There has been a municipal theater in Osnabrück since 1832. The current main theater building was built from 1905 to 1909 – at a time when many medium-sized cities in Germany were building their city theaters.
The Osnabrück Theater was damaged by bombing during the Second World War, but was re-built from 1949 to 1950. It currently seats 642 spectators. Access to the theater is now through the new foyer wing on the left, not through the old front doors of the building.
The theater has its own opera ensemble, chorus and orchestra (The Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra), as well as ensembles for spoken drama, ballet and children’s theater.
At last count there were eighty-eight functioning professional opera houses in Germany (more than in any other country in the world, I believe), as listed in the Yearbook of Opernwelt magazine for 2012. I have seen opera performances in fifty-six of these houses so far – the Theater Osnabrück being the fifty-sixth.
I have listed all of these in my album Opera Houses in Germany.
I am now one of the very few people in the world who have seen two different productions of the opera Simplicius Simplicissimus by Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963).
The first was Christoph Nel’s production in Stuttgart and Frankfurt, starring Claudia Mahnke and Frank van Aken (I saw it in Frankfurt) and the second was a staging by Jochen Biganzoli at the city theater in Osnabrück, featuring Marie-Christiane Haase in the title role.
As I have mentioned before, this opera is based on a huge blockbuster novel about the Thirty Years’ War by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, first published in 1669. For more on the life and times of this brilliant seventeenth century author, please have a look at my VT pages on Gelnhausen, where he was born, and Renchen, where he completed his many books and died in 1676, twenty-eight years after the war was over.
If you click on the link below you can see the trailer of the opera Simplicius Simplicissimus as it was staged in Osnabrück.
After arriving in Osnabrück, checking in to my hotel and picking up my rental bike, I rode over to the tourist information office and asked for a calendar of events, to see if anything special was happening that evening.
It turned out that something very special was happening. The author, actress and stage director Adriana Altaras was giving a reading from her novel Titos Brille, meaning “Tito’s Glasses” (subtitle: “The story of my exhausting family”), in the upper foyer of the Osnabrück City Theater.
The book tells some thought-provoking but mostly very funny stories of her far-flung Jewish family, starting in Zagreb, Croatia, where she was born.
The book’s title refers to a story that has been told and re-told in her family as long as she can remember. One of her uncles was a partisan, fighting against the Nazis in the mountains of Yugoslavia during the Second World War under the leadership of Marshal Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980), who later became the first president of Yugoslavia. At one point the entire campaign was in danger of collapse because Tito’s glasses were broken. The uncle, who was a trained optician, succeeded in fixing the glasses in a mountain camp despite stormy weather and the lack of proper tools, so Tito could go on and lead the partisans to victory.
This story became a central part of their family tradition and a tremendous source of pride. But it turned out there was one slight problem with it, namely that Comrade Tito didn’t even wear glasses at that time of his life.
Adriana Altaras only lived in Croatia until she was four years old, when (as she tells it) she was smuggled out to Italy by one of her aunts. Her parents later brought her to Germany, namely to Gießen, where they had settled.
She went to school in both Germany and Italy, and later studied acting at the University of the Arts in Berlin. Since 1983 she has appeared in numerous German films and television productions and has also worked as a stage director for musicals, operas and spoken drama. In 2012 she was in Osnabrück to direct a new production of the musical Anatevka at the City Theater.
Her book Titos Brille is in German, but translations into Italian and Croatian are scheduled to be published in 2013. As far as I know there is no English translation in the works.
The historic Osnabrück City Hall (Rathaus) was completed in late-Gothic style in the year 1512 after more than twenty-five years of construction.
It was here, and in the city hall of the neighboring city of Münster, that the Peace of Westphalia was negotiated and finally signed in 1648, ending the Thirty Years’ War.
In the Second World War the Osnabrück City Hall was largely destroyed by aerial bombings, but the historic furnishings and artworks still exist because they had been removed and were stored in a safe place until the end of the war. After the war, the City Hall was quickly rebuilt and was reopened in 1948 in time for the three hundredth anniversary of the Peace of Westphalia.
To the right of the City Hall is Saint Mary’s Church (second photo).
Erich Maria Remarque was born in Osnabrück in 1898. He was a prolific and widely-read author who is best known for his anti-war novel Im Westen Nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front), which was published in 1928 and subsequently translated into more than 55 languages.
The novel reflects Remarque’s own experiences as a German soldier in the First World War. It clearly exposes the senselessness and brutality of war from the point of view of an ordinary soldier.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933 they immediately banned Remarque’s books and even burned them in their infamous book-burning nights.
In 1938 the Nazis revoked Remarque’s German citizenship. From 1939 he lived in exile in the United States, where he became an American citizen in 1947. In later years he divided his time between New York and Switzerland. He described his life style as “unintentionally cosmopolitan”.
