Latvians pass books along human chain to kick off culture capital year

Sun Jan 19, 2014 12:36pm EST
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By Aija Krutaine

RIGA (Reuters) - Latvians of all ages formed a human chain in the freezing cold this weekend to pass books from the old national library to a new one two km (1.2 miles) away as part of festivities to celebrate Riga as Europe's culture capital for 2014.

Some 14,000 people, including children and the elderly, stood in temperatures of minus 12 degrees C (10 F) on Saturday to pass some 2,000 books hand to hand to a new library designed by Latvian-born U.S. architect Gunnar Birkerts.

The remainder of the library's more than 4 million books and printed items will be moved by motorized transport.

The concrete building, clad with glass panels and stainless-steel plates and resembling a mountain with a crown atop, sits on a bank of the Daugava River near the capital's Old Town and has been dubbed the Castle of Light.

Formerly a medieval outpost of the Hanseatic League of trading nations, Riga's art nouveau buildings have earned its historical center a place on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.

As Europe's rotating culture capital this year in conjunction with Umea in northern Sweden, Riga will host more than 200 concerts, exhibitions, festivals, conferences and performances.

The number of tourists to the city is expected to rise by 25 percent from 2013 to 2.1 million people, mayor Nils Usakovs said.

The arts program was kicked off with the Latvian National Opera's production of Richard Wagner's early opera "Rienzi" on Friday. Wagner once lived in Riga, to escape his creditors back in Germany, and it is where he started working on "Rienzi".   Continued...

People pass books by hand from the historic National Library of Latvia to the new building during "Chain of booklovers" in Riga January18, 2014. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins