heading northeast toward Berlin, and there on the signpost was my first sighting of the word Bayreuth just an hour's drive away.  I was excited.  So it was that an hour later I took an exit for Bayreuth Sud and found myself on shady streets and saw signs pointing to the Festspielhaus and Haus Wahnfried.

Parsifal13 had been here before and guided me toward our hotel where, 200 miles and 2 and a half hours since being switched on, the car came to rest in a quiet sunny street.

The hotel staff were delighted to greet P13 again and soon we were situated in our rooms.  I went over to the window in my room on the fifth floor facing east and looking out, saw to my left my first glimpse of the Festspielhaus, high on a hill, the lower part (the auditorium) obscured by trees but the fly tower standing tall above them, a white flag bearing the red letter W, fluttering in the warm air. I took a deep breath.

By now it had been about 20 hours since we had had any sleep but rather than go to bed at 10.30am and be totally out of sync with the rest of Bayreuth, we went to the town centre just a 10 minute walk away.  The shops close on Sunday there but the sidewalk cafes were doing good business.  We found a small hotel named the Anker and took a table outside.

Glasses of beer and plates of food were fetched and consumed and soon we were back on the cobbled streets and walking down Richard Wagner Strasse.  We walked past a Woolworth store which had a sign in the window alerting customers to the fact that it would be closing for two weeks for staff holidays which I could never imagine happening in America.

Set back from the street, down a wide gravel path we came upon a familiar sight:  Villa Wahnfried.  I powered up my camcorder to begin my photo-journal of our trip.  We sat for a while in the garden at the back of the house, by a fountain surrounded by colorful flowers.  At the end of this garden, partly surrounded by trees and bushes, is the grave of Richard and Cosima.  It is an ivy-wreathed mound capped by a slab of smooth stone and it bore garlands and wreaths from the Orchestra and Chorus.

We walked back to the hotel passing through OpernStrasse wherein one finds the Margrave Opera House which had drawn Richard and Cosima to visit Bayreuth due to its location and large stage.  This was on our list of places to visit, but for now we needed to pick up some supplies (mainly liquid) for our rooms.  We drove to a nearby gas station and loaded up on sodas, beers, and snack foods.

Soon after loading up the mini bar we decided to drive up to the Festspielhaus, which was less than a mile away. Today was opening day and we found ourselves driving slowly through a crush of Bayreuters there to see the visiting politicians, Wagners, and German film and pop music celebrities.  We decided not to stop amidst this crowd, and made our way through the heavy traffic and police presence via TristanStrasse, heading back to the hotel.

There at around 6pm I lay down on the bed "to relax":  I fell fast asleep and awoke at 11pm.  Looking out of the window I could see the Festspielhaus, floodlit on the hill.  I poured a cold beer and watched tuxedoed and spangly evening dressed couples returning from the first Lohengrin performance.  I returned to bed at midnight, to sleep a sleep so deep....

To be continued......

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