The Erich Maria Remarque Peace Center was founded in 1989 by the city of Osnabrück in co-operation with the University of Osnabrück. It is located directly on the Market Square across from the City Hall and Saint Mary’s Church. The center includes a permanent exhibition on Remarque’s life and works, entitled “Independence – Tolerance – Humor”, with explanations in both German and English.
When I was there in 2012 there was also a temporary exhibition on a topic that has received very little attention up to now: “Camp Brothels – Forced Sex Work in the Nazi Concentration Camps”.
The painter Felix Nussbaum was born in Osnabrück in 1904. He was murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1944.
The Felix Nussbaum House in Osnabrück was designed by the architect Daniel Libeskind and was completed in 1998. With its sharp angles and long corridors, the Felix Nussbaum House looks and feels like a smaller version of another Libeskind building, the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
More than 160 of Nussbaum’s paintings are now on display at the Felix Nussbaum House, including his most famous one, his “Self-portrait with a Jewish pass” (fourth photo), which he painted around 1943 while he was hiding from the Nazis in Belgium.
The museum also includes some of Nussbaum’s drawings (third photo), as well as documents about his life and work. It is also the home of the Felix Nussbaum Society, which issues publications about the painter and organizes expositions of his work all over the world.
Since 2004 the Villa Schlikker has been the home of a new museum called the “House of Memories”, devoted to the culture of daily life in various phases of the 20th century.
When the last traditional corner shop closed in Osnabrück in 1980, its furniture and contents were preserved and are now on display in the museum (first photo). This kind of shop is often referred to in German as an Aunt Emma Shop (Tante-Emma-Laden).
An old pharmacy (second photo) has also been rebuilt as it was in the first half of the twentieth century, complete with its original scales and hand-cranked cash register (third photo).
They have also recovered a few items from the Nazi period, like a painting (fourth photo) showing the Nazi conception of a German family: a healthy mother with four healthy children, whose absent father is presumably off on some distant front Defending the Fatherland.
Finally they have preserved some of the furnishings used by the British occupying forces from 1945 to 1959, including one of their original typewriters (fifth photo).
In the basement of Villa Schlikker there is an exhibit on life in Osnabrück in the months and years immediately following the Second World War.
Osnabrück was one of the German cities that suffered the most damage and casualties through aerial bombardments from 1940 to 1945. One reason for this was that allied bombers starting from England flew directly over Osnabrück on their way to and from Berlin and other cities in eastern Germany. Returning bombers tended to drop any leftover bombs on Osnabrück, which was the last German city on their way back to their bases in Britain.
Since Villa Schlikker was the local Nazi party headquarters, the basement served as an air raid shelter for Nazi officials during the war. Now the basement is part of the museum. The exhibits include several CARE packages (second and third photos) that were sent from America starting in 1946.
CARE was founded in 1945 as the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe. This organization got permission from the American government to send U.S. Army surplus "10-in-1" food parcels to Europe. These were boxes of rations that had been prepared in great numbers to feed American soldiers (ten soldiers for one day or one soldier for ten days) during the planned invasion of Japan, which then never happened because Japan surrendered after the dropping of the atomic bombs.
At the end of the war, these rations were stored in a warehouse in the Philippines. CARE arranged for them to be returned to the United States for repackaging and shipment to Europe, where people were in dire need of food after the war. For ten dollars, people living in America could arrange to have one of these parcels shipped to their relatives or friends in Europe, where it was “guaranteed” to arrive within four months.
My father was one of those who immediately started sending CARE packages (from Illinois) as soon as this was possible. Whenever he could spare ten dollars, which was a lot of money in those days, he ordered a CARE package to be sent off to relatives in Hungary, Czechoslovakia or later Germany. Packages to Germany were not allowed for the first half year, because of an American government policy of aiding other countries first.
When I went through my father’s papers after his death, I found numerous letters thanking him profusely for these packages, which evidently filled a real need in the first few years after the war.
This house was built in the year 1900 as the residence of Edo Floris Schlikker, the son of a wealthy textile manufacturer. In 1930/31 the house was taken over by the Nazi party, the NSDASP. During the Nazi dictatorship, from 1933 to 1945, the house was the administrative headquarters of the local Nazi party and was known locally as “the brown house” because of the brown shirts that the Nazis wore.
As the Second World War was coming to a close, Osnabrück was occupied by British troops on April 4, 1945. The British took control of the Villa Schlikker and used it as the headquarters of their city commander.
It wasn’t until 1959 that the house was given to the city of Osnabrück for use as a museum. For many years Villa Schlikker was used as a Natural History Museum. Since 2004 it has been the site of a museum called The House of Memories, showing the culture of daily life in the 20th century.
This is the oldest of the three buildings in the museum complex. It was built in 1890 and has been used as a museum ever since. It is described as the House of History of simply as the “Main Building” of the museum complex.
The basement and ground floor are devoted to “The development of Osnabrück from its beginnings to the present time”. On the upper floor there is a collection of artworks and a department of “Craftwork and design”.
