Mozart. Beethoven. Bach. Wagner.

The names evoke a time and a music long past; made when royalty stooped to commission it. As someone who came to classical music later in life, I understand the notion that these men from 18th- and 19th-century Europe are dusty relics with little meaning or importance to the modern music fan. And who could say that a given recording, made 200 years later, is exactly how they wanted it played, anyway?

But to understand your music, you have to understand its past. The classical era, which followed the Baroque era and the Christian music that preceded both, roughly coincided with the birth of America, and Beethoven was one of its leading lights.

The classical era of music was followed by Romanticism (which Beethoven is credited with helping to usher in), and, as the 20th century dawned and recordings became commonplace, “classical” music gave way to popular forms of jazz, blues and rock. “Art music” is still composed, though perhaps Philip Glass or John Williams would be the only names most would recognize. The house where Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, known as the Beethoven-Haus, is one of the places to learn about it all. It houses the world’s largest collection of Beethoven artifacts.

He was born here in December 1770, in a tiny room on the top floor of what is now a fairly unassuming little structure in the shopping district of Bonn.

He traveled to Vienna, Austria — then the musical heart of Europe — to study under Mozart, though there is no record of the two meeting. He returned to Bonn, but never again lived in this tiny house.

There are more than 150 historic documents of his life in Bonn and Vienna.

Among the museum’s collection:

An advertisement for the young pianist’s first public concert, in 1779, with his father lying about his age — saying he was 6 instead of 8 — apparently to drum up interest, and possibly to draw comparisons to a young Mozart.

The museum also owns the original “Moonlight Sonata” manuscript and Beethoven’s last pianoforte.

And, as with any tourist attraction, there is a gift shop at the end. Here you can find all his compositions, individually and in large collections, along with books and the usual collection of postcards, T-shirts and other memorabilia.


From Kaiserslautern, Wiesbaden and other points south, take the A61 north toward Koln/Koblenz. Follow signs for A565 toward Flughafen/Meckenheim/Bonn. Turn right onto Lievelingsweg, and go left at the fork. You’ll see signs for parking after 100 yards.


Nov. 1 to March 31, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays and public holidays; April 1 to Oct. 31, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays and public holidays. The house is closed on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, the Monday preceding Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and from Dec. 24-26.


Admission is 5 euros for adults and 4 euros for children; family tickets, for two adults and children, cost 10 euros. There is a fee on all parking lots; the open-air lot near the station has a one-hour limit; we paid 4 euros for about three hours at the large underground garage.


Try the Wirtshaus Salvator, In der Sürst 5, in Bonn’s old town near the church. Solid German food.


Telephone: (+49) (0) 228-98175-25 (answering machine); email:; website:, in English.

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