Author: Gottfried Eberle
ca. 3 minutes

Chamber music hall, Philharmonie Berlin | Picture: Heribert Schindler

The “Society of Friends of the Berlin Philharmonic” was founded in October 1949 to raise funds for the reconstruction of Berlin’s Philharmonie concert hall, which had been destroyed in the Second World War. Thanks to the Society’s tireless commitment, the sum of DM 1.5 million was raised over the years. Berlin’s Philharmonie was built on Kemperplatz according to the plans of architect Hans Scharoun. After its opening on October 15, 1963, many members felt that the Society's purpose had been fulfilled. The number of members fell to 280.

Even within the Board of Directors, some proposed the dissolution of the Society. However, the arguments in favor of continuation prevailed. A new statute was formulated with new objectives: 1. to support and promote the Berliner Philharmoniker and the awareness that it is a cultural institution of international tradition and significance. 2. research into the history of the Berliner Philharmoniker. 3. construction of a chamber music hall. The last goal, however, would take almost a quarter of a century to fulfill. The Berlin Senate repeatedly postponed it.

“A chamber music hall produces chamber music, not the other way around”

The Society of Friends of the Berlin Philharmonic was not satisfied with this. On May 9, 1966, the main topic of the board meeting was expediting the construction of a chamber music hall. Scharoun was asked to submit a design. Construciton costs were estimated at DM 8 million. In 1969/1970, the Society urged Scharoun to make further plans. However, their realisation remained highly uncertain. On February 6, 1972, the Society held a matinee at which Edgar Wisniewski, Scharoun’s closest collaborator, explained his designs for the Chamber Music Hall. The President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Hans-Georg Wormit, strongly supported the construction of the Chamber Music Hall. The doyen of Berlin music criticism, Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt, declared that “a chamber music hall produces chamber music, not the other way round”.

Scharoun died that year.  Wisniewski continued his work, submitting numerous plans in the following years. But it was not until 1976 that artistic director Wolfgang Stresemann received a promise from the governing mayor Klaus Schütz that the building could be completed for the orchestra's 100th anniversary in 1982. However, the estimated costs had climbed astronomically in the course of developments, and Berlin had economic challenges; the Senator for Finance removed the Chamber Music Hall from the city’s investment plans in August 1979. The reconstruction of the Congress Hall was given priority. At this point, the Gesellschaft der Freunde (Society of Friends) once again stepped forward, with the campaign "Save the Chamber Music Hall". Donations and signatures were called for. Symbolic building blocks could be purchased.

The number of members of the Society rose to 720. The appeal stated: “The construction of the chamber music hall has been postponed by the Senate until 1985, and has been struck from the budget for 1982. [...] Nobody denies that savings must be made. At the moment, there is no money to start building immediately. But the chamber music hall must not disappear from the budget and thus from memory. Our city needs a chamber music hall, the last great Scharoun building, without which the Philharmonie will remain merely a torso. [...] That is why the 'Society of Friends' is calling for signatures and donations. With your signature or your donation, you can support the promotion of the cultural charisma of our city, which the House of Representatives and the Senate are striving for in equal measure. The 'Society of Friends of the Berlin Philharmonic' is making a start with a donation of DM 250,000. You, too, can contribute to the construction of the Chamber Music Hall.”

Participating artists of the Philharmonic Revue on 8 and 9 May 1982 vote with their signatures for the construction of the Chamber Music Hall | Picture: Archiv Edgar Wisniewski

Symbolic building blocks and benefit concerts

As early as spring 1982, the company was able to provide DM1 million for the construction of the Chamber Music Hall. On January 31, 1983, Herbert von Karajan conducted a benefit concert with two Beethoven symphonies in aid of the Chamber Music Hall. Wolfgang Stresemann again appealed for help in the program booklet. In the winter of 1983/1984, 20 years after the completion of the Philharmonie, the Senate finally resolved to build the Chamber Music Hall, which was to be inaugurated on the occasion of the 750th anniversary of the city of Berlin in the fall of 1987. When the foundation stone was laid on May 2, 1984, 25,000 signatures of those who had contributed to the construction of the building by purchasing a symbolic brick were enclosed in the foundation stone. In September 1987, the Society donated an additional 144 seats for the hall. On October 28, the Chamber Music Hall was officially opened. Two concerts are held exclusively for members of the Society on November 8. They continued to actively support the Chamber Music Hall, donating three grand pianos and a harpsichord in 1988/1989. The commitment of the Society, now named  “Friends of the Berliner Philharmoniker” continues today.