Rattle sounds alarm for culture in Berlin

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The Independent Online

Sir Simon Rattle, the chief conductor of the internationally renowned Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, accused the German capital of inflicting catastrophic "cultural dismantling" yesterday because of the city government's decision to slash arts funding.

Sir Simon Rattle, the chief conductor of the internationally renowned Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, accused the German capital of inflicting catastrophic "cultural dismantling" yesterday because of the city government's decision to slash arts funding.

The British conductor told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine that the government of Berlin's moves to rein in the capital's hitherto generous arts funding programme to offset municipal debts of €47bn (£32bn) would have dire consequences for the city.

"Culture and, within culture, music are the best and most fascinating things that the German capital has to offer internationally. It is putting that at risk," Sir Simon told the magazine.

He added: "The situation is catastrophic. On one hand I can see the city's impossible situation - it has been bankrupt for years. On the other hand this cultural dismantling is an incredible disgrace for Berlin."

Sir Simon took over control of the Berlin Philharmonic two years ago. His role as the orchestra's chief conductor has been overshadowed by rigorous cuts to cultural funding imposed by Berlin's city government of Social Democrats and the reformed Communists, the Party for Democratic Socialism.

The city's so-called "Red-red" coalition was elected two years ago with a mandate to reduce Berlin's crippling debt problem, which has left it bankrupt after decades of financial mismanagement by successive conservative administrations.

Berlin's Symphony Orchestra and the city's Deutsche Opera House orchestra have had their budgets drastically cut under the programme. Several of the city's theatres have also suffered. Earlier this year, the conductor Christian Thielemann quit his post as the Deutsche Opera's general director after an acrimonious dispute with the city government over funding.

Critics have complained that a disproportionate amount of arts financing in Germany is provided by the taxpayer through city and regional government funding. They have argued for greater private initiative and called for an end to a perceived "subsidy mentality" in the arts. Berlin's funding dilemma was compounded by the collapse of Communism in 1989. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city operated competing cultural establishments on either side of the divide. When the Wall fell, the city was left with dozens of theatres, at least four orchestras and three opera houses, which had to be funded out of the reunified capital's single city government.

The city government's dire financial predicament was exacerbated when the central government cut generous funding that was supplied to capitalist west Berlin during the Cold War era. Municipal swimming pools, libraries and other venues have also closed.

Klaus Wowereit, Berlin's Social Democrat mayor, recently appealed to the Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, to supply extra funding. Ironically, the Berlin Philharmonic is one of the few Berlin orchestras that is unlikely to suffer gravely under the cuts programme. It is an independent foundation and is able to fund itself through lucrative recording contracts.

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