March 12, 2003

"Be in Birmingham" hits Berlin

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Berlin press conference on Birmingham's capital of culture campaign

by Nancy Chapple

Since 1985, a European city is chosen to be Capital of Culture every year, a title linked with prestige, publicity, and some funds from the European Union. Different cities have taken the opportunity to rebuild the infrastructure (Weimar, 1999), lure guests to an off-the-beaten-path city (Helsinki, 2000), and tranform the city's image from a port to an art capital (Rotterdam, 2001). Great Britain can name a city in 2008, and after reducing the broader field of 12 candidates to 6, Birmingham is running a major campaign to receive the honour. To provide a comparison: given the new EU members, Germany is next up in 2010; after 2008, Great Britain will have its next chance in 20-30 years.

As the head of the Birmingham campaign, Stephen Hetherington, said at a press conference in the Hall for Culture Tourism at Berlin's International Tourist Fair in mid-March: "UK is taking the contest very seriously." Birmingham is poised to make huge investments. Britain's second-largest city may have had a poor, "concrete-covered" image in the 1970's, but it is now Britain's greenest city. They've been making massive investments in culture in recent years, including a new Library, City Park and a new building for the Conservatoire. There is also a huge project to revitalise Birmingham's city centre, redeveloping shopping centres and opening fine stores. Though most tourists now come to the city for commercial reasons, this is gradually shifting more towards cultural tourism.

Bill Clinton's positive statement about the city appears in the publicity material: "I was astonished at the G8 [1998] when I saw how beautiful it was, the buildings, the art, the use of the water. It's an extraordinary jewel of a city, and I think one that's not very well known outside the UK." With typical British betting verve, betting agencies are taking bets on the winner: "Brum" moved into first place recently, their odds improving from 9/2 to 7/4, ahead of biggest rival Newcastle.