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Reception for testing in the Philharmonie | Picture: Stephan Rabold

A thrilling moment: for the first time since the lockdown, the Berliner Philharmoniker and their chief conductor Kirill Petrenko gave a concert on 20 March 2021 in front of an audience of 1,000 who were moved, gripped and delighted by the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture and Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. In its concert review, the Berliner Zeitung praised the “incredibly beautiful sound of the Berliner Philharmoniker, noble and expressive at the same time”. At the end there was a standing ovation.

The concert was part of the pilot project “Perspektive Kultur”, which was developed by the Senate Department for Culture and Europe in association with various cultural institutions and visitBerlin. The aim of this project is to test the logistical and practical feasibility of events in conjunction with SARS-CoV-2 antigen testing. At the concert in the Philharmonie Berlin, half of the audience was tested in decentralised test centres coordinated by the Senate, while the other half used a test centre set up especially for the event in the foyer of the Chamber Music Hall of the Philharmonie Berlin.

Great success

Andrea Zietzschmann, general manager of the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation: “In the run-up to this project, we as organisers asked ourselves whether a concert visit with a preceding test and more time commitment would be accepted at all by the audience. We can answer this question with a clear 'Yes!‘. All available tickets were sold out after only four minutes, and the demand was enormous. Organisationally, too, the processes worked very well with the necessary new arrangements, so that the concert was able to start on time. The meeting of the Berliner Philharmoniker with their audience and the concert itself were very moving and will certainly remain unique in the orchestra’s long history. All in all, I consider this test run a great success which we can continue to build on. We are very grateful to everyone involved for their wonderful support! Our goal now is to use this project as a basis and model for further re-opening steps, which the entire cultural scene and other events can then benefit from.”

The Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation was accompanied in the realisation of this demanding project by Dr. Florian Kainzinger as project manager for hygiene and infection control, as well as by three scientists and two doctors from the Charité hospital who supervised the test station, by Goodlive GmbH, who took care of the visitor management and the necessary logistics, and by the law firm Raue LLP, who adapted the data protection guidelines for the event. All those mentioned worked with their teams on a pro bono basis for the project.

Practical test of logistical processes

Dr Florian Kainzinger: “The project at the Philharmonie Berlin has shown that it is both possible and safe to hold events under strict hygiene rules with a preceding SARS-CoV-2 antigen test. Our time calculations worked out, and the testing procedure was perfectly feasible from both a medical and logistical point of view. We could have even tested the entire audience on site in the same period. It is important to add that this project is not a scientific study, but a practical test of complex logistical processes – with the participation of various experts on site.”

Marko Hegner, managing director of Goodlive GmbH: “As a company from the live entertainment sector and organiser of many large cultural events, it was very important for us to participate in this project. We look forward to applying the lessons learned to other events. A very good learning experience for us was that the number of tests to be done on site is easily scalable up or down, so there is real transferability to other venues.”

Applying to other events

Susanna Kunz, project manager of the pilot project “Perspektive Kultur”: “After half of the events, we can say that the planned processes work well, especially with regard to the safety of all visitors. The task now is in particular to optimise the processes at the interface between ticketing, decentralised testing facilities, and on-site implementation. Particularly important here is the creation of a uniform digital record of the negative test result of the test centres to ensure the ticketing process and secure entry. It is great that Berlin is contributing with the pilot project to enable a near-term re-opening of culture and thus creates an incentive for people to really use the test capacities offered.”

Concert excerpt: Pilot project on March 20, 2021

Peter Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy Overture after Shakespeare, Kirill Petrenko (conductor), recorded at the Philharmonie Berlin, