When you are at Bregenz, you must not leave until you have gone to the lakeside. You will see across the waters an island called Lindau on the other side. This island is part of Germany. Walk on the foot path into the water and get pictures of yourself there. You must also visit a wonder-performing open theatre with a stage build over water.
After leaving the Austrian town of Hard, the ship crosses the bay and goes past the German city of Lindau, which is on an island just nine kilometers down the shore from Bregenz.
I once spent a couple hours walking around Lindau, but didn't have a camera at that time. (Must have been in 2002.)
By the way, in Bavaria (Germany) there are two different places called Lindau in the VirtualTourist database. This one on Lake Constance is a city of 24,000 people (postal code 88131). The other one is a much smaller place at the other end of Bavaria, 354 km to the east. It belongs to the town of Thurmannsbang (postal code 94169) and is just 57 km from the Czech border.
Thus far thirteen VT members have chosen the wrong Lindau to put their pages on, and only three have chosen the correct one. All sixteen of these pages include photos of the city of Lindau on Lake Constance, so I'm sure that's the one they meant.
On the top of the Pfänder you can walk around and get some good views in various directions, for instance looking east toward the Austrian Alps.
There is also a restaurant up here, as well as an "eagle observatory" with a forty minute show at 11.00 and 14:30 daily, admission EUR 5.20 for adults or EUR 2.60 for children. (Prices as of 2011.)
And there is a free "alpine game and wildlife park".
On a clear day (well, it's nearly always a bit hazy over Lake Constance, but don't let that bother you) you can get some fine views by taking the cabin lift from Bregenz up to the top of the Pfänder mountain (1064 meters).
The lower station of the cabin lift (Pfänderbahn) is on Belruptstraße, just a short walk from the center of Bregenz. But the number 1 bus also stops there, in case you don't feel like walking.
The cabin lift leaves at least every full and half hour. At return trip, up and down, costs EUR 11.50 for adults, with reductions for seniors, teenagers, children, families and groups. (Price as of 2013.)
You can take a tour of the festival grounds at 11:30, 14:30 or 15:30 any day during the five-week festival season. The cost as of 2013 is EUR 7.00 per person and usually includes the inside of the festival building, including the "large hall" for indoor performances, the grandstand, and of course the big stage out on the lake.
The tours used to be only in German, but apparently they now offer them in English as well.
For going out on the stage of The Magic Flute they “recommend that you wear sturdy shoes and not high-heeled shoes in view of the stage surface.”
If there are more than thirty people signed up, the group will be split, and I have seen them run up to five tour groups at once, but I believe that is the limit, and it can definitely happen that the tours are sold out, particularly the one at 15:30 in the afternoon, so you shouldn't wait till the last minute to get a ticket.
I took one of these tours in 2002 and another in 2005, and also listened in on several more. The guides tend to be music students (one introduced himself as a trumpet player) who work at Bregenz in the summer. They were all quite knowledgeable, spoke clearly and gave lots of useful information. One of the young women was a brilliant speaker, in fact, but I don't know her name and since you have no choice of your tour guide anyway, I won't try to make any recommendations.
Please see my travelogue Behind the scenes in Bregenz for more photos and information.
In the early evening there is always an introductory talk, in German, about the current opera production, including the plot of the opera, brief recorded musical excerpts and an explanation of the staging and the stage set. The cost as of 2013 is EUR 7.00 per person, and tickets are available online or at the normal ticket office on the festival grounds.
Because of the high demand for tickets they now offer two introductory talks each evening, one at 19:00 and the other at 19:30.
The talk I heard in 2005 was very clear and straightforward, and I'm sure very helpful for those who didn't know the opera.
Please see my travelogue The Troubadour stage for some of the things she told us about the stage set in 2005.
In the summers of 2013 and 2014 the opera on the big lakefront stage will be Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).
The opera begins at 21:15 in July and at 21:00 in August (because the sun sets earlier in August).
Performances are scheduled for most evenings (but not Mondays) from July 17 to August 18, 2013.
The Magic Flute is a long opera, but I don’t know if they are going to make any cuts, so I can’t predict when it will end. Be advised, however, that they never have an intermission in Bregenz, so it’s likely to be a long time without a break.
Tickets can be ordered from:
Ticket Center, Postfach 311
6901 Bregenz, Austria
Tel. +43 5574 407 400
I personally prefer to book tickets online well in advance (and that goes double for accommodation), but it doesn't hurt to ask at the box office if you want to get in at short notice. Weekend performances are often sold out in advance, but on weekdays it is usually possible to get tickets on the same evening.
No matter how hot it was during the day, you should bring warm clothes, and if possible a cushion and a blanket. They also sell cushions and blankets at stands on the way in.
It is also possible to rent a pair of binoculars on the first floor of the festival building.
After the cruise ship leaves Bregenz harbor, one of the first things you see is the stage and the seating area of the Bregenz festival. This stage is often described, even in the official festival website on the English-language side, as a "floating stage", but in fact it is not floating at all, it rests on concrete and wooden pilings that are firmly anchored in the ground at the bottom of the lake.
If you enlarge the photo you can perhaps make out a low black structure, off to the right, which is the permanent backstage area. Every two years the stage is stripped down to this core area, which is made of concrete and rests on concrete pillars, and then a new stage is built around it for the new opera production that will be shown in the following two summers.
