Bonn has always been considered a City of Culture. Based on this tradition, a wealth of varied, lively and successful cultural activities has grown that is enriched by a great number of cultural actors and institutions.
Theatre and music
Bonn is the native city of Ludwig van Beethoven who was born here in 1770. This "gift of history" implies a particular responsibility for the City to preserve the memory of the composer’s ingenious creativity and oeuvre and to exploit to the full both the artistic and social potentials of this unique artist.
The 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth in 2020 is being celebrated by the City of Bonn under the theme "BTHVN2020" - with the whole world and a top-class program. The non-profit Beethoven Jubilee Society is tasked with shaping, promoting and taking responsibility for this anniversary as a national event with regional anchoring. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, celebrations will continue through September 2021. An up-to-date overview of upcoming anniversary events and numerous projects, which have meanwhile been developed as digital productions, can be found on the BTHVN2020 homepage at (see menu item "Program").
The Beethoven Orchester Bonn (Beethoven Orchestra Bonn) is the orchestra of the Bonn Opera and is counted among Germany’s most renowned cultural orchestras. Moreover, the distinguished orchestra (e.g. six Echo Awards in classical music) plays an important role as a "cultural ambassador" of the City of Bonn. The home of the Beethoven Orchester Bonn, the Beethovenhalle (Beethoven Hall), which was opened in 1959, is currently being extensively renovated and modernized.
Every September/October, Bonn celebrates the Beethovenfest (Beethoven Festival) which attracts both national and international interest. The Beethovenfest presents leading international orchestras, outstanding ensembles, prominent soloists and talented young musicians.
The Bonn Schumannfest (Bonn Schumann Festival) has since 1998 been focusing on the musical oeuvre of Robert and Clara Schumann, presenting talented young musicians and renowned choirs in its festival programme.
Bonn's tradition as a theatre city goes back as far as the era of the Electors. It was the art-loving citizens, however, who had the first theatre built for themselves in 1826. In 1965, a new building was inaugurated for Theater Bonn on the banks of the Rhine; its Grand Hall with 1037 seats is mainly used by the Bonn Opera today, but also offers a stage for international dance performances. The drama theatre has a building of its own in the borough of Bad Godesberg and another location in the Workshop Theatre at the Opera House.
The Cultural Office of Bonn has been presenting Bonn’s music and independent art and culture in a series of Stadtgartenkonzerte (city garden concerts) at the Alte Zoll since 2012 and its new Stadtmusik Festivals (city music) in the city center since 2015.
Also in 2012, another event series saw the light of day owing to private initiative: Kunst!Rasen provides a stage on the Gronau green close to the Rhine for international artists of Pop and Rock Music.
Jazzfest Bonn was established in 2010 as an annual festival of contemporary improvisation music in Bonn. Top-class national and international jazz groups present their current programmes at selected venues within a period of ten to twelve days.
Literature and film
Last but not least, literature also has its established place in Bonn. World-famous authors spent productive years here, and since the 19th century, the study of literature in Bonn has acquired a degree of renown reaching far beyond national borders, and to this day, Bonn’s literature scene oscillates between the diverse regional and international points of reference.
Since its inauguration in 2011, the Literaturhaus Bonn e.V. (Literature House Bonn) serves as a place of meeting with writers, of mediation, promotion of reading, advising authors or the exchange between readers. Activities take place at different venues in Bonn. The Cultural Office has also made a high-profile contribution to promoting reading skills and fascination for literature among children with the annual "Rheinischen Lesefest Käpt’n Book" reading festival, which was expanded and networked throughout the region in 2010. The central library of Stadtbibliothek Bonn (Bonn City Library) and the Volkshochschule (Adult Education Center) both have their new home at Haus der Bildung (House of Education) at Mülheimer Platz.
The Bonner Stummfilm-Festival (Bonn Silent Film Festival), organized by the Silent Film Friends’ Association, is in its way a unique event in Germany and enjoys worldwide fame among movie lovers. It attracts an enthusiastic audience to the Arcade Court of the University every year.
Museum Mile, City Museums and Macke Neighbourhood
The Museumsmeile (Museum Mile) is Bonn’s major attraction for lovers of art and culture from all over the world. The Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Museum of Contemporary History of the Federal Republic of Germany), the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany) and the Kunstmuseum Bonn (Bonn Museum of Art) have made a name for themselves in the German and European museum scene since their inaugurations in 1992 and 1994 respectively. The traditional Museum Alexander Koenig and the Deutsches Museum Bonn (German Museum Bonn) complete the Museum Mile.
