The Magic Castle

60 years Philharmonie Berlin

Die Philharmonie Berlin
(Photo: Heribert Schindler)

When the Berlin Philharmonie was opened on 15 October 1963, its architectural status was by no means as uncontroversial as it is today. The idea of a concert hall without a traditional rectangular floor plan was too unfamiliar. And the visionary structure was almost not even built ... In this anniversary month of October, we delve into the 60-year history of the home of the Berliner Philharmoniker – with interviews with contemporary witnesses, fascinating background stories and more.

Today, when the Berlin Philharmonie is considered an architectural icon and a pioneering concert hall of the 20th century, it is hard to comprehend how fiercely Hans Scharoun’s ingenious design was once debated, or how much his concept of “music at the centre” was criticised. Although the competition jury awarded Scharoun first prize in December 1956, he was one vote short of being awarded the contract. It was only Herbert von Karajan’s intervention that secured Scharoun the commission: “I know of no existing concert hall in which the seating problem has been so ideally solved,” the conductor wrote: because here “the listener’s complete concentration on the musical event” was guaranteed. This is precisely what opponents disputed.

It was not until the opening on 15 October 1963 that they were proved wrong: one reviewer enthused about the “magic castle”, which seemed to him to be an “oversized modern sculpture”. “Berlin is not afraid to take risks,” cultural senator Adolf Arndt pointed out in his ceremonial address. The risk paid off with the Philharmonie, whose opening received unprecedented acclaim in the international press. The city where the Wall had once stood was now home to a cultural building that has set the benchmark for concert halls to this day.

Boris Blacher’s Fanfare, composed especially for the occasion, was played at the opening. It will be heard again this month in three concerts conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (instead of Zubin Mehta) – as a small birthday tribute to the Philharmonie Berlin.

Explore 60 years of the Philharmonie

Contemporary witnesses
In six videos, contemporary witnesses talk about the construction and opening of the Philharmonie Berlin.

Fascinating background stories tell the history of the financing of the historic building by the Friends of the Berliner Philharmoniker and of its special architecture.

An exhibition in the foyer of the main auditorium shows unique photographs and construction plans of the Philharmonie Berlin

In October you can watch three documentaries about the architecture and history of the Philharmonie free of charge in the Digital Concert Hall.

Contemporary witnesses

Musicians, guests, a member of the catering staff on duty on the opening night, and a concrete worker who was involved in the construction of the Philharmonie – in six video clips, contemporary witnesses tell of the creation and opening of the Philharmonie Berlin from unique perspectives. With historical footage from “Building the Philharmonic” by Gino Greth.

Winfried Schweitzer, apprentice concrete worker during the construction of the Philharmonie
The Berliner was present during the construction of the Philharmonie. Now a subscription holder, he tells how Philharmonie came into being.

Alexander Wedow, cellist from 1962 to 1999
The musician talks about how immensely happy the orchestra was to get its own concert hall.

Leon Spierer, 1st Concertmaster from 1963 to 1993
The former concertmaster remembers his early days in the Philharmonie under Herbert von Karajan.

Gisela Krehnke & Wolfgang Schoele, guests at the opening concert
The brother and sister attended the opening concert on 15 Oct 1963.

Bernd Bendig, waiter at the opening concert
By chance, Bernd Bendig was on duty for the opening of the Philharmonie.

Birgit Simon, concertgoer at the opening concert
Mrs Simon also remembers the opening concert on 15 Oct 1963 well.

Background stories

Explore more stories about the Philharmonie Berlin here

Exhibition in the foyer

An exhibition in the foyer of the Philharmonie’s main auditorium shows unique historical images and provides an overview of the building’s history – from the first design sketches by architect Hans Scharoun to photographs of the opening concert and key stages since then.


The exhibition is only open to concertgoers during the concerts.

Film portraits

Three documentaries are available free of charge in the Digital Concert Hall in October.

Cathedrals of culture
Wim Wenders’ film portrait shows the Philharmonie from an unusual perspective, from the attic to the chief conductor’s study.
Watch now

A pentagon with aura
A film portrait on the occasion of the 50th anniversary by Daniel Finkernagel and Alexander Lück
Watch now

Philharmonic Orchestra – Our History, Part 2: The West Berlin Years
At the beginning of the second episode of the series Philharmoniker – our history, the orchestra moves into the newly built Philharmonie.
Watch now