Ruhr Festival

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Festival logo

The Ruhrfestspiele ( Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen ) are the oldest and at the same time one of the largest and most renowned theater festivals in Europe. The festival is a cultural event in the Ruhr area that has its origins in the post-war period and has been taking place since 1965 in the specially built Ruhrfestspielhaus on the "green hill" in Recklinghausen .



The Ruhrfestspiele are organized annually by the Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen GmbH . The company is funded 50% each by the city of Recklinghausen and the German Trade Union Federation , each contributing around € 1.1 million a year. The Ruhr Festival does not have a permanent ensemble . Festival productions are co-productions with well-known European artists and performances by guest groups. The declared aim is to bring together different art forms, languages ​​and cultures. The main venue is the Ruhrfestspielhaus.



Pulley in front of the trade union building in Hamburg

During the cold winter of 1946/47, the Hamburg theaters were about to close because they lacked coal for heating and operating the stage technology. The administrative director of the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Otto Burrmeister , the works council chairman of the Hamburg State Opera Karl Rosengart and other parties involved drove into the Ruhr area in two wood-gas-powered trucks to ask for help at the coal mines. From the A2 motorway , they saw the chimneys of the power stations of the König Ludwig 4/5 colliery in Recklinghausen-Suderwich and described their situation to the workers there. The miners, bypassing the control of the occupying powers, helped the theater people and loaded the trucks full of coal. This illegal action was repeated several times until the loaded trucks were discovered by the military police.

In the summer of 1947, 150 actors from the three Hamburg State Theaters gave guest performances under the motto “Art for Coal” in the Recklinghausen City Hall to express thanks for the coal aid . At the opening, the Hamburg State Opera played the Mozart opera Figaro's wedding with the Philharmonic Orchestra on the evening of June 28th . Alfred Pfeifle and Gustav Neidlinger, among others, acted in the opera under the direction of Kurt Puhlmann and the direction of Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg . The next morning, the Thalia Theater , which was then under the directorship of Willy Maertens , performed the comedy The Closed House by Michael Harward , directed by Heinz Sailer . Together with the Philharmonic Orchestra, the State Opera played Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti in the evening . The pieces were repeated over the following two days. On July 1st, the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, directed by Willy Meyer-Fürst, closed a “Russian Comedy Evening” with the one-stroke musicians He is to blame for everything by Leo Tolstoy and The Marriage Proposal and The Bear by Anton Chekhov , which was repeated the following afternoon. The State Opera ended its program with the renewed performance of Figaro’s Wedding on the evening of July 2nd. The tickets cost between 4 and 5 Reichsmarks, and the proceeds went to the support fund for mountain invalids of the König Ludwig colliery.

The Mayor of Hamburg, Max Brauer , gave a speech from the conveyor bridge to the workforce at the first festival: “I can imagine a different and new kind of festival. Festivals not only for writers and the chosen, but festivals in the midst of places of hard work. Yes, the festival in the coal pot in front of the buddies. Yes, the festival takes place in Salzburg in Recklinghausen. "

To commemorate this action, half of a rope pulley from the mining industry was set up in front of the trade union building in Hamburg .

First years

Ruhrfestsspiele: old logo

The city of Recklinghausen and the German Federation of Trade Unions founded the society for the implementation of the Ruhr Festival and called the Ruhr Festival into being as an annual event. Karl Pempelfort was the artistic director from 1947 to 1951. He was followed by Otto Burrmeister from 1952 to 1965. In the first few years, the program was characterized by classical theater repertoire such as Goethe , Schiller and Shakespeare and popular operas such as Mozart , Wagner and Verdi . However, the opera performances were stopped after 1953. With We are once again escaped by Thornton Wilder in 1952 for the first time set contemporary theater on the board, with the guest Mr Puntila and his Man Matti the Municipal Theater Frankfurt in 1955 for the first time a piece of Bertolt Brecht . In the following years the event was constantly expanded, the festival time extended and enriched with concerts, political events and art exhibitions. The annual art exhibitions were designed and directed by Thomas Grochowiak .

Just as important as the performances in the hall were the contacts between the theater people and the workers. In this context, particular importance was attached to the “Invalid Concerts” in the wages hall of the König Ludwig 1/2 colliery, which were also accompanied by trips to the pit by the actors and conversations with the workers. In order for the workers to actually make up a large part of the audience, prices were kept low, with two thirds of the tickets on offer being sold through the unions. The state of North Rhine-Westphalia provided financial support from 1949.

Relocation to the Ruhrfestspielhaus

The venue, Saalbau, became too narrow and no longer met the technical requirements. In 1950, Max Brauer therefore called for a new theater to be built in Recklinghausen. In 1953, the city council decided to build the Ruhrfestspielhaus on the hill of the city garden. With financial help from the association "Friends of the Ruhr Festival" founded in 1959 by the regular festival visitor Theodor Heuss , the foundation stone of the festival hall was laid on June 3, 1961. In 1965 the performances took place for the first time in the Ruhrfestspielhaus.