The objective of the Haus der Geschichte (Museum of Contemporary History) is to present an illustrative and informative narrative of contemporary history. The permanent exhibition covers 4,000 square meters and displays photos, documents and, above all, original objects relating to German history. "August Macke and the Rhenish Expressionists" is a central theme of the collection of the Kunstmuseum (Museum of Art), another one exhibits German Art since 1945 in the spectacular museum building designed by the Berlin architect Axel Schultes. The Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle (Art and Exhibition Hall), designed by Gustav Peichl is used for temporary exhibitions, and presents national and international cultural trends but also includes science and technology. The Federal Arts and Exhibition Hall and the House of History happen two of the most frequented museums of Germany.
Museum Koenig ranks among Germany's most important zoological museums. Under the headline "The Blue Planet" it has been revamped into an ecological information center of a novel kind. Milestones of research from the past fifty years are presented on over 1,500 square meters in the Deutsches Museum Bonn (German Museum Bonn). The approximately 100 original exhibits in the Science Centre range from the Maglev-Train to the ion trap, for which a Nobel Prize was awarded.
The City Museums are situated in downtown Bonn within walking distance from each other. Among them are such top-class institutions as the renowned Beethoven-Haus (Beethoven House), one of the most important memorial places of culture world-wide, the Akademisches Kunstmuseum (Academic Museum of Art) with one of the largest and oldest collections of casts of ancient sculptures. The Gedenkstätte für die Bonner Opfer des Nationalsozialismus (Memorial to the Bonn Victims of National Socialism) and the Stadtmuseum Bonn (Bonn City Museum) present their exhibition and, respectively, collection of exhibits in the Franziskanerstrasse in the immediate neighborhood of the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall).
The Arithmeum, on one side of the Hofgarten green, boasts a unique collection of historic and still operational calculating machines. A number of other organizations have joined forces in the Macke neighborhood in the North of Bonn. They show a wide range of exhibits, from objects relating to Rhenish history, culture and art from the Palaeolithic Age to the present day on display in the LVR-Landesmuseum (Museum of the Rhineland) to contemporary art presented by the Bonner Kunstverein (Bonn Arts Association). A highly interesting institution in the Macke neighborhood is the Frauenmuseum (Women’s Museum), the first of its kind worldwide.
The former homes of famous Bonn artists are also open to the public: the August Macke House, which opened its extension in 2017, the Schumann House, the Ernst Moritz Arndt House and of course Ludwig van Beethoven’s Birth House. Bonn’s Haus der Kultur (House of Culture) accommodates 20 associations and institutions operating nationwide, the largest number of non-state cultural networks under one roof.
Old Town Hall and Market Square
Bonn's Old Town Hall has been the seat of the self-government of Bonn’s citizens for over 700 years. Cologne’s Archbishop and Elector Konrad von Hochstaden had reconfirmed to Bonn in 1244 "the enjoyment of its liberties, privileges and good customs". In 1285, the citizens drew up a Council Constitution. The construction year of the first Town Hall, predecessor of the present one, is not known. According to an ancient engraving of the town, it must have been a late-Gothic building. It was reduced to ruins in the siege and bombardment of Bonn in 1689. Clemens August, Archbishop and Elector of Cologne, laid the foundation stone to a new building designed by French architect Michel Leveilly on April 24, 1737. This new Town Hall with its Rococo façade was inaugurated in October 1738. Severely damaged in the air raid of October 18, 1944, the Old Town Hall was restored in the original style in 1949/50.
The flight of stairs on the front side was repeatedly the scene of historic events. It was here that Gottfried Kinkel, the poet, university professor and fighter for civil liberties, made his rousing revolutionary speech; it was here that the first President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Theodor Heuss, spoke to the people on September 12, 1949, the day of his election. Bonn’s five decades of history as Germany's federal capital and seat of government have seen many a prominent visitor, both from Germany and abroad, received in the Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus). No statesman, no reigning monarch visiting Bonn on official mission left out the Town Hall.
