Inviting the World to Wiesbaden

International May Festival

Festival History

Founded in 1869, 20 years after Wagner's Bayreuth Festival, the Maifestspiele (May Festival) in Wiesbaden has a proud German tradition. The very first festival was initiated and directed by Georg von Hülsen – then the director of the Wiesbaden theatre – who managed to secure the support of Emperor Wilhelm II in his endeavours. This was in stark contrast to the Emperor’s father, Wilhelm I, who remarked to Wagner at the opening of the Bayreuth Festival, “So, you’ve actually managed to get it done”, and did not offer his support in any way. Wilhelm II, on the other hand, was more inclined to follow the example of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, and fully supported the idea of the first “Kaiserfestspiele” (Imperial Festival), to coincide with his regular visits to the Wiesbaden spas during the month of May. At the time of its conception, the festival itself was also largely influenced by Wagner's presence in the area; the composer had temporarily taken up residence in Biebrich to work on his famous "Meistersinger".

And so the idea of the festival began to flourish in Germany, with Bayreuth and Wiesbaden at the forefront of the developments. However, the end of the German Empire was to spell doom and bring uncertainty to Wiesbaden:  the May Festival closed for the duration of the World War. It resurfaced again at the end of the late 1920s as “Mai-Festwoche” (Festival Week in May), only to later end up as part of the now rather inglorious  “Gaukulturwochen” under Nazism until 1939. With the fall of the Third Reich, this chapter of the Wiesbaden May Festival also came to a close.

In 1950, the winds of change began to blow. The first festival after World War II featured a new name and an international vision. Now known as “Internationale Maifestspiele” (International May Festival), the festival is still known by this name to this day and continues to hold true to its original vision. An annual highlight on the cultural calendar of the city of Wiesbaden, the International May Festival opens its doors to the world, attracting international artists and audiences alike, and offers a unique opportunity to explore the State of Hesse and its capital city in all its glory.

During its long history, the International May Festival has, of course, experienced crises. After all, as an almost Elysium-like city, Wiesbaden sometimes has the tendency to isolate itself from the international context. However, a very strong circle of committed friends and citizens have always stood firmly against these crises and managed to ensure a bright future for Wiesbaden's beloved International May Festival.