After increasing criticism, the program became more political in the 1960s and 70s. An advisory board made up of works councils and trade union representatives, founded in 1976, helped shape the program. Independent theater groups such as the GRIPS-Theater or the Theatermanufaktur made guest appearances more frequently, and more and more Brecht plays were put on the program. The supporting program was also supplemented by the young forum , the culture days and the culture festival on May 1st .

Ensemble of the Ruhr Festival

Since 1977 the Ruhrspielmobil has been showing its own productions at union events in the region. The ensemble of the Ruhrfestspiele was founded in 1981 after the state of North Rhine-Westphalia provided funding with the Ruhr Action Program . The ensemble recruited annually about 100 performances of his own productions ( Who pays the bill? , End of the world , Rockefeller I ) nationwide for the Ruhr Festival. After a re-formation in 1983, the theater in the depot in the old tram depot in Recklinghausen was assigned a permanent venue. From 1984 onwards, the formation also took on a large production as part of the festival.

Reform of the festival

50 years of the Ruhr Festival: Postage stamp from Deutsche Post 1996

The Ruhrfestspiele were reformed into a European theater in 1990/91 . The new festival director Hansgünther Heyme attached particular importance to the cooperation with foreign theaters. In this way, the “culture as the common heritage of the nations between the Atlantic and Urals can be seen as the basis of Europe” and “growing nationalism and xenophobia” should be counteracted. Heyme put the festival under a specific motto (1991: Reichs foundations , 1993: Aufbruch - 25 years after 1968 , 1996: 50 years Ruhrfestspiele - art is the engine of every culture , 1998: Future without a past , 2001: Courage, sag me, courage , 2002: SehnSuchten ).

During the renovation of the Ruhrfestspielhaus from 1997 to 1999 the performances took place in the Vestlandhalle, the Theater Marl, the iron warehouse of the Auguste Victoria colliery in Marl and in the theater tent of the Ruhrfestspiele.

Decrease in audience

After Hansgünther Heyme's contract was not extended, Frank Castorf took over the management of the 2004 Festival in August 2003. Gerard Mortier , who was also the director of the RuhrTriennale , with which the Ruhrfestspiele were to be merged , took over the management . Among other things, Christoph Schlingensief was hired to equip ten cars with loudspeakers, each of which played individual instruments from Wagner operas and had them drive across the Ruhr area as a Wagner rally . Castorf's experimental, post-dramatic theater put off audiences. Around 22,000 tickets were sold, only half of the previous years. The declining visitor numbers in combination with expensive productions led the Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen GmbH into insolvency with a loss of around € 80,000. After Frank Castorf's early release was announced in September 2004, Gerard Mortier resigned prematurely as director of the Ruhrfestspiele and the RuhrTriennale.

New visitor records after a change of directorship

The new festival director was the director of the Théâtre National du Luxembourg , Frank Hoffmann . At the Ruhrfestspiele 2005 he tried to appeal to a larger audience within the tight budget with a mixture of more established pieces with well-known names and less experimental performances. Hoffmann put Gotthold Ephraim Lessing at the center and put Minna von Barnhelm , Emilia Galotti and Nathan the Wise on the game board. At the same time, with the FRiNGE Festival, a cabaret, circus and music program was established especially for younger people. More tickets were already sold in advance than in the entire season of the previous year.

The successful trend continued in 2006 with advance booking figures, as they were last achieved in 1962. This year Hoffmann put plays by William Shakespeare at the center of the festival. Special attention was given to the performance of the drama Richard II in a production at the Old Vic Theater with Kevin Spacey and Greg Wise in the lead roles.

In 2007 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was the spiritual patron of the season. Among the highlights was A disappearing number by Simon McBurney .

The motto of the Ruhrfestspiele 2008 was once upon a time in America ... A dream of theater with American playwrights from Eugene O'Neill to Arthur Miller to contemporary authors. Once again, top-class international and German-speaking artists performed on the stage. As part of the opening piece Speed-the-Plow by David Mamet , a co-production with the Old Vic Theater in London, joined Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Spacey in the lead roles. Cate Blanchett directed Blackbird directed by David Harrower . A total of more than 76,000 spectators attended the festival this year.

In 2009, two productions directed by Sam Mendes were premiered in Germany in cooperation with the Old Vic Theater . These were The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov and A Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare , with Ethan Hawke and Rebecca Hall in the leading roles . The focus of the Ruhrfestspiele 2009, however, was on the Nordic playwrights, which was illustrated by the program title Northern Lights . Pieces by the Norwegian Henrik Ibsen and the Swede August Strindberg were on the program. With over 80,000 visitors, a new visitor record was set in 2009.

As part of the 2010 Capital of Culture , the Ruhr Festival illuminated Heinrich von Kleist . Under the motto of the continent Kleist in the romantic sea , the festival dealt with the influences of the playwright, who died by suicide in 1811, on his contemporaries and successors. The production The Infernal Comedy - confessions of a serial killer , in which John Malkovich played the murderer Jack Unterweger , attracted attention .

