Rathen Open Air Stage – Rathen, Germany - Atlas Obscura

Rathen Open Air Stage

Rathen, Germany

This stone amphitheater was once part of Nazi Germany's plan to promote propaganda.  

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Considered one of Europe’s most beautiful open-air stages, visitors to the “Felsenbühne Rathen” can enjoy a variety of operas and musicals. The amazing outdoor theater is located in the heart of Saxon Switzerland National Park. The backdrop of massive rocks, trees, and the bare sky make for a unique experience after a hike along the Elbe river. The venue seats around 2,000 people, and the stage blends seamlessly into the natural stone background. 

It’s no coincidence that this outdoor stage was established in this part of Germany. The region of Saxony Switzerland has inspired German composers, writers, and painters for decades, especially during the Romantic period. The stunning landscape with its steep valleys, rolling hills, and bizarre rock formations has been a consistent source of artistic inspiration.

Carl Maria von Weber’s opera, Der Freischütz was composed in this region and is touted as the most frequently played opus at Rathen. Usually, when the Saxon State Opera and State Orchestra perform, they are accompanied by riders on horseback and wind machines that make the experience that more memorable.

However, the outdoor theater has roots in Nazi propaganda. The Rathen was established in 1936 as part of the Thingspiele movement. This form of multi-disciplined outdoor performance was all the rage in Germany prior to the outbreak of World War II. It was seen as a way to revive an ancient German tradition, and the Nazi Party saw the movement as key in being able to better spread government propaganda. Large rallies and speeches could be held at the various amphitheaters. 

Nazi officials originally planned to construct about 400 similar theaters, but only about 40 were built before those plans were halted. It was found that Adolf Hitler was not fond of the plan, along with the issues presented by German weather. Instead of outdoor theater, the Propaganda Ministry focused on spreading and enforcing harmful Nazi ideology through other formats.

Know Before You Go

The open-air stage hosts over 90 performances from May through September each year. The stage can also be visited during the day without attending a show. Be aware, the town of Rathen can only be reached by ferry and visitors will have to walk a mile uphill in order to reach the stage, but there is support for people with reduced mobility.

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