Elbphilharmonie „Elphi“ in Hamburg

Why you will fall in Love with Elphi and how to get in...

The escalator to the Elbphilharmonie moves at a snail’s pace. That’s by design. A visit to this striking new concert hall, built on top of a massive brick warehouse overlooking the harbor here, begins with a four-minute ride through a white tube sequined with thousands of reflective discs. The tube is curved, too, so the end isn’t immediately visible. As you emerge onto an observation platform, a sweeping view of the Elbe River and the container port, bristling with cranes, suddenly reveals itself, a potent coup de théâtre.Screenshot 2017-03-23 23.36.41.png

The ride represents the final tease of a project that has tested this city’s patience. Initial plans by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron were priced at 186 million euros (about $197 million), with the opening scheduled for 2010. After a succession of delays, revisions and legal disputes, the final bill for the city came to 798 million euros (about $843 million), leading to political debates and public protests. With the inaugural concert coming on Wednesday and featuring the NDR Symphony Orchestra, newly renamed the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, the city hopes to prove both the cost and the wait were worth it.

The moment is especially sweet for Christoph Lieben-Seutter, a former artistic director of the Vienna Konzerthaus who was appointed director of the Elbphilharmonie back in 2007. For a long time, he was a nearly homeless intendant, forced to focus his energies on programming in the neo-Baroque Laeiszhalle.

“Suddenly everything is sold out,” he said in a recent interview. Whether it’s concerts by the city’s resident ensembles, which also include the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hamburger Symphoniker, or by visitors like the New York Philharmonic (which will perform here in April), contemporary chamber groups or jazz artists, Mr. Lieben-Seutter said that seats have been snapped up within hours of going on sale.

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 As he works to book the final free evenings between now and June, Mr. Lieben-Seutter has even resorted to offering tickets for “blind dates,” events of an unspecified genre featuring yet to be determined performers. Those, too, have sold out.

Of course, much of the initial curiosity is directed at the architecture. The building is already a landmark, visible from far down the river. With its curved windows and white-tiled crested roof, the Elbphilharmonie dynamically contrasts with its sturdy, utilitarian brick foundation — a former cocoa warehouse — evoking a ship in full sail. The complex, part of the $12 billion, 400-acre HafenCity waterfront development zone, includes not only concert and recital halls, but also a hotel and luxury apartments costing up to 10 million euros.

As the building’s costs ballooned in 2010, Hamburg sued the construction company, and the Social Democrat opposition party in the city’s senate called for an investigation into the budget increases. For several months, construction ceased altogether on parts of the hall because of repeatedly revised fire safety plans.

Meanwhile, protesters in the streets and members of the city government questioned whether money was being poured into a prestige project reserved for an elite few.

But while tickets to an event like this week’s concert by the Chicago Symphony top out at 185 euros, the cheapest seats start at just 15 euros. And in the terraced auditorium of the Great Hall, no seat is farther than 100 feet from the conductor.

Perhaps the most persuasive answer to worries about elitism is the observation deck, at the intersection of the old brick and new glass parts of the building. Free to the public and offering a 360-degree view, it has drawn half a million visitors since it opened in November.

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