In 2012, the Ruhrfestspiele had the motto Something new in the east: From the distant days of Russian theater into the future and recorded around 80,000 visitors, the third-best attendance result in the 66-year history of the festival to date. In 2013, works by the German-speaking poets Frank Wedekind , Gerhart Hauptmann , Franz Kafka , Hans Fallada , Thomas Mann , Ödön von Horváth and Arthur Schnitzler , former representatives of modernism in times of social and political upheaval, were performed. With 318 performances, there were more events than ever before.

The motto of the 2014 festival was “Island realms. Land in Sight - Discoveries ”, mainly Anglo-Saxon authors on the program. Stars of comedy and cabaret as well as circus performers were present in the FRinGE program introduced in 2005.

In 2015, 81,000 visitors attended a total of 305 performances. One focus was the French theater with classical pieces by Molière , Eugène Labiche and arrangements of texts by Gustave Flaubert and Émile Zola . But contemporary authors like Bernard-Marie Koltès and Yasmina Reza were also on the program. To see were u. a. the Théâtre de la Manufacture from Nancy and the Ensemble des Festivals de Avignon as well as Juliette Binoche , Michel Piccoli , Hervé Pierre and André Marcon .

Development since 2016: updating and politicizing

In 2016, in view of the numerous victims of the flight across the Mediterranean, the motto of the 70th Ruhr Festival was “Mediterranean Sea - Mare nostrum?”; one dealt with political and social conditions in the Mediterranean region. The program included plays, authors and productions from Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt and Algeria, among others. With the Thalia Theater and the Deutsches Schauspielhaus , the Hamburg theaters, which founded the Ruhr Festival in 1947 with their visit, were guests.

In 2017 the motto of the festival was "Head over - world under". You should “oppose the ubiquitous feeling of fear with courage, strength and utopia”.

In October 2017, the Ruhr Festival Supervisory Board elected Olaf Kröck as the new artistic director, who succeeded Frank Hoffmann on August 1, 2018.

The Ruhr Festival 2020, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, received a symbolic defiance of all this through an art campaign . The glass facade of the Festspielhaus was covered from mid-May to mid-June by a large-format picture wall made up of hundreds of portraits. The “Inside Out Project” by the French artist JR had a total of 757 black and white portraits of those who were unable to attend the theater festival sent in.


  • Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen GmbH (Hrsg.): 50 years Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen. Pomp, Essen 1996
  • Ingeborg Schnelling-Reinicke: Founding and development of the Ruhr Festival in Recklinghausen. Rheinland-Verlag, Cologne 1998

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Rudolf Hille: The King Ludwig colliery and the beginning of the Ruhr Festival. In: Working group König Ludwig, Christoph Thüer (Ed.): Our Zeche König Ludwig. Cradle of the Ruhr Festival and more…. , Regio, Werne 2005. P. 180 ff.
  2. ^ A b c Gerd Holtmann: The Ruhr Festival in Recklinghausen. In: Werner Burghardt (ed.): 750 year city of Recklinghausen. 1236-1986. Winkelmann, Recklinghausen 1986. p. 295 ff.
  3. Quoted from Rudolf Hille: The King Ludwig colliery and the beginning of the Ruhr Festival. In: Working group König Ludwig, Christoph Thüer (Ed.): Our Zeche König Ludwig. Cradle of the Ruhr Festival and more…. , Regio, Werne 2005. p. 181.
  4. a b c Werner Schulze-Reimpell , Ingeborg Janich: Ruhr Festival Recklinghausen / European Festival. In: Manfred Brauneck (Hrsg.): Theaterlexikon. Terms and epochs, stages and ensembles. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1986, 4th edition 2001. pp. 866f
  5. a b c C. Bernd Sucher (Ed.): Theater Lexikon . Epochs, ensembles, figures, forms of play, terms, theories. dtv, Munich 1996. p. 368 f.
  6. ^ Gerd Holtmann: The Ruhr Festival in Recklinghausen. In: Werner Burghardt (ed.): 750 year city of Recklinghausen. 1236-1986. Winkelmann, Recklinghausen 1986. p. 298.
  7. dpa / olb . Retrieved January 2, 2010.
  8. John Malkovich as a guest at the Festspielhaus Recklinghausen  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Münstersche Zeitung from June 4, 2006@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  9. John Malkovich plays at the Ruhr Festival ( Memento from June 7, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) RP online from June 4, 2010.
  10. Hollywood strikes back and loses (undated , accessed on January 19, 2017)
  11. Tête-a-tête with France in the Ruhr area in: Friday , January 22nd, 2015.
  12. Ruhrfestival 2016: Many Germans - no Hollywood celebrities (undated, accessed on January 19, 2017)
  13. Edgar Selge, Matthias Brandt and Sebastian Koch are there , (undated, accessed on January 19, 2017)
  14. Ruhrfestspiele press release: Olaf Kröck will be the new director of the Ruhrfestspiele on August 1 , 2018, October 10, 2017.
  15. Photo wall commemorates the cancellation of the Ruhr Festival , Kulturnachrichten, published and accessed May 22, 2020