It was from these stairs that the French President Charles de Gaulle, on September 5, 1962, and the American President John F. Kennedy, on July 23, 1963, addressed the people gathered to welcome them. Queen Elizabeth II visited the Town Hall in 1965 and 1978, and in 1989, Bonn’s citizens cheered for Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet Head of State and Party General Secretary. South Africa's Nelson Mandela, the Japanese Imperial Couple, United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan, they all came to Bonn and signed the City of Bonn's Golden Book in the Old Town Hall.
After extensive renovation in 2010 and 2011, the Old Town Hall now shines in new splendor. The Old Town Hall Society ("Verein Altes Rathaus") and the City jointly work towards maintaining the beautiful structure of the historic building.
However, not only the Old Town Hall, but also the Market Square has become well-known all over the world due to the numerous official state visits. It went through a similar history of ups and downs. The Market Square came into being in the 11th century as the center of a settlement of craftsmen along the road which traversed Bonn from north to south. The Market Fountain or obelisk dates back to Bonn's era as capital and residence of the Electors and Archbishops of Cologne. The square was already then considered an excellent business address: here were the houses of the merchants, pharmacists and craftsmen who paid the bulk of the taxes.
The small houses situated around Market Square were replaced by four-story business buildings in the late 19th century. Almost all of them burnt down following the air raid of October 18, 1944. Today, Bonn’s Market Square has again become the heart of urban life in the City of Bonn and provides an idyllic scenery for many open-air events.
Representative: Villa Hammerschmidt and Palais Schaumburg
The official residence of the Federal President in Bonn is one of the most popular photo objects. Villa Hammerschmidt, hosting the first New Year Reception of the Head of State on January 4, 1951, was designed by the architect August Dieckhoff and built in 1860. At that time, Bonn was considered a "Town of Millionaires", and as the "Riviera on the Rhine" chosen by many wealthy industrialists as their place of residence. Leopold Koenig, father of the zoologist Alexander Koenig, bought the property in 1868 and had the house rebuilt by the architect Otto Penner. There have been no major changes since then. The industrialist Rudolf Hammerschmidt, Privy Councillor of Commerce, moved in on April 6, 1901. At that time, Villa Hammerschmidt was the epicenter of Bonn's society. After 1929, the Villa was rented out and partitioned into apartments. It survived the Second World War without damage and was confiscated by the allied occupying forces from 1945 to late 1949. The Federal Republic of Germany bought the property from Rudolf Hammerschmidt’s heirs for 750,000 German Marks on April 5, 1950. It was furbished up to become the official residence of the Head of State.
The first Federal President to move into the Villa was Theodor Heuss in 1951. It was both his official and private residence. Furnishings and equipment were collected from all over the Federal Republic: furniture, paintings, and carpets from museums and palaces were made available on loan by the German federal states.
Villa Hammerschmidt was both the official and private residence for most successors. Nowadays Schloss Bellevue (Bellevue Palace) is used as the official residence of the Federal President in Berlin, and the "White House on the Rhine" as the official residence in Bonn.
Palais Schaumburg was for many years the control center of political power in Bonn. Konrad Adenauer was the first to govern the country from here as well as all his successors up to Willy Brandt. Chancellor Helmut Schmidt moved into the new chancellery building in 1976. His old study was restored by the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (German National Museum of Contemporary History) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Nowadays, the German Chancellor has her second official seat there.
However, fhe Palais was quite inadequate for governing already in Adenauer's time, a wonderful building, yet useless for office purposes, with high-ranking civil servants working in attic rooms with slanting ceilings. Eleven successive governments have gathered there since November 1949. It was here that the High Commissioners François-Poncet and Hoyer Miller handed over the instrument of ratification of the Treaty on Germany in 1955, and it was here that the notes of the treaty on the principles of mutual relations were exchanged between Bonn and East Berlin 1973.
The Palais, surrounded by a park and built from 1858 to 1860, became the domicile of Prince Adolf Wilhelm zu Schaumburg-Lippe and his spouse, Princess Wilhelmine Victoria of Prussia, sister of Emperor Wilhelm II in 1890 and was for many years an epicenter of society in Bonn. In 1965, the "Chancellor's Bungalow" was completed in the park of Palais Schaumburg. German Heads of Government from Erhard to Schröder used it either as their home or as their temporary domicile. After careful refurbishment in 2009, it is again open to the public and can be visited.