Exploring Hamburg's new concert hall

Happy Birthday, Elphi

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Happy first anniversary! Soaring to new heights: in company with Instagrammers from all over the world, our author Anika Meier was one of the first to conquer the jagged peak of the newly completed Elbphilharmonie. We've collected the most impressive images for you here.


Anika Meier

Anika writes about art and social media and for anyone who needs texts to do with books, photography, art and Instagram.

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“Get out at the Landungsbrücken, this picture deserves applause”. Hamburg band Kettcar once had a famous hit with a song whose chorus featured Hamburg's Landungsbrücken-landing stages. It was sung by thousands – roaring full-throatedly at concerts, dancing in clubs or dreaming in their bedrooms. Get out at the Landungsbrücken, breathe in the fresh sea air with the wind in your hair, let your gaze wander across the port, the cranes, the water, while the screaming seagulls wheel through the air.

This picture definitely deserves applause. Kettcar's first album appeared in the autumn of 2002, the idea and an initial sketch of a concert hall right on the banks of the Elbe had been around for almost a year by then. There was nothing to be seen at that time but the old quay warehouse Kaispeicher A, where at one time cocoa and coffee were stored, and which was to serve as the plinth for a cultural and architectural highlight designed by Basel architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron. A foundation for the city of Hamburg's new landmark, for the concert hall planned to be one of the world's top 10. A lot has happened since then. The Elphi, as it's affectionately called by many Hamburg people, is now finished.

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The Plaza is the interface between the traditional dockside warehouse and the Elbphilharmonie's new glass construction. Visitors can look down across the port and the Landungsbrücken from the public viewing platform. Photo: Marianne Hope / @mariannehope

When you stand at the Landungsbrücken or look out from the viewing point up on Stintfang onto the port, you'll see that the picture has changed long since. A colossal wave of glass stands on the western point of the Hafencity, right on the banks of the Elbe. It changes colour with the light: now radiating as golden as the sun that shines on it, now shimmering pink like the evening sky around it.

A sparkling crown of glass has been set on top of the old quay warehouse of brick. The idea for this expressive roof silhouette had come in a flash, said architect Pierre de Meuron in a discussion before an audience at the SPIEGEL-Haus. According to Jacques Herzog at the Plaza's official opening at the beginning of November, it had turned out as a democratic building, a multi-functional building, a city in itself, not a classic concert hall.

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The "Grand Hall" of the Elbphilharmonie. It holds an audience of 2,100. The first chords will be struck up here in January 2017. Photo: Philipp Heer / @lerichti

That's why the building doesn’t have a main entrance – visitors don't reach the foyer of the concert halls until they're on the Plaza, 37 metres up. And the Plaza is the destination for many visitors – a visit to the Elbharmonie doesn't necessarily mean that you want to go to the concert hall. Because the Plaza with its floor of 188,000 red bricks has one purpose above all else: it's a 360-degree viewing platform. The Plaza is for everyone. With its view out over the port to the Landungsbrücken, across the modern Hafencity that is growing and growing and bringing the city closer to the water, and across the historical Speicherstadt district, a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2015.

The building will finally be filled with music from January onwards. And what do you do if you have a unique view and an architectural icon to offer? You leave it to photographers to capture both.


The first visit was paid in summer, when the Elphi was still a building site. With heavy gumboots on their feet, safety helmets on their heads and smartphones and cameras in their hands, they filed through the concrete multi-storey car park that spirals through the Kaispeicher like a spindle, up on to the Plaza: a small group of Instagramers who jumped for joy on the Plaza (#jumpstagram) and instagrammed all the things that not very many people before them had seen: the windbreak in the shape of curved glass curtains, the external Plaza and the outside stairways leading to the Grand Hall and the Recital Hall.

"As a photographer it is hard not to be inspired by the building's bold architecture, strong lines and impressive shapes."

Lauren Randolph / @laurenlemon

In early November a second, slightly larger group of Instagrammers from all over the world, cameras and smartphones at the ready, worked their way up from ground level to the curved roof with its 6,000 white sequins. One member was architect Ana Barros from Vienna. She had been influenced by Herzog & de Meuron even as a student of architecture, says Barros, in 2012 she had seen their exhibition about the Elbphilharmonie project at the Biennale in Venice. She had been fascinated by the building ever since: “Herzog & de Meuron have exceeded my expectations – these dimensions are overwhelming. It's so massive and at the same time so elegant, the love of detail is impressive”.

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8359 white sequins reflect skywards on the roof of the Elbphilharmonie. Photo: Konrad Langer / @konaction

For the architects, the various elements of the building are successive sequences. The first sequence is the 82-metre-long arched escalator, the longest in western Europe. Visitors with their feet solidly on the ground of reality are taken first up to the sixth floor, facing the panorama window in the Kaispeicher, and then onwards to the Plaza on the eighth floor. The trip with the “Tube” is a slow glide into other spheres – up to the concert halls and to the view over the city and the port.

"Seems like every angle, every corner has a new surprise. And if you look at all the details. Oh my.“

Dirk Bakker / @macenzo

The way then winds through the stairwell as if through a narrow auditory canal, up to the Grand Concert Hall. Herzog & de Meuron wanted to create an experience similar to a football stadium in the 25-metre-high sound space, it was made into a hall with no hierarchy. Jacques Herzog described the auditorium as “a tent with a mushroom in it”. He means the mushroom-shaped structure that hangs from the ceiling like a shower-head and stops the music from vanishing into the heights of the room. Acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, whose task it was to ensure perfect acoustics, says there is no best seat in the hall. There are 2091 very good seats.

And once the 20 Instagrammers had conquered the stairwell with its many sharp edges, pointed corners and constant fresh viewing angles, they were offered a rare view of the top of the mountain as the finale. That's what the Philharmonie's roof looks like. A steep mountain. It was covered in snow on the day of our visit. This sight deserves applause.

Many thanks for your pictures

Ana Barros (Austria): @anasbarros

Lauren Randolph (USA): @laurenlemon

Nei Cruz (USA): @nei.cruz

Tekla Severin (Sweden): @teklan

Cim Ek (Sweden): @cimek

Carl Johan Johansson (Sweden): @locarl

Dirk Bakker (Netherlands): @macenzo

Phil Yisrael (Netherlands): @pdy

Marianne Hope (Netherlands): @mariannehope

Timothy Hatton (UK): @the.hat

Tobi Shonibare (UK): @tobishinobi

Hiroaki Fukuda (Japan): @hirozzzz

Yuko Kawauchi (Japan): @yukomouton

Lu Yenong (China): @dizhulu

Philipp Heer (Switzerland): @lerichti

Michael Schulz (Germany): @berlinstagram

Konrad Langer (Germany): @konaction

Thomas Kakareko (Germany): @thomas_k

Mareike Bruns (Germany): @bornreadybetty

Sebastian Weiss (Germany): @le_blanc

Title photo: Timothy Hatton

For facts and figures, see the book “Elbphilharmonie” by Joachim Mischke and Michael Zapf (Edel 2016) (in German).

Explore Elbphilharmonie online

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