Editor's column

Sweet Philharmonie: A Berlin landmark turns 60

The Philharmonie has been the heart of Berlin's classical music scene for 60 years. Our music editor takes a look back at the iconic venue as it celebrates the milestone.

Photo: IMAGO / Schöning

Music should always sound as good as it does at the Berliner Philharmonie. The building’s acoustics have been designed in such a way that no matter where you sit in the auditorium you will always have perfect sound. It’s just one of the details that makes this concert hall not only one of the best in Berlin but the whole world. The prestigious venue just celebrated a milestone in its history – it opened its doors for the very first time just over 60 years ago.

Architect Hans Scharoun wanted to create something that would be the heart and soul of the city

With its angular golden façade, the Philharmonie was groundbreaking and became a template for other concert halls across the globe. When designing the structure, architect Hans Scharoun wanted to create something that would be the heart and soul of the city, a venue for everyone. This can be really felt in the Großer Saal, with its MC Escher-like layers and obtuse angles, meaning that no matter where you find yourself, you can still see and hear the concert. It’s a spectacular feat of architecture that grants you utmost intimacy with the music. 


The idea of having a place for the people is passed down through every element of the Philharmonie, from the music to the pricing. Sure, the majority of performances here are by the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Philharmonie’s in-house orchestra, but there’s also an assortment of alternative performances. Scharoun would probably have struggled to believe that in 60 years, an artist such as Herbie Hancock would rock out on the keytar, playing future-funk and entertaining the masses in the Großer Saal – which, by the way, was without a doubt one of the best concerts I’ve been to in my life. Nor would he have imagined the colossal sonic world-building of Nils Frahm, blending modern effects and tools with the classical sounds the building was originally intended for.

On top of that, the Philharmoniker is among the best orchestras in the world. Moulded by the hands of seminal conductor Sir Simon Rattle and now directed by the enigmatic Kirill Petrenko, they are a well-oiled machine. The instrumentalists play every note with scrupulous accuracy and endless passion, creating one powerful body of music. During winter, there’s no better experience in Berlin than attending the Philharmonic’s lunchtime concerts. On Wednesday between September and June, you can listen to beautiful classical concerts free of charge right in the foyer of the Philharmonie, as the light pours in through the stained glass windows. Sixty years after its very first concert, the Berliner Philharmonie still shows that the classics truly never go out of style.