Like many other German cities, Dortmund built its first opera house at the beginning of the twentieth century. The original Dortmund Opera opened in 1904 and was destroyed by aerial bombing during the Second World War.
An architects’ competition to design a new opera house was held in 1955. The new building was constructed from 1956 to 1959 but it was not opened until 1966. (Perhaps someone from Dortmund can tell me why there was such a long delay.)
The new opera house is on the site of another historic building, the Old Synagogue, which was destroyed by the Nazis before the Second World War even started.
Second photo: Another view of the opera house.
Third photo: This street sign says:
Square of the Old Synagogue.
On this square once stood the synagogue
of the Jewish community of Dortmund –
Erected in 1900 as an “adornment of the city for all time”
Destroyed 1938 through the terror of the Nazi-regime.
Fourth photo: Picture of the old synagogue as it looked from 1900 to 1938 – in a permanent display in the lobby of the opera house.
Next: In the Dortmund opera house
The interior of the catholic Propsteikirche holds some medieval artworks which have been preserved during the war. First of all, there is the retable on the main altar, painted by Derick Baegert from Wesel around 1460/70. The large paintings of the inner, the holiday side show the Crucification of Christ in the large central painting, the Holy Family (the whole clan, in fact) with the Madonna on the throne on the left wing and the Adoration of the Magi on the right.
Note the candle-holder hanging from the vaults in the right side nave. It is a medieval crown-shaped chandelier from around 1500 with a statue of the Madonna in the middle. It is a double Madonna with face and front on either side.
The stained glass windows are post-war. They were created by two different artists, they styles are easy to tell apart. Since the windows large windows begin rather low you can see the windows from close by. And look back towards the organ, there is a large rose window in the Western facade.
The main catholic church of the city is not just a parish church but the central church of a Propstei (church district). From its foundation around 1300 until 1816 it was the abbey church of the Dominicans (Black Brethren, hence the street name "Schwarze-Brüder-Straße"). In the 19th century it then became the catholic parish church for the city.
World War II damaged the church badly. A closer look reveals modern elements that tell of the rebuilding in post-war times, like the shape of the spire. The cloister (photo 3) shows one old and one modern wing. The small square behind the church is surrounded by the modern buildings of the large parish centre.
The church is open in the daytime. It has preserved some medieval art works (see separate tip).
Petrikirche is the first church you'll encounter if you arrive by public transport because it is located very close to the central station. The gothic church was built in the 14th century.
Unfortunately I could not enter because like the other churches it is closed for a lunch break. If your timing is better than mine, walk in: This church contains a huge woodcarved altarpiece, made in Antwerpen in 1521, that shows the life and passion of Christ in 30 carved scenes and 54 paintings (information from my guidebook). This artwork is described as the largest Flemish altarpiece of the middle ages and surely worth seeing.
Opening hours are given on the website as: Tuesday to Friday 11.00-17.00, Saturday 10.00-16.00. However, I found it closed in the early afternoon with a sign: opens at 15.00.
Marienkirche contains a precious medieval art treasure: the retable on the main altar. It was painted around 1420 by Conrad von Soest, a famous painter who worked in Westphalia and northern Hassia.
The triptychon is actually a fragment. In the baroque era the medieval retable was taken down and the paintings inserted in a new altarpiece in the then fashionable style. The paintings have been cut to fit into their new framing - see the right foot and knee of the Lord in the middle picture, for example. Anyway, the technique is so elaborate and the paintings are so fine that even as fragments they are invaluable.
The altar was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The three paintings show the birth of Christ (left wing), the Adoration of the three Magi (right wing) and the Death of Mary in the central part. This Lutheran church kept the paintings on their main altar after the reformation.
Two churches, both protestant, stand side by side in the very heart of the city. The "little sister" of the large Reinoldikirche is Marienkirche, in former times the church of the city council. Seen from the streets they look almost equally sized, the areal view for example on Google Maps reveals how tiny this one actually is. It is the more ancient of the two. The western front with the steeple and the nave, especially the side naves, are still Romanesque with thick and crooked pilars and walls. The gothic choir is a later addition.
In 1833 the church was unused and in danger of being demolished, but by intervention of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. it was saved. During Nazi times it became a centre of Bekennende Kirche, the resistance movement within the protestant churches. In 1944 it was hit by a bomb raind and badly damaged, repair works lasted until 1957. Luckily the art treasures had been brought to a safe refuge in time.
This church contains Dortmund's greatest treasure of medieval art, the altarpiece by Conrad von Soest (See separate tip). There is a second medieval altarpiece showing the Passion of Christ (late 14th century, photo 5).
The church is open Tuesday to Friday 10.00-12.00 and 14.00-16.00, Thursday until 18.00, Saturday 10.00-13.00, Sunday for the service. Closed on Mondays.
