The fifth important musical venue in Berlin which I visited, but in
which I did not hear any music except for an intriguing snatch of a
chamber music rehearsal, is the Konzerthaus, formerly known at the
Schauspielhouse. It was built for theatre, surprisingly for Huguenot
immigrants, centuries ago, but converted to exclusively musical uses.
It is situated on a grand square in former East Berlin, flanked by two
nearly (architecturally) identical churches, one French, one German, and
with a prominent statue of Schiller in the middle of the Platz. That
statue was removed by the Communists, I understand, until it reappeared
one morning following a party line shift. Appropriately, then, it was
here that Bernstein performed that famous concert celebrating the fall
of the Wall in 1989, of Beethoven's 9th Symphony ending with Schiller's
ode, slightly altered to be sure.
We were able to benefit from a 45 minute tour led by an affable and
informed woman who spoke in such clearly enunciated German that even I,
with my limited listening ability in that language, was able to follow
most of its drift. The Grosser Saal looks like a more elaborately
decorated version of Symphony Hall in Boston, with a rectangular shape
and long side balconies. There was also a Beethovensaal and a Karl Maria
von Weber Saal, for smaller musical performances.
This is the home of the Berlin Symphony, Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester.
Currently Eliahu Inbal is the chief conductor, and Michael Gielen the
chief guest conductor. There are also old and new music series. I
picked up a very nice season brochure listing in 236 pages detailed
orchestral and chamber music programs.
Just a few words about the city of Berlin. There has been an enormous
about of reconstruction and renovation going on since the reunification
of the city and country and I am told by those who were there just
a very few years ago that the transformation has been amazing. The
Communists left it a neglected mess; in fact the Russians looted East
Berlin after 1945 and left many sites in ruins for decades. The museum
collections have been consolidated; some of the museums are still closed
for renovations. Some historic churches and other buildings have been
restored from ruins. Alexanderplatz, near the old city wall, a fragment
of which I saw, is under major construction, but that is where we spent
the last three nights there, in a luxury high-rise hotel at an astoundingly
low (winter) rate. Potsdamerplatz, in "Western" Berlin, adjoining the
Kulturforum where the Philharmonie and some museums are is totally
rebuilt. And the dome of the rebuilt and centrally located Reichstag
has a spectacular view in all directions. I cannot help mentioning also
my impressions of the people: hardly the stereotypical Prussian severity
one might possibly expect, though I suppose that reputation is long gone;
I saw many genuinely happy and relaxed young faces and fathers joyfully
interacting with their children even in the U-Bahn.