As of 2012, an admission ticket was available for all three buildings, The House of History, Villa Schlikker and the Felix Nussbaum House. It cost 5 Euros for adults, 3 Euros for those entitled to a reduction or 12 Euros for a family ticket.
This “Heger Gate”, originally known as the Waterloo Gate, does not fit in very well with Osnabrück’s image as the Peace City, because it was built to glorify the courage of local soldiers at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium.
The gate was erected in 1817, two years after the Battle of Waterloo, as a tribute to “the warriors from Osnabrück who gave proof of German courage at Waterloo on June 18, 1815”.
There is no mention of how awful the battle of Waterloo was – though in reality it was a dreadful slaughter. At least that is the impression I have from reading Victor Hugo’s seventy-page description of that battle in the first volume of his novel Les Misérables. He said that the huge number of casualties came about because the fronts were so short, with thousands of men, horses and cannons crowded into a very small area.
The German (or rather Prussian) army in the Battle of Waterloo arrived rather late in the day, just in time to deliver the final blow against Napoléon and decide the outcome of the battle in favor of their allies at the time, the English.
I have mentioned this Prussian army before, in my tip on Pfalzgrafenstein Castle on my Bacharach page. As I noted there, Pfalzgrafenstein is famous as the place where the Prussian Field Marshal Blücher succeeded in crossing the Rhine in the winter of 1813/14 with his army, “on their way to join forces with a coalition army under the command of the Duke of Wellington. Together, these two armies defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.”
By coincidence I have also included two tips about Victor Hugo in my Bacharach page, though these have nothing to do with the Battle of Waterloo. These two tips are Victor Hugo on the Rhine and Victor Hugo at Fürstenberg and Falkenburg.
Behind the cathedral there is a narrow passageway called the “Hexengang” (Witches’ Passage), which according to local tradition is where women convicted of witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries were led on their way to be “delivered to the cleansing power of the fire”, in other words burned alive at the stake.
Local historians say this passageway received its name much later, during the period of Romanticism in the 19th century, and that it actually had nothing to do with witches in earlier centuries.
They also say, however, that witch hunts were a serious problem in Osnabrück in the period before and during the Thirty Years’ War. Between 1550 and 1650, in Osnabrück alone, 276 women and two men were convicted of witchcraft. They were accused of eating little children, poisoning crops and cattle, mixing magic potions and calling down fires and hailstorms and living in a pact with the devil.
Like the Jews, women who had been denounced as “witches” were held responsible for catastrophic events that people could otherwise not explain, like epidemics and wars.
Osnabrück has a very professional and helpful tourist information office, for the city and the surrounding region, located in a pedestrian zone near the City Hall.
They can provide city guides, cycling route maps, guidebooks and of course they sell souvenirs. They also arrange accommodation, organize events and have advance ticket sales for rock, pop, classical and folk music concerts.
What I found especially useful was their monthly listing of events taking place in the region, because that’s how I found out that Adriana Altaras was giving a reading from her new book on the evening I arrived in Osnabrück.
(For something like that you of course have to understand German, but they also list a wide range of purely musical and artistic events that can be understood by anybody.)
This is a relatively new university. It was founded in 1973 and the first classes were held in 1974. They say that now about ten thousand students are registered in ten different faculties.
The university says that it “owes its special flair to its successful integration within the City of Osnabrück.” The university website explains: “Unlike other universities founded at the same time, it was not conceived as an isolated campus university, but instead grew up within the City of Osnabrück, where a former nobleman’s palace became its headquarters.”
(A nearby example of “an isolated campus university” would be the one in Bielefeld, which was founded in 1969.)
The palace in Osnabrück was first built from 1667 to 1673 as the residence of the Protestant Prince-Bishop Ernst August I of Braunschweig-Lüneburg. In the eighteenth century the palace stood empty most of the time. From 1803 it was used for government offices. During the Nazi dictatorship it was the local Gestapo headquarters.
During the bombardments of the Second World War the palace was so severely damaged that only the outer walls remained standing. After the war it was re-built and was used by a teachers’ training college until the founding of Osnabrück University in 1973.
Osnabrück is the only German city that is situated in a national park, the Terra.vita, which includes the Teutoburg Forest and the ‘Wiehengebirge’.
The Terra.vita nature reserve covers an area of 1,200 square kilometres, making it Germany’s biggest nature reserve. In 2004, it was awarded UNESCO Geopark status on account of its extraordinary role as a geological heritage site.
Osnabrück has gone down in history as a town where peace was made – the decisive negotiations to end the Thirty Years' War took place here.
Osnabrück is a university town. The main building of Osnabrück University is the baroque castle (built 1667-1675), formerly home and office to the Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück, nowadays housing mainly university administration. It is located close to the city center. In summer, the (mostly grass-covered) castle court is used for open air cinema and concerts.
VIDEO of my visit: