Düsseldorf Citizens' Assembly wants open opera for all

26. August 2021
Landeshauptstadt Düsseldorf / Ingo Lammert

In the discussion about the future of the Düsseldorf Opera, randomly selected citizens presented their ideas on 25 August 2021. A central location, easily accessible and out of its niche existence. These are the central wishes of the citizens' assembly members for the future opera. The dilapidated opera house is to be either renovated or rebuilt.

The guidelines of the citizens' assembly, the results of the accompanying other participation formats as well as the examinations and studies of the administration will be bundled into the decision-making process: Thus, all aspects were brought together clearly in a draft resolution for the fundamental decision "Opera House of the Future" to be presented to the political bodies at the end of 2021.

Website for public participation

The website for public participation, www.dialog-opernhaus-duesseldorf.de, has been online since 18 May 2021. It had received around 8,300 visits by 25 August 2021. 191 people had registered on the website and left 181 ideas and 116 comments.

Citizens were informed about the possibility of participation through a social media campaign by Düsseldorf Marketing GmbH via Facebook and Instagram. Unlike the other participation formats, comments reflecting a critical attitude towards the project were also received via these channels. These mainly relate to the cost level for a new opera building. The justification for public funding was also questioned.

Three dialogue forums

Three dialogue forums have been held since May 2021. Here, interested citizens could not only inform themselves about various aspects of the opera, but also share their opinions and suggestions and join in the discussion. The format was complemented by various expert presentations, such as the contribution of David Staples, a renowned consultant in the opera and theatre scene, or Marc Grandmontagne, the Executive Director of the German Stage Association.

In addition, 15 key interviews were conducted with actors from urban society. The results of the individually conducted interviews are available on the website as approx. 5-minute videos. All the actors present their suggestions for the opera house of the future here in response to three questions. What constitutes the opera house of the future? What criteria are important for the location? How can it become a meeting place for all Düsseldorfers?

30 citizens' assembly participants randomly selected

For the Citizens' Assembly, the city wrote to around 1,000 people randomly selected from the register of residents. From the positive responses, the Office for Statistics and Elections drew up three groups of people representative in terms of gender, age and district in several steps. Three members each were drawn from the youth council, the opera subscribers, the staff and the ensemble.

On 12, 26 June and 21 August 2021, the three groups of 10 had intensive discussions on the three above-mentioned questions about the opera house of the future in four-hour sessions each. Two professional moderators for each group documented the course of the exchange of opinions.

City wants to take up suggestions

"I can very well imagine that many of the citizens' wishes will also be reflected in our plans," said Lord Mayor Stephan Keller (CDU), welcoming many of the suggestions. Düsseldorf's city leaders favour a new building, as does a large part of the political community. The costs for this are estimated at at least 736 million euros.

"We want the future opera house to offer much more than just opera performances, so that many people feel addressed," said Katharina Ringwelski, one of the spokespersons for the citizens' assembly. Cafés, restaurants or additional rooms for external artists are conceivable, as well as offers for schools and young people in general.

Citizens want a central city centre location

Various locations are on the shortlist for the future opera house. In addition to the current location at Hofgarten, there are already designs by architectural firms for the Kaufhof site at Wehrhahn, at the southern end of Königsallee, in Rheinpark or in Medienhafen.

In the opinion of the citizens, the locations Hafen and Rheinpark are rather unsuitable because of their poor connections. The citizens see much more potential for the Wehrhahn option. Using parts of the Hofgarten for a new building at the current location, on the other hand, is taboo for many.

Opera as a lighthouse project?

The citizens disagree about the dimensions of the future opera house. While some are in favour of a visible architectural landmark, others are in favour of a smaller opera house that would fit better into the cityscape.

The listed opera house from the post-war period has been in need of renovation for years. The fire protection and stage equipment are in a state of disrepair, and there is a lack of space. The city has already had to invest tens of millions of euros to keep it running at all. At the end of 2021, the city council is to make a fundamental decision on whether to build or renovate.

Decision on new building

In December 2021, the city administration recommended the new construction of the opera house in a submission for a decision in principle.  On 16 December 2021, the city council decided by a majority to build a new opera house in Düsseldorf. On 7 April 2022, the City Council had decided that the state capital would initiate an urban planning competition for the "Opera House of the Future" project. The international competition is to be held jointly for the sites Heinrich-Heine-Allee 16a and Am Wehrhahn 1 in order to obtain concrete planning designs for both sites.

On the basis of these ideas and the interaction of all important factors, a decision will then be made on a location for the opera house of the future. In this process, urban society will again be involved through accompanying public participation. Various information and dialogue formats are planned in order to involve as many Düsseldorfers as possible.
International competition

On 8 September 2022, the city council set the exact parameters and procedure for the ideas competition that will decide on the location of the new opera house in Düsseldorf. The competition will examine the urban integration of the opera house of the future at both locations and show the effects on the respective surroundings.

It has also been decided to set up a project advisory board which - in addition to the political bodies and committees - will serve as a public voice for the implementation of the results from the public participation. It is envisaged as a stakeholder dialogue based on the principle of representation. The members were appointed according to suggestions from the Small Commission Opera House of the Future. The public participation will start in October 2022 and be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2023.

More information: Dialogue Opera Düsseldorf