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About This Festival

In 2009, the city of Linz was named a European Capital of Culture, and Pflasterspektakel—one of the continent’s biggest street-performance festivals—is a key reason why.

For three days each summer, the festival (whose name means “pavement spectacle” in German) brings together dancers, musicians, mimes, clowns, high-wire walkers, acrobats, fire twirlers, plus performers so unique that they defy classification—and sometimes gravity. As one blogger put it, “Pflasterspektakel transforms three days in July into a sort of citywide Cirque du Soleil.”

The epicenter of it all is Hauptplatz, a large and gorgeous city square marked by the 60-foot-tall Trinity Column (which, incidentally, honors the victims of the Black Plague). More than 200,000 spectators come out, braving Linz’s unpredictable weather, to take in what these colorfully costumed artists have to offer.

Tough Auditions

The energetic performers, who hail from all around the world, must audition months before the festival; the field is rather competitive, with hundreds applying for official slots.

Despite the prestige associated with being picked to entertain Pflasterspektakel’s crowds, the artists don’t get paid for their performances beyond just bare-bones travel costs. Instead, busking is the way they make a profit, so audiences are encouraged to reward their favorite acts with plenty of coins and bills.

In 2012, though, funding appeared for the Pflasterspektakel Production Scholarship, a 10,000-euro prize awarded to a single audience favorite—it’s proven to be an effective way to stir up competition among the talent.

Beginnings

Siegbert Janko,who’s been Linz’s “cultural manager” since 1985, is the father of this festival. He got the idea for it while visiting Jemaa el-Fnaa, a massive bazaar in Marrakesh, Morocco.

His first iteration of Pflasterspektakel happened in 1987 (though then it was called Internationale Strassenmusikantentage, which means “international street musicians' days”…yes, it’s a mouthful!). The 150 performers made the first event such a rousing success that the organizers decided to make it an annual occurrence.

In the years that followed, the name changed to its current one, and the circus arts—acrobatics, pantomime, magic, and so on—became much more prominent, adding flavors that are at once wacky, whimsical, and weird.

Why the Streets?

Though attendees often complain that they’d rather see these performers on a stage (they could sit, and it’s easier to see, they argue), the way Pflasterspektakel is designed is quite intentional: the creativity and spontaneity required to perform on the street lends a different—and to many, a better—vibe than a fixed-stage production. Plus, as the festival’s website argues: “This gathering of street art focuses on fairness and solidarity, providing young talents with their first performance opportunities,” whereas formally staged performances might favor more seasoned acts. This method allows the festival to be as big as it is—with attendance in the hundreds of thousands—yet it lets each performance retain an intimate, face-to-face quality.

Here’s a handy tip: If you’re vertically challenged, or just intent on having the best “seat” in the house, get yourself near the front of one of the main performance areas on the hour, every hour, since that’s when most of the entertainers begin a set. That way you won’t have to crane your neck or sit on anyone’s shoulders to see over the crowd.

A Few Alternatives

But if you do prefer to see a smattering of what the festival has to offer while seated in one fixed location, try to get a ticket (they’re free but “sell” out quickly; nab yours at Infopoint Hauptplatz or show up 10 minutes before the show and cross your fingers) to “Kaleidoscope Nights,” a twice-nightly variety show in a circus-like tent. It features the best parts of the best street performers’ best routines, so if you don’t have a lot of time to spend in Linz (Austria’s third largest city), this is a nice way to catch the event’s lively spirit.

Since Austria’s weather is unpredictable, there’s a separate performance plan should bad weather threaten to drench the sidewalks and streets. Within an hour of rain (or worse), many of the performers move into alternative indoor spaces (including Old City Hall Linz, Ursulinenhof, and the Taubenmarkt Arkade) where the shows must go on.

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