Konzerthaus Berlin has a unique building history. First constructed between 1818 and 1821, it is considered one of the main works of Karl Friedrich Schinkel, perhaps the most important European Classicistic architects. Schinkel only designed the exterior of the building we see today, however– it was reconstructed in great detail between 1979 and 1984 following its destruction in the war. The interior, on the other hand, is a completely new construction – though its design is so artfully reminiscent of Schinkel's time that it gives the impression of the original.
The most beautiful square in Berlin, Gendarmenmarkt, was first built in 1688 as a market place in the city's western expansion of Friedrichstadt. This location was home to the stables for the cavalry regiment of Gens d’armes, the French Church, the Church of the Huguenots and the new German Church. In 1785, a French comedic theater came to the west side and majestic towers were built onto the churches to become the Carl von Gontard-designed ‘Dome’. Elegant residential buildings were built over time surrounding the square and finally, the nondescript French theater was replaced by a noble-looking National Theater, capable of seating some 2,000 people. The theater, which unfortunately only stood for 15 years before burning down, was designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, the same architect who designed the Brandenburg Gate.
At the order of the King, the foundation of the simple rectangular building which previously stood on the site, with its north entrance and six ionic portico pillars in the middle of the longest wall, was to be integrated into the new building. Schinkel had the brilliant idea to divide the structure into three parts with a higher and wider central structure. With the help of the staircase, the portico and the gabled, ornamental crowning of the central building, he created a steeply rising decorative facade. The central section housed the large theater hall, the north wing contained the rehearsal halls, wardrobe and storage rooms and the smaller concert hall was located in the south wing. Two staircases connected the three phases of the building (as is still the case today). Through small recesses, the rear facade mirrored the surrounding area. Schinkel transformed the walls of the two main floors into a fully new, almost modern-era like system by making them geometrical. The two-story pilasters in the corner, together with the crown molding and beams, frame the large wall surfaces which are accented by the one-story pilasters and encompassing seams. The in-set windows and fill walls are located between them.
The ornamental figures first created by Schinkel for the exterior were also reconstructed before 1984. The originals were crafted by the leading sculptures in Berlin at the time, Christian Daniel Rauch and Friedrich Tieck. Apollo, God of the Arts, lords over the front facade in a chariot drawn by two griffins. The winged horse, Pegasus, overlooks the west facade towards Charlottenstraße. The portico and the two side gables are decorated with statues of the nine muses. The pediment over the central section shows a winged Eros and is surrounded by allegories of tragedy and comedy, as well as by snakes and swans which were considered sacred by Apollo. The remaining pediments show scenes from ancient mythology. The Niobe group on the portico represents tragedy, the triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne on the north gable represent comedy while Eurydikes’ liberation from the underworld by Orpheus at the south gable represents music. The crests of the staircase were also ornamented with cherubs playing music atop a lion and a panther in 1851.
On November 23, 1943, a bomb fell on the building and destroyed the concert hall, while a fire devastated the remainder of the building on one of the final days of the war in April 1945. In 1976, the DDR-leadership first decided to turn Gendarmenmarkt, known at the time as ‘Platz der Akademie’, into a ‘cultural center for the arts and sciences’. Because East-Germany already had several theaters but no concert hall, the decision was made to turn the Schinkel building into the home of the “Philharmonie Ost-Berlin”. Ehrhardt Gißke, Manfred Prasser and Klaus Just oversaw the project. After the rubble and debris had been removed and the unstable parts of the building had been torn down, only the outer walls, roof and the longer walls of the old theater hall were still standing. The building of today is supported by a steel frame that reinforces the old walls and supports the dimensions of the Schinkel facade. The roof is made of concrete and the walls and pillars are of stone. The sculptures are made of plaster or stucco. Some 90 construction and specialty companies worked for nearly three years to complete the interior of the building. Money played no role in this renowned project. Fortunately, it should be said, tremendous craftsmanship, dedication to detail and great sensitivity to the original Schinkel-era style came together to create an impressive and lasting ensemble. The interior is a completely new design, though it is quite reflective of the building's original character. On October 1, 1984 the theater building was ceremonially christened and in 1992, it was renamed the “Konzerthaus Berlin” to reflect its new purpose. The two functionally-modern new rooms added in 2003/04, namely the Werner Otto Saal and the visitor service center, designed by Cologne architect Peter Kulka, add a new accent and are as starkly different in style to the rest of the interior as is imaginable.
The main entrance used for most concerts is located on the ground floor under the large staircase, just as in Schinkel’s time. The passage originally served as a transit for horse carriages. From the entrance hall, paths lead off to the side past the wardrobe and on to the staircases connecting the three sections of the building. The middle path leads through the entrance hall to the large concert hall. The music club, the Ludwig van Beethoven Saal (Foyer) and the chamber music hall are all located above one another in the south wing while the north wing houses the visitor service area with cafe, the Carl Maria von Weber Saal (Foyer) and the new Werner Otto Saal. The large, rectangular performance hall measures 45m by 22m and is 17.5m high. The ground level and the additional tiers can seat some 1,500. This hall is an expanded version of the original Schinkel concert hall, containing countless details reminiscent of the original, style such as in the walls, balconies, ceiling and ionic columns on the narrow iides. 16 of the 28 life-size sculptures of ancient mythical figures are based on the historical models. The concert organ located above the orchestra podium, with its 74 registers and 5811 individual pipes, was constructed by the traditional Jehmlich organ company of Dresden. The large performance hall in Konzerthaus is also acoustically among the best symphonic concert halls in the world. The reverberation time (with audience) lies right at 2.0 seconds for mid frequencies and 2.2 seconds for low frequencies, only slightly higher than the values acoustic experts state as optimal for symphonic concert halls. Located on either side of the large hall on the ground floor are the two elegantly-toned foyers: the Carl Maria von Weber Saal in the north wing is accented with Corinthian columns and olive green walls, the brightly-lit Ludwig van Beethoven Saal in the south wing is marked by two rows of ionic columns. Both halls have their own additional rooms for buffets. Above the foyers, on the same level as the second balcony of the main hall, are two additional concert halls. One is the smaller “neo-schinkel” hall, named after the patron and shipping company founder Werner Otto, and is located at the site of the former rehearsal hall. Another is the “Black Box” which is a completely dark hall with a high degree of flexibility due to its raisable stage and ability to be made windowless when needed. The Black Box is both visually and acoustically ideal for modern music performances as well as musical theater productions. The smallest performance space, with room for some 80 audience members, is the music club on the ground floor of the south wing. It is used primarily for scene productions, readings and events for children. In 2004, the simple black and maroon-colored new visitor service area and cafe were also opened on the ground floor of the north wing. Finally, distributed among the different floors along the back of the building are the musicians’ rooms, the dressing rooms for soloists and conductor, a few offices and a small cafeteria reserved for the musicians and Konzerthaus staff members. During reconstruction, the offices for management were relocated to the administrative building directly across from the Konzerthaus stage entrance door at Charlottenstraße 55-56.
The stage of the Great Hall, which has been in operation since the concert hall reopened in 1984, was refurbished from July to late September 2014. For this construction project, funds from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) were made available to the Konzerthaus through the “Cultural Investment Programme”.