Berlin Philharmonie

Berliner Philharmoniker

Welcome to the Philharmonie, the musical heart of Berlin.

The Building
Still at the periphery of West Berlin when the Philharmonie opened in 1963, it became part of the new urban centre after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Its unusual tent-like shape and distinctive bright yellow colour makes it one of the city’s landmarks. Its unusual architecture and innovative concert hall design initially ignited controversy, but it now serves as a model for concert halls all over the world.

External view of the Philharmonie with the memorial and information area for the victims of the Nazi "euthanasia" murders.

Box office
From this box office tickets are available for concerts promoted by the Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic Foundation).
Main Foyer
Since 1963 the Berlin Philharmonie has been the home of the Berliner Philharmoniker. But not only that: many other promoters also use the Philharmonie’s main auditorium and the Chamber Music Hall for concerts and other performances. A place of cultural togetherness, of artistic encounters – that precisely is what the architect Hans Scharoun had in mind when he conceived this building. Let’s get started exploring the Philharmonie, its architecture and its history.

B-A-C-H: In creating the colourful mosaics that are inset in the natural stone floors, Erich F. Reuter was inspired by works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

In 2002 the shop was integrated into the foyer by the architectural firm of Kahlfeldt.

The shop, with its wide range of CDs, DVDs, music-related literature and gifts, is open to visitors during concerts.

Hans Scharoun (1893-1972) won the city of Berlin’s competition in 1956 for building the new Philharmonie. He belonged to the architectural avant-garde of his day. His vision: to create spaces for the “free individual”.

Stairs and windows
This way... to the blocks of seats on the right side, as well as to the Hermann Wolff Hall and the south foyer, spaces in which the Berliner Philharmoniker’s pre-concert events are held. The stained-glass walls by Alexander Camaro – here an arrangement of green and blue shades – form their own counterpoint to the architecture. With this coloured-light effect, Scharoun was seeking to enhance the festive character of the building.

The stairs function as bridges connecting the individual levels. They lend the foyer space a floating lightness, which was also inspired by naval architecture.

Compositions in glass: the stained-glass walls by Alexander Camaro – here an arrangement of grey and pink shades – form their own counterpoint to the architecture. With this coloured-light effect, Scharoun was seeking to enhance the festive character of the building.

The lights were designed by Günter Ssymmank. Each is made up of 72 pentagonal polyamide surfaces attached to a spherical plastic frame.

Small stairways, some of them bridge-like in design, lead to the auditorium doors, which also function as sound buffers.

South foyer with conductors’ busts
In contrast to the expansive openness of the main foyer, incorporating the upper north gallery foyer, Scharoun designed the south foyer as an enclosed space that invites contemplative withdrawal. Some of the introductory presentations for main auditorium concerts of the Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker take place here.

He was the Berlin Philharmonic’s Orchester’s first great orchestral trainer: Hans von Bülow (1830–1894). At the instigation of the concert agent Hermann Wolff, he became the Philharmonic’s musical director in 1887, following the orchestra’s collaboration with several outstanding conductors in its early years. Bülow set high standards and rehearsed relentlessly. Under his baton, the Berliner Philharmoniker scored great triumphs.

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The Hungarian-born Arthur Nikisch (1855–1922) directed the Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester from 1895 until his death in 1922. Having begun his career as an orchestral violinist, he had an unequalled knack for winning over the musicians with his charm, his charisma and his intuitively based interpretative artistry. Under Nikisch’s leadership the Berlin Philharmonic made its first recordings.

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Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886–1954) succeeded Arthur Nikisch as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic (Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester) in 1922. Unlike his predecessor he immediately became a champion of the contemporary repertoire, which, after Hitler seized power, aroused the Nazis’ displeasure. And yet the regime held Furtwängler in high esteem as a conductor, although he never joined the Party and regarded himself as apolitical. In 1945 he was banned from conducting by the Allies, but in a 1947 tribunal he was de-Nazified and thus able once again to conduct the Berliner Philharmoniker. It was not until 1952, however, that he was officially reinstated as the orchestra’s chief conductor, a position he held until his death two years later.

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After Wilhelm Furtwängler’s death, Herbert von Karajan (1908–1989) became the orchestra’s principal conductor – for nearly 35 years. Under his direction it developed that specific sound and brilliant virtuosic perfection for which it is now world-famous. With Karajan the Philharmonic moved in 1963 into the Philharmonie built by Scharoun. With him the orchestra became a media star. And it has this conductor to thank for two further institutions: the Salzburg Easter Festival, which Karajan created in 1967, and the Orchestra Academy.
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Herbert von Karajan in the Digital Concert Hall

Claudio Abbado (1933-2014) was chief conductor from 1990 to 2002. He strived for a more transparent orchestral sound than his predecessor. The principal conductor placed his very own emphasis with his concert programmes. Typical of the Abbado era were major concert cycles focussing on a specific theme, for instance Prometheus, Faust or Shakespeare, and the engagement with the work of Gustav Mahler.

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Claudio Abbado in the Digital Concert Hall

Main Auditorium
“Is it coincidence that wherever music is improvised the people immediately form a circle?” Out of that consideration Hans Scharoun developed this concert hall. Unlike the traditional placement of musicians and audience opposite one another, in Scharoun’s concept the focus is on the platform with the musicians in the centre, around which the listeners are grouped.