Reinoldikirche is the main church of the city. Its tall steeple with the onion-shaped baroque spire is a landmark, visible from many street corners and helpful to find your way. The steeple can be climbed and must offer a great view over the city and its surroundings (I did not go up).
Its history dates back to the early middle ages when a first church was erected for the nearby royal palace (Pfalz); legends even connect it with Charlemagne. The present church has a gothic nave from the 13th century and a higher, late gothic choir that was added during the first half of the 14th century. The large windows received modern stained glass panes after the war in mostly blueish colours that give a special light.
Among the art treasures, the most remarkable are two large statues by the choir: St Reinold the patron saint on the left, Charlemagne (who was considered a saint in the middle ages) on the right. The woodcarved altar dates from around 1420; ist is too far away to see the details as the choir is cordoned off, though.
Once upon a time Dortmund had a tram network. Public transport through the city centre has long been transferred underground, nowadays there are no more trams but subway trains. In Kampstraße, a stretch of tram tracks has been preserved, and there is a tram standing as if it was waiting for passengers at the end of line.
Don't fall for the trick. This tram will go nowhere. The tracks are blocked after some 50 metres. The entrance to the U-Bahn station was placed in its way.
Since I like trams and appreciate cities that still have them, this forgotten streetcar evokes some nostalgic feelings...
The Hellweg is an ancient trade route that connected Rhine and Weser through the plains just North of the mountain ranges. The medieval Hellweg lead from Duisburg to Paderborn and Corvey and connected to other routes leading further East towards the Elbe. This route was one of the most important "highways" for trade and travel. Along it, towns were founded which then developed into trade centres, imperial cities and proud members of the Hansa. Dortmund is one of these cities.
The Hellweg route is still clearly visible in Dortmund's town plan: the more or less straight street axis in East-Western direction that leads through the middle of the town centre inside the egg-shaped ring of "Wall" streets, the line of the former city ramparts. The name is also still present: Divided into Westenhellweg and Ostenhellweg , it is the pedestrian zone and main shopping street in the city. If you intend to do shopping in Dortmund you will end up here. Between fashion and discounts, devote a thought to history...
"The Dortmunder U" is a landmark of the city, not far and clearly visible from the station and from passing trains. It used to be the main building of a big and popular local brewery, Dortmunder Union. When the brewery closed down, the building was in danger of being demolished like the rest of the factory, but as it is a landmark it was saved and turned into a cultural centre. It now contains a museum of contemporary art and various artists' workshops, a cafe, and various other instalments around contemporary culture.
The windows at the top have been turned into a supersize goldfish aquarium with moving 'fish' that shine in bright orange. At regular intervals they fade and disappear, and then return.
Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) is about a ship's captain who has to sail the seas for all eternity until he is redeemed, if ever, by the fidelity of a loving woman. This was the fourth opera by Richard Wagner (1813-1883), but he later disowned the first three so this is the earliest one that is commonly presented.
I have seen The Flying Dutchman numerous times in Frankfurt am Main, Mainz, Wiesbaden and Augsburg, and now in Dortmund.
It is a deadly serious opera (Wagner was always deadly serious even when he was trying to be funny) but as I have explained on my Düsseldorf intro page it was based on a short, funny passage in a novel by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856). In Heine's version a destitute young Polish aristocrat called Schabelewopski goes to the theater in Amsterdam to see a play called The Flying Dutchman, but he only sees part of it because he meets a lovely blonde blue-eyed Dutch girl who starts flirting with him by dropping orange peels on his head from the upper balcony. In the intermission he finds her and whispers: "Maiden! I want to kiss you on the mouth." To which she whispers back: "By God, my dear Sir, that is a good idea." So when everyone else goes back in to see the rest of the play, Schabelewopski and the Dutch girl stay behind and kiss wildly on a black sofa in the lobby. Plus other things that he only hints at through a long -----.
When he finally goes back to his seat the play is nearly over and the wife of the Flying Dutchman, whom Schabelewopski comically refers to as "Mrs. Flying Dutchwoman" (Frau fliegende Holländerin), proves her fidelity and redeems the Flying Dutchman by throwing herself into the sea and drowning herself.
The moral of the story, according to Schabelewopski, is that women should take care not to marry any Flying Dutchmen, but the author Heinrich Heine must have been astounded when Richard Wagner contacted him in Paris and asked if he could use the story for an opera.
Of course Wagner left out the part about Schabelewopski and the Dutch girl on the black sofa. Still, I can recommend The Flying Dutchman as one of Wagner's shortest and most accessible operas.