When I was here in 2002 for the opera La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), the stage consisted of several gigantic bistro tables and chairs from a Parisian café, with a huge picture postcard stand in the background.
In the years 1999 and 2000 the stage was made to look like a gigantic open book with a huge skeleton standing in the water beside it, for Verdi's opera Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball).
To get a quick look at this end of the lake from out on the water, you can take a one-and-a-quarter hour cruise around Bregenz Bay, calling at the nearby Austrian towns of Hard and Lochau.
These short cruises are offered daily from July 3 to September 4. The ship leaves Bregenz harbor at 11:00, 12:30, 14:00, 15:30 and sometimes also at 17:15. Food and drink is available on board.
In 2005, the cost for the cruise was EUR 7.00 for adults, but only EUR 5.30 for us "seniors" -- in Austria, Switzerland and the UK you can often get a discount ("concession" to you) simply be virtue of having reached a certain age. (I don't know why the Germans haven't adopted this useful and civilized custom.)
There are 6,800 seats in the grandstand, divided into five price categories.
A seat in category I costs EUR 118 Sunday through Friday, but goes up to EUR 138 on Saturdays. (They used to charge the higher prices on Fridays as well, but now they have stopped doing that.) These 1800 tickets are "house tickets", meaning that if an outdoor performance has to be cancelled because of rain (which happened once in 2005; I don’t know about other years), these folks can go inside and see a semi-staged version of the same opera in the large (indoor) festival hall.
Categories II through V are "lake tickets", meaning they are not valid indoors, but they will be refunded or exchanged if an outdoor performance has to be cancelled within the first sixty minutes. A seat in category V, the cheapest, costs EUR 29 Sunday through Thursday, but goes up to EUR 49 on Saturdays. (Prices as of 2013.)
Since I go to opera performances well over a hundred times a year, I nearly always book the cheapest seats unless there is some pressing reason not to. In Bregenz there are category V seats in three sections, namely lower left, lower right and upper right.
When I was here in 2005 I sat in the lower left section the first night. This was fine for photos but did not provide the full quality of the sound system. On the second night I sat upper right, which was brilliant acoustically and also made for some good photos of the entire stage at various points in the opera.
These photos were perfectly legal -- they just said no flash and no videos, and I adhered to that. You can see the results in my General Tips here on this Bregenz page.
Before my first trip to Bregenz in 2002 I was very skeptical about the loudspeaker system. I was afraid it would either sound tinny, like a London musical, or ear-splitting like a rock concert. But it was neither of these. It was pleasant, natural, clearly audible but not dangerously loud.
And it was directional. When one of the singers walked across the stage his voice seemed to be coming from exactly where he was. Sort of like a stereo or quad-something in your living room, but two thousand times as large.
What really convinced me in 2002 was the fact that one of the singers, a Spanish bass named Felipe Bou, was a member of the Frankfurt Opera ensemble at the time. I had heard him sing exactly the same role, Colline in Puccini's La Bohème, several times that season in Frankfurt, so I had a very good idea of what his voice sounded like without a microphone. And on the Bregenz sound system he sounded exactly the same. (He now sings in Leipzig, by the way, where I recently heard and saw him as Rodolfo in Bellini's La sonnambula.)
In 2005 I unfortunately did not have this kind of direct comparison in Bregenz, since the only Frankfurt singer on the cast list, Zeliko Lucic, did not perform on either of the two nights I was there. (Since they do the same opera up to six times per week, they have three different singers for each of the major roles.)
But they say they have installed a totally new sound system over the past winter, and I do have the impression it sounded even better this time than it did three years ago -- except for the cheapest seats at the bottom right and left hand corners, rows A to H, which is not surprising because the loudspeakers surrounding the grandstand (the black band on black stilts, in the photo) do not go all the way down to the shore.
This building is Bregenz’s old impressive Post Office Building, complete with vivid yellow frontage and built in the classic style. It was originally built on wooden poles to prevent it from sinking into the sandy soil.
The Pfaender, of course - you come out of the railway station and there it is, that great green crag looming over the town. The cable car ride is great (but beware if you dislike heights or suffer from claustrophobia), and on a clear day the views from the viewing platform at the summit are breathtaking. One way you're looking over Austria, Germany and Switzerland surrounding the lake, the other, over the Austrian mountains. The day I went, I'd been watching Britten's "Death in Venice" at the Festspielhaus in the morning, and as I gazed out over the lake, I remembered a phrase I'd heard sung only a few hours previously - "and look, Signore, the VIEW!" When you can tear your gaze away, there are lovely walks (some of them on well-made roads, so even unfit females like myself could manage them), It was amazing to find such a wonderful sense of greenness and peace, so close to the bustling heart of the city. There's also a falconry centre, which I didn't see, and a wildlife trail. But you have to pick the right day to make the most of all this splendour. Given the uncertainty of the weather in this part of the world, when you have a clear day, preferably with sunshine, go! Don't wait or you may find yourself enveloped in mists.
During our stroll, we have noticed that the city has many quick lunch counters. Not bad we thought, for those who are short of time. The one that fascinated us , is the one at the Seestrasse near the Post Office because of its building style.
The station is just a walking distance from the harbour and from the railway station (about 10 to 15 mins). If coming with your own car, just follow the signs Pfaender P(Parking). The first 2-1/2 hours are free. Be sure to validate your ticket to the counter of the cablecar station.