Hamburg’s New Elbphilharmonie Another Reason to Visit Germany

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The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg is surrounded by water on three sides. Photo by Hamburg Tourism, Thies Ratzke
The long-awaited Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg opened in January 2017. Photo by Hamburg Tourism, Thies Raetzke

If you build it, they will come. That’s the idea behind the brand new Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. The grand glass concert hall stands tall on the Elbe River, a vibrant statement of Hamburg’s position as a top European city, and a destination that should not be missed.

The long-awaited Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany opened in January 2017 after years of cost-overruns and delays. But the wait seems to have been worthwhile, because tickets have been snatched up like gold. More than 30,000 tickets for the spring season sold out in half an hour.

While Sydney’s opera house has become an iconic symbol of that classic city, Hamburg hopes its new concert hall will do the same. Designed by Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, the Elbphilharmonie – or Elphie, as she is nicknamed – resembles waves, a reflection of Hamburg’s maritime character and long history as a port town.

Built on a former warehouse and surrounded on three sides by water, the Elbphilharmonie has redrawn Hamburg’s skyline. The structure is the tallest building in Hamburg and is easily seen from miles around.

The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg is surrounded by water on three sides. Photo by Hamburg Tourism, Thies Raetzke
The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg is surrounded by water on three sides. Photo by Hamburg Tourism, Thies Raetzke

With a population of more than a million, Hamburg doesn’t need such a landmark to boost its stature in Germany and Europe. After all, it is the 3rd largest port in Europe. The city’s stately homes and abundance of global companies reflect Hamburg’s status as the wealthiest city in Germany.

Hamburg is a popular destination for Scandinavians and other Europeans, but when you step past Europe, many travelers are unfamiliar with Hamburg. Americans flock to Oktoberfest in Munich and many visit Berlin. Yet many miss Hamburg, which is just 90 minutes from Berlin by train, and a perfect add-on for those exploring Germany.

The Elbphilharmonie hopes to change that, and will help introduce Hamburg to the world. The grand structure, covered in more than 5,800 glass panes, houses three concert halls, a Westin Hotel, 45 apartments, and a range of places to eat and drink.

The Elbphilharmonie's "White Skin" ensures perfect sound. Photo by Janna Graber
Elbphilharmonie is among the most aoustically-advanced concert halls on the plants. It’s “White Skin” ensures perfect sound. Photo by Janna Graber

Elbphilharmonie is one of the most acoustically-advanced concert halls on the planet. The venue’s White Skin refers to 10,000 individually shaped gypsum fiber panels that cover the walls. Developed by internationally renowned acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, this special wall and roof structure ensures every corner of the concert hall receives perfect sound.

The Grand Concert Hall has 2,100 seats, and the Recital Hall hosts intimate concerts for up to 550. Photo by Iwan Baan
The Grand Concert Hall has 2,100 seats, and the Recital Hall hosts intimate concerts for up to 550. Photo by Iwan Baan

How to Attend a Concert at Elbhilharmonie

The introductory season is already sold out, so visitors to Hamburg should plan their trip well in advance to obtain tickets. Each season will be announced in April, and tickets go on sale in June. Information and tickets can be found at elbphilharmonie.de/en

Concerts for Hamburg is a special series of one-hour concerts designed especially for the local market. Tickets are affordable, and the traditional concert dress code is ignored. Performances cover a wide variety of genres, from symphonic to jazz to large-scale operatic works.

Even if you don’t attend a concert at Elbphilharmonie, the concert hall’s plaza is open to all. Due to popularity, free tickets are needed to ride the 80 meter-long escalator to the plaza viewing platform. Free tickets to visit the plaza are available at the Elphilharmonie’s Visitor Center at Kaiserkai 62 and near the Elbphilharmonie entrance. You can pre-book a plaza viewing ticket at Elbphilharmonie.de/en/plaza for a €2 charge.

View of Hamburg from the viewing deck of Elbphilharmonie. Photo by Janna Graber
View of Hamburg from the viewing deck of Elbphilharmonie. Photo by Janna Graber

The Elbphilharmonie is the second of Hamburg’s two grand concert halls. Laeiszhalle, an historic venue which opened in 1908, also has a full calendar of concerts and events. Hamburg’s music scene includes three professional orchestras, several solo and chamber ensembles and a wealth of jazz, rock, pop and contemporary artists and composers.

The Composers Quarter, opened in 2015 near St. Michael church, highlights the life and works of many of Hamburg's music greats. Photo by Janna Graber
The Composers Quarter, opened in 2015 near St. Michael church, highlights the life and works of many of Hamburg’s music greats. Photo by Janna Graber

From Brahms to the Beatles

Hamburg’s tradition in music runs deep. Composers like Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, and C.P.E. Bach were born and worked here.

The Composers Quarter, opened in 2015 near St. Michael church, highlights the life and works of many of these music greats. Museum guests receive headphones with commentary in multiple languages to augment the displays.

The Beatles got their start in Hamburg, where they played from 1960 to 1962. Photo by Janna Graber
The Beatles got their start in Hamburg, where they played from 1960 to 1962. Photo by Janna Graber

The city’s best known musicians, however, might just be the Beatles. John Lennon once said: “I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.”

The English band were teenagers and still in obscurity when they first performed in some of Hamburg’s now famous nightclubs from 1960 to 1962, helping to establish Hamburg’s legendary live music scene.

Hempel’s Beatles Tour takes visitors to some of the Fab Four’s key locations in Hamburg. Stefanie Hempel, a local Beatles expert, offers insight and stories that bring the Beatles to life. A trained musician, she can also belt out their music, adding to the Beatles nostalgia.

Hamburg’s live music scene continues today as many young newcomer and established bands play at nightclubs in the Reeperbahn at the St. Pauli quarter of Hamburg. When the Beatles first played clubs in St. Pauli, the area was best known for prostitution. Today, St Pauli is Hamburg’s top entertainment district, with many bars and night clubs.

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