Founded in 1929 in Paris and Prague, the UNIMA (UNION INTERNATIONALE DE LA MARIONNETTE) was in search of a venue for the festivities on the occasion of its 50-year anniversary. Be it coincidence or destiny – Austria was included on the short list. The head of the culture department of the town of Mistelbach at the time, Ludwig Kronsteiner, had an astute instinct, seized the opportunity, and together with the mayor in office, Counselor Edmund Freibauer, founded the “1st International Puppet Days Mistelbach”.
Over the course of the years the International Puppet Days became a successful instrument for intercultural understanding and exchange, and its high-caliber international theater program earned the town of Mistelbach a new and vital position in the province of Lower Austria.
Kronsteiner’s successor as head of the culture department and former president of UNIMA Austria, Helga Ruso, together with festival director Dr. Olaf Bernstengel (1995–2011) and Mayor Christian Resch furthered the rich tradition of this international cultural event with fresh ideas and tremendous commitment. In 1996 the festival was bestowed the name we know today: “The International Puppet Theater Days Mistelbach”. Thanks to the city council, which kindly provides annual funding for this project, the Provincial Government of Lower Austria, whose financial contributions support the Mistelbach cultural initiative, and to the thousands of loyal visitors from home and abroad, the festival is was it is today:
• Austria’s most important initiator in the realm of puppet, figure, and object theater – with an ambitious spectrum of the best traditional and modern productions from at least ten different nations for children, youth, and adults.
• To this day a dynamic hub for puppeteers from the East and West.
Many esteemed organizations with an intrinsic link to Mistelbach would not have been established without the festival – among them, Stadtsaal Mistelbach, the “Puppenspieler” wine selection of the winemaker’s school, the postage stamp exhibition by the ABSV Mistelbach, the window display competition, the Eibesthaler Passion play, and international exhibitions in the M-Zone of the MAMUZ Mistelbach Museum Center and at Barockschlössl Museum. But above all, also the collection of motifs which have been featured on the annual festival posters since 1979 by diverse artists:
Gerhard Kohlbauer (1979/1981), Ferdinand Altmann (1982), Winni Jakob (1983), Günther Esterer (1984/1985/1988), Susi Mattes (1986), Helmut Krottenmüller (1987), Roman and Nadine (1989), Lore Kronsteiner (1990), Gitti Fleischhacker (1991), Josef Bramer (1992), Karl Korab (1993), Erich Eibl (1994), Helmut Kies (1995), Gottfried “Laf” Wurm (1996), Wolfgang Hutter (1997), Paul Flora (1998), Arik Brauer (1999), Adolf Frohner (2000), Christian Ludwig Attersee (2001), Franz Kaindl (2002), Arnulf Rainer (2003), Ernst Fuchs (2004), Adi Holzer (2005), Christy Astuy (2006), Franz Graf (2007), Hubert Schmalix (2008), Anna Reschl (2009), Gabriele Schöne (2010), IRONIMUS (2011), Johannes Niesel (2012), Peter Holzapfel (2013), Annamaria Tatu (2014), Hermann Nitsch (2015), Enikö Breda (2016), Michaela Zajacková (2017).
Some of these internationally renowned artists would have perhaps never found their way to Mistelbach otherwise. The major exhibitions organized at Barockschlössl in their honor are the highlight of the year in the Mistelbach cultural scene.
Since the festival was founded, more than a quarter million spectators have had the opportunity to marvel at the illustrious presentations of international and national puppet theater art from 60-plus countries. On a total of seven festival days with 40 different productions from at least ten different nations performed approximately 90 times – in autumn each year Mistelbach becomes the nexus of puppetry, a cultural highlight for all generations in the Weinviertel region, which also enjoys immense popularity and recognition abroad.