Cities kick off 2010 Capital of Culture celebrations

The German city of Essen and Hungarian counterpart Pécs will this weekend (9-10 January) host opening ceremonies for their year as European Capitals of Culture for 2010, with Istanbul to follow suit the following Saturday.

"We are ready to go", said Fritz Pleitgen, chairman of 'Essen for the Ruhr' 2010 ahead of tomorrow's opening ceremony at former colliery Zeche Zollverein, a World Heritage Site. 

Essen was chosen as European capital of culture on behalf of the seven million-strong Ruhr area as a whole. Coal and steel, solidarity, hard work and football are the central themes of the upcoming cultural programme, with events set to take place across the region's 53 towns and cities. 

"The grand opening event will bring our motto to the point: an impressive industrial setting for an artistic and musical tale of change through culture and culture through change, with pop singer Herbert Grönemeyer's new anthem for the Ruhr as the crowning finale," Pleitgen said. 

Among the more spectacular items on Essen-Ruhr's agenda is a huge banquet to take place on a table running the length of the A40/B1 motorway between Dortmund and Duisburg, bringing together people from many different cultures, nationalities and generations. 

The Ruhr area is of particular significance as the birthplace of the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner to the European Union. The region's coal and steel industries agreed to pool resources with their counterparts in neighbouring France in the aftermath of the Second World War. 

For its part, the Hungarian city of Pécs will on Sunday host an historical carnival, the focal point of which is an hour-long march gathering students and cultural figures representing the city's 2,000-year heritage. 

City officials hope tourism will rise by 20% as a result of becoming Europe's cultural capital. Csaba Ruzsa, chief executive of the Pécs 2010 project management team, said the city's new cultural quarter, 'Museum Street' and exhibition area were on schedule to open by June despite earlier problems with financing and construction delays. 

Istanbul, meanwhile, launches its celebrations the following weekend (16 January) with an all-night party throughout the city. 

Following opening speeches by Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, top Turkish musicians are set to perform on public squares and the city's museums will open their doors for free until dawn. 

During the course of the year, Istanbul will host theatre festivals and artist workshops, as well as film, music and jazz festivals. Eric Clapton and U2 are also set to perform in the city in 2010. 

Before Christmas, Plze? and Ostrava were selected as the Czech Republic's nominations for European capital of culture in 2015, with the final decision set to be taken later this year (EURACTIV 10/12/09). 

The successful Czech candidate will share the 2015 title with the Belgian city of Mons. 

"For us it's about taking individual cities in the Ruhr and bringing them together to create a new metropolis," Fritz Pleitgen, chief executive of Ruhr 2010, is quoted by the Irish Times as saying. 

"We are merely custodians of this great heritage. We do not own it. The significance of the honour [of being European cultural capital] is not this year's programme, but what we plan for 2015, or 2030, what we want our children to inherit," Hüsamettin Kavi, chairman of the advisory board to Istanbul 2010, is quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying. 

The title of 'European Capital of Culture' was created by the EU in 1985. Capitals are chosen by an international panel of thirteen members, six of whom are appointed by the country concerned and seven by the EU institutions. While the final decision rests with the Council, their endorsement of the panel's decision is considered a formality. 

Candidates must fulfil three main criteria: integrating a true European dimension, reinforcing cooperation among EU countries with the support of the public and highlighting the role of the city in the formation and development of culture in Europe. 

Successful candidates must also devise a programme with a lasting impact that contributes to the long-term cultural, economic and social development of the city concerned. 

The upcoming capitals of culture are: 

  • 2010: Essen (Germany), Istanbul (Turkey) and Pécs (Hungary) 
  • 2011: Turku (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia) 
  • 2012: Guimarães (Portugal) and Maribor (Slovenia) 
  • 2013 : Marseille (France) and Košice (Slovakia) 
  • 2014: Umeå (Sweden) and Riga (Latvia) 

For the years to follow, the countries have been finalised, but it has not yet been formally decided which cities will compete for the title: 

  • 2015: Belgium (Mons) and Czech Republic 
  • 2016: Spain and Poland 
  • 2017: Denmark and Cyprus 
  • 2018: Netherlands and Malta 
  • 2019: Italy and Bulgaria 
  • 9 Jan.: Essen launches cultural year. 
  • 10 Jan.: Pécs follows suit. 
  • 16 Jan: Istanbul kicks off its celebrations with all-night party. 

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