Wagner as a young man was a big fan of Vincenzo Bellini (1801–1835), the Italian composer of Norma, La sonnambula and I puritani, among other fantastic bel canto operas. In Wagner’s Flying Dutchman the influence of Bellini is still evident, which I personally find a very positive thing (several duets and lots of flowing Italian-style melodies), but in later years Wagner tried to eliminate the Italian influence from his music and make it sound 100 % German.
Second photo: The stage entrance of the Dortmund Opera is off on the right (northeast) side of the building. This is where the singers and other participants come out after the show, like Andreas Macco after The Flying Dutchman and Elzbieta Ardam and Tamara Weimerich after L’Eliogabalo.
Third photo: The program booklet of Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) at the Dortmund Opera.
Click here to watch the trailer of The Flying Dutchman at the Dortmund Opera.
Next: Konzerthaus Dortmund
This opera house seats 1170 people, which makes it a bit larger than the nearby Aalto-Theater in Essen and somewhat smaller than the Frankfurt Opera in Frankfurt am Main.
Unfortunately the Dortmund Opera seems to be in a phase where they have trouble selling enough tickets to fill those 1170 seats. Even Wagner’s Flying Dutchman didn’t fill the house, and for Cavalli’s L’Eliogabalo they didn’t even try, just put the first eighteen rows on sale and nothing else. Too bad, because L’Eliogabalo was an excellent production and well worth seeing.
That said, I hasten to admit that whenever Frankfurt puts on an opera by Francesco Cavalli they do so in their smaller venue, the Bockenheimer Depot, where they have a good chance of filling all the seats. The Bockenheimer Depot is also where they presented their fantastic production of the opera L'Orfeo by Cavalli’s mentor and teacher Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).
Second photo: Lots of seats in the Dortmund Opera.
Third photo: Looking up from the lobby of the Dortmund Opera.
Fourth photo: A rock garden behind glass at the lobby level of the Dortmund Opera. This reminds me of a similar feature in the Mainfranken Theater Würzburg, which was built at around the same time.
Fifth photo: Program book for L’Eliogabalo by Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676).
Click here to watch the trailer of L’Eliogabalo at the Dortmund Opera.
Next: The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner
The new concert house in Dortmund was built starting in the year 2000 and was inaugurated in 2002.
It doesn’t look like much from the outside, more like an office building or an insurance company, but the inside is said to be quite stunning and also acoustically superb, since the acoustic engineers had the final say in all questions of detail while the concert hall was being built. (Unfortunately I haven’t been to a concert there yet, so I can’t give a first-hand report.)
In the first photo they are advertizing a concert by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which often performs in Dortmund.
Second photo: The entrance to the concert house, with reflections of the buildings on the other side of the street.
Next: The U-Tower
The Dortmund U-Tower was built in 1926/27 as part of a large production complex belonging to the Dortmund Union Brewery, which for many years was the largest brewery in Germany.
The big four-sided U was not added to the top of the tower until 1968.
For sixty-seven years the U-Tower was a production facility for beer, but in 1994 the Dortmunder Union shut down and the company was merged with several other Dortmund breweries to form the Brinkhoff’s Brewery.
For several years no one knew what to do with the U-Tower, since it was a listed building and couldn’t be just torn down. On the other hand, it had been purpose-built as a brewery and wasn’t really suitable for anything else.
Finally the inside of the town was re-modeled and in 2010 it opened as the “Dortmunder U Centre for Art and Creativity” showing artworks from the 20th and 21st centuries and developing “innovative concepts of cultural education in the digital age”.
I haven’t been inside yet, because the weather was great for cycling on the one day I was there, but I did note down the opening hours:
Tuesday + Wednesday 10:00 – 18:00
Thursday + Friday 10:00 – 20:00
Saturday + Sunday 11:00 – 18:00
Admission to the Dortmunder U is free, but most of the exhibitions charge entrance fees.
Second photo: Looking up at the big U.
Next: Dortmund Skyline Countdown # 1 and 8
The RWE Tower, on the right, is the tallest building in Dortmund. It was completed in 2005, has 22 floors and is 100 meters high.
If it were in Frankfurt it would only be the 28th or 29th tallest building and hence would not qualify for my Frankfurt Skyline Countdown, which only includes the top 25.
The letters RWE stand for Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk, though the company no longer uses the name, just the initials. RWE is currently one of the four big power utility companies in Germany which have the country divided up between them. RWE is highly unpopular as a regional monopolist and an incorrigible operator of atomic energy plants.
The IWO-Hochhaus, on the left, is the 8th tallest building in Dortmund. It was completed in 1966, has 19 floors and is 66 meters high. It is currently used for offices of the Dortmund City administration.
The letters IWO are all that is left of a real estate company which went bankrupt shortly after this building was completed.
Next: A&O Hotel Hostel