Hamburg’s completed ‘Elphie’ concert hall shines triumphant

Elbphilharmonie, one of several building projects to embarrass Germany by taking too long and going over budget, is finally finished

It took six years longer to build than projected, overshot its budget tenfold, was described by its own artistic director as a laughing stock and reminded one former German chancellor of Kaiser Wilhelms megalomania.

But this week Hamburgs Elbphilharmonie concert venue put an end to the embarrassment of a nation increasingly concerned about several overdue and over-budget infrastructure projects undermining its reputation for efficiency and engineering prowess.

Construction company Hochtief officially handed the keys for the port citys new trademark project over to its mayor, lighting up the halls facade to spell out fertig, meaning finished, through the drizzle on Monday night.

A viewing platform, a four-star hotel and a restaurant attached to the concert hall will open on Friday, while the two concert halls will be inaugurated with performances by the renamed NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra and soloist Jonas Kaufmann on 11 and 12 January next year.

Designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the duo behind Londons Tate Modern, Munichs Allianz Arena football stadium and Beijings birds nest Olympic stadium, the glass-panelled concert hall sits on top of a former warehouse in a recently regenerated part of Hamburgs old port. As at the Tate Modern, visitors access the upper floors via a pair of central elevators.

The concert halls were constructed by Japanese acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota in a vineyard style, whereby the seats rise around a central stage in the manner of the sloping terraces of a vineyard, as opposed to the rectangular shoebox style.

Though the birthplace of Mendelssohn and Brahms, Hamburg and its port has traditionally enjoyed a reputation for musical traditions of a more raucous kind. It was the nurturing ground for the Beatles, who played the bars in the citys red light district in the 1960s, and home of the Hamburg school of independent rock fostered here in the 1990s. City officials hope the new hall, which locals have already nicknamed Elphie, will change that.

After being handed the keys, mayor Olaf Scholz described the Elbphilharmonie as an impressive building, without whose architecture it is already hard to imagine the skyline of our city. His joy was only tempered by the fact that he wished that it could have been done quicker and for less money.

The venue is finished after more than nine years. Photograph: Christian Charisius/EPA
Along with the German capitals new Berlin-Brandenburg airport and Stuttgarts large-scale urban renewal project around its train station, the Elbphilharmonie has for years formed a troika of embarrassing building projects for Europes richest economy.

Originally estimated to cost 77m in 2005, the projected price had shot up to 114m by the time the building works started in 2007. In 2013, the mayor of Hamburg then announced that the project would cost 789m.

The late German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, a long-term resident of the city, said at the time that the project reminded him of Kaiser Wilhelm IIs desire to make as big an impression as possible.

The Elbphilharmonies defenders point out that the projects most obvious inspiration, the Sydney Opera House, saw a similar explosion of costs and took four years longer to complete.

But many Hamburgers have grown to regard the Elbphilharmonie as a symbol of an untrammelled political elite. In 2010, protesters formed a human chain around the building site and ceremonially burned Elphie million dollar bills. The Golden Pudel nightclub, a ramshackle venue on a less salubrious side of the port, was re-christened as the Elbphilharmonie of the hearts. One of the clubs proprietors, the former punk singer Schorsch Kamerun, dismissed the concert hall as lighthouse politics a trophy building projecting its own glory out to the rest of the world, but with little use to the people in the city.

Yet in November 2016 the concert hall shines triumphantly across the harbour, while the Golden Pudel is closed after an arson attack in the spring; and some of the Elphies former detractors are even willing to make peace with Hamburgs new landmark.

We need the whole package, music promoter Andrea Rothaug recently told local newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt. I want to see the Golden Pudel DJ on the podium inside the Elbphilharmonie and [American star conductor] Kent Nagano inside the Pudel club.

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