The Philharmonie’s main auditorium is famous for its outstanding acoustics as well as for its architecture. In planning it, Scharoun worked closely with the acoustician Lothar Cremer from Berlin’s
Technical University. Many of the architectonic details – for example the steepness and height of the steps and railings – were acoustically determined. In spite of thorough preparatory work, some later adjustments were necessary: one of the most significant was raising the concert platform in 1975 in order to enhance the sound of the strings.

Visit the Digital Concert Hall, where you can the concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker since 2009.
To the Digital Concert Hall

“The hall is conceived as a valley, situated on the bed of which is the orchestra, surrounded by ascending terraced vineyards.” Scharoun translated the image of gently sloping terraces into his design of the blocks of seats for 2218 attendees. The architect’s vision was that of creating a concert hall for a democratic society: no hermetical sealing off of individual tiers and a uniform acoustical quality for all seats.

Unlike traditional concert halls, in which the organ is placed directly above the orchestra platform, Scharoun moved the instrument to the right periphery of the room. The organ has 72 registers, four manuals and pedal, and it can be played from either a tracker (mechanical) or a mobile electric console. It comes from the Berlin organ workshop of Karl Schuke.

Camille Saint-Saëns: Symphonie Nr. 3 “Orghel-Symphonie” (Finale) / Thierry Escaich, Orgel · Zubin Mehta, Dirigent · Berliner Philharmoniker / Aufgenommen in der Berliner Philharmonie, 26. September 2015

Concealed behind these marble-faced blinds are the pipes of the choir organ. Its twelve stops are distributed over two manuals and pedal which, like those of the great organ, are played from a mobile electric console. The choir organ was also built by the workshop of Karl Schuke.

The choice of facing for the auditorium walls was also based on acoustical determinations by Cremer and Scharoun. The walls of kambala wood perforated with tiny holes are fastened to an absorbent backing in order to eliminate echo effects on one part of the platform.

As a counterpart to the “vineyard landscape” of the audience levels, Scharoun created a ceiling which he described as a “skyscape”. The many small lights are intended to evoke associations of a “starry firmament”. Incidentally: the height of the ceiling was determined according to the acoustical requirement of 10 m3 air space per seat.

The form of the ceiling, reminiscent of a tent with its three convex vaulted arches, ensures a uniform diffusion of sound. Over the orchestra platform hang “clouds” – curved polyester surfaces that serve as reflectors, enabling the musicians to hear one another better.


The Berliner Philharmoniker's Digital Concert Hall video streams classical music concerts to your tablet, smartphone, smartTV or PC. The sound quality is similar to that of a CD and the picture quality similar to HD television. In this way, the Digital Concert Hall documents almost in its entirety the artistic work of the Berliner Philharmoniker and its musical partners – from principal conductor Sir Simon Rattle to famous guest conductors and soloists.

To the Digital Concert Hall

Passage foyer
The passage foyer connects the Philharmonie with the Chamber Music Hall.

Bells for the performance of Berlioz’s »Symphonie fantastique« and Mussorgsky’s »Boris Godunov«. The idea for bells that can be supported in the middle instead of being hung, and are thus better suited for use in the orchestra, came from the Philharmonic percussionist Fredi Müller. They were made by the bell foundry of Bachert in Heilbronn with financial support from the Society of Friends (Gesellschaft der Freunde) of the Berlin Philharmonie.

Chamber Music Hall
Eröffnet 1987, Architekt: Edgar Wisniewski
Chamber Music Hall
The Chamber Music Hall was planned as part of the Philharmonie from its inception but did not open until 1987, 15 years after the death of Hans Scharoun. He left behind a sketch from which his partner Edgar Wisniewski developed a conception for the structure. The hexagonal shape of the Chamber Music Hall was already specified in Scharoun’s sketch, and Wisniewski adopted it in his design. Once again Lothar Cremer served as the architect’s acoustical advisor, and the placement and grouping of seating was significantly influenced by his analyses.

Like that of the Main Auditorium, the conception of the Chamber Music Hall is also derived from the musicians’ platform. Many different possibilities are built into the concert platform. For example, it can be lowered to form an orchestra pit for semi-staged performances. The platform’s flexibility was an important concern of the architect, who sought to create a suitable space for performances of contemporary music.

To the website of the Berliner Philharmoniker

Running through the seating area halfway up is a so-called “action ring”. It enables the musicians to play from additional locations.

The galleries at the periphery of the hall similarly allow additional spatial effects through variable placement of the musicians.

To contrast with the foyer’s light, bright central space, Wisniewski chose dark, dusky colours for the outer areas – corresponding to the dualism in music of major and minor. In the free, bridge-like elements of the Chamber Music Hall’s stairway design, Wisniewski was again re-using elements from the Main Auditorium.

Wisniewski took up many of the Philharmonie design features – for example the stained-glass window – and integrated them into the Chamber Music Hall. This stained-glass wall was inspired by cloud and sky tones. Introductory presentations for chamber concerts of the Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic Foundation) take place here. The foyer is additionally used for exhibitions.

Berliner Philharmoniker
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Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation

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