Berlin Philharmonic Hall – Do you need experts to access the arts?

by Lea Møller Svendsen


My first encounter with the Philharmonic was with a Danish friend of mine who has a bachelor degree in Architecture. She had already visited Berlin a number of times but never had a closer look at this building, so it was on her to-see list this time around. Already from the outside, it was clear that the Philharmonic Hall, drawn by the architect Hans Scharoun and build in 1963 [1], is outstanding. I was curious from the beginning, but could not decide if I found the yellow irregular building appealing and exciting or just strange and unapproachable.

Probably because I am from Copenhagen, I find architecture beautiful when it is white or monochrome and has a minimalistic form with clear lines. I love when the architecture plays with light sources and has great views. Too much boldness and color are confusing to me, and thus my first thought entering the Philharmonic Hall in Berlin was why? Why choose this form, color and lighting for a cultural center? I had the feeling that you had to understand it to enjoy it.

Luckily, I had an expert with me. Entering the building through a back door, we experienced what many critiques have seen before us, how the exterior is a reflection of the expressive interior [1]. My architecture friend was impressed over the organic inside and the use of light. I too was fascinated by the complexity on the inside, which is also highlighted in many descriptions of the building [2]. The unexpected change of lines and shapes, and the colorful peepholes for light made me question how one could think this up rather than why. I felt like I was in an intriguing but new world where the unknown forms and colors fascinated me and drew me in. The visit did not last long, since we accidentally had gone into an area not open for people without a ticket. Apparently, the buildings inside was as physically inaccessible to me, as I had felt the outside to be mentally.


On my next visit, the building opened up to me. This time, an expert of another artistic field accompanied me. My friend, whose knowledge of music theory goes far beyond mine, had invited me to go to the Philharmonic’s open lunch concerts. An event that allows the outsider easy access to the world of classical music. The architect Hans Scharoun’s intention with the Berliner Philharmonic was to put the music in the center of the architecture both conceptually and physically [1], and thus it made sense to me to experience the architecture this time to the tones of the classical violin. I enjoyed the almost meditating concert a lot, but when my friend asked me what I especially liked, I found it hard to decipher and explain what exactly had pleased me.

Did I need to, to understand the music?

Being able to put your experiences into words definitely highlights the details of why and how you perceive something in a certain manner. Both while visiting the building to experience architecture and music, the feeling of something unknown and unexplainable, made me feel like it was inaccessible. When my friends put my experiences into words, I did feel like the architecture along with the music became more familiar to me. However, I also realized that they did not create the experience with their words – it was there first. Through this, I realized that the expressive and organic style of the building was not as distant for me as I first experienced it, but only hard for me to put into context and words.

So do you need experts to enjoy the Berlin Philharmonic? If you, like me, have a tendency to keep asking why and how, yes. But instead of asking questions, try to go there with an open mind and just experience. Dwell by the feelings you get, let your sight wander along the irregular lines to the sound of Mozart and your mind rest under the heavy ceilings, and the arts in the building will actually be more within your reach than you might expect.


[1] AD Classics: Berlin Philharmonic / Hans Scharoun». 2011. ArchDaily. Februar 1.

[2] «Berlin Philharmonic Hall». 2016. Opened Januar 25. philharmonic-hall.



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