October 2003


The sweltering late September heat wave hit me slap in the face as I arrived in Stuttgart, for a weekend sojourn of cultural delights, and for this bibulous arty traveller the anticipation of imbibing the wondrous German beer. Unfortunately for me I was a few days too early for the non-stop action of the 158th Stuttgart Beer Festival, which continues to October 12.


The bells started to ring in my brain and I was truly intrigued by a weekend art gallery event labelled Artalarm. This once a year art trek, takes erudite Stuttgarters roaming around the centre and outskirts of town to 25 different galleries in a taxi. The affable driver drops you off at the show of your choice then another cab picks you up and takes you to your next destination, and it’s free of charge (Ken Livingston-London mayor please take note!).

With a clear head and before starting my tour, I decided to have a beer by the bandstand in Schlossplatz, a meeting point for locals and looking out at the impressive Baroque building the Neues Schloss (New Palace). With my catalogue clutched in hand I began with gallery Konigsblau which is on the main shopping street Konigstr. They had a splendid exhibition of works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), and by coincidence the final day of Kirchner’s major exhibition in London’s Royal Academy of Arts was 21 September. I now had a choice to make - should I take taxi tour, A,B, or C? instinctively I went for A.

And in no time at all I was whisked away to a contemporary show in Gallery Rainer Wehr. The first thing that struck me was a multi-coloured Piaggio scooter. Rainer Wehr then invited me into the office, offered wine and gave me a rough guide to the event, Rainer informed me that staggeringly, Artalarm started 23 years ago with "gallery Saturday". The exhibition had the honour of Stuttgart’s mayor coming to view the work. The gallery has a wide diversity of art in the group show, including exhibits from, 10 Jahre, Das Deutsche Hankerk and Contestkaroke.

Onwards again, this time driven through the city to Gallery Valentien which is a fantastic family house and a large garden containing some outlandish sculptures. The current exhibition features the prolific Pablo Picasso and has some of his prodigious lithographs, 1948 Composition, 1925 Tete de Femme, copper etchings, as well as illustration and ceramics. The show is on until 8 November and well worth taking a look.

Artalarm is a smashing way of seeing the assorted galleries of Stuttgart that you might normally miss on your art travels and it adds to the city’s vibrant cultural experience. The website runs continually, gives addresses of all shows with maps, but is only in German. Next years dates are to be announced. See www.art-alarm.de


A few minutes’ stroll from where I was staying in the very accommodating Hotel Abalon, I found an Aladdin’s cave of literature, art and music, and unusual shop called Busch Julius, at Charlottenstr. 12. Julius Pischl the owner told me that the shop was over 20 years old and also incorporated a record label called Edition Musikat that recorded classical music, jazz, the spoken word, experimental electronic music and even Klezmer Yiddish songs. And to top all of that, he has regular performance evenings. For example,
on 30 October there will be the multinational jazz trio comprising Cladio Roditi (Brazil), trumpeter who played with Dizzy Gillespie, Klaus Ignatzek (Germany) on piano and Jean-Louis Rassinfosse (Belgium), on bass who performed with the legendary Chet Baker. What a gig!

For more information about other bohemian happenings see www.buschjulius.de


On a balmy Sunday night I made my way along the "culture mile" to the State Opera house and passed one of the city’s architectural highlights, the New State Gallery, which was designed by the British architect James Stirling. There I met Kerstin Hanssler from Hanssler Records in Holzerlingen, whom I had met before in London at the Proms in the Albert Hall, and she accompanied me to the opera.

We had tickets for Monteverdi’s powerful and emotional opera L’Orfeo, first performed in 1607. The contemporary setting of the opera which tells the story of the immortal singer Orfeo and his battle with the Underworld’s gods, reminded me of some American films, notably Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Christoph Sokler, a Tom Cruise lookalike from Mission Impossible, as Apollo in a tight black wetsuit with ropes and buckles swinging down onto the stage; and touches of the musical Grease for the crowd scenes! Orfeo is passionately sung by Kobie Van Rensburg. The cast and orchestra took numerous bows as the packed (1,400 seats) venue’s rapt audience showed its enjoyment and appreciation of a truly memorable operatic night.

State Opera House information: www.staatstheater.stuttgart.de

PS. After I got back to London I bumped into big thinker and arty welder new-Renaissance man Jonathan “Beyond the Fringe” Miller in the Boundary Gallery in NW8. Miller was at the opening of his exhibition of two and three dimensional metal, wood and paper constructions. And he told me that he was going to direct a semi-staged production of L’Orfeo at Queen Elizabeth Hall, on London’s South Bank on November 1. What a coincidence – I look forward to a well-sculptured performance!

Stuttgart undoubtedly has cultural events in abundance at any time of the year, as well as shops, flea markets, cool bars and restaurants. And with Christmas looming over the horizon what better incentive to make a speedy return to visit one of the oldest and largest Christmas markets in Europe with more than 200 stands, taking place this November and December.

Getting there: Lufthansa has three flights daily from Heathrow to Stuttgart. Fares start from £93.30 (including taxes and charges). For 24-hour information call: 0845 7737747 or visit www.lufthansa.co.uk

Staying: Hotel Abalon, Zimmermannstr. 7-9, 70182 Stuttgart, has single rooms from 71 Euros, and doubles from 96 Euros. Tel: 0049 711 21710 www.abalon.de

Opera package: Stuttgart Marketing GmbH is offering a "Pure Culture package" which includes one night’s hotel accommodation and breakfast, a welcoming cocktail, a Stuttgart State Opera ticket and travel by public transport, from 103 Euros per person sharing a double room.

For Bookings and information contact: Stuttgart-Marketing, Postfach 10 44 36, D-70039 Stuttgart. Tel: 0049 711 222 8246; www.stuttgart-tourist.de

CDs: A new boxed set of Beethoven Symphonies 1-9, performed by the Radio Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, conducted by Roger Norrington, is available from record shops this month. www.haenssler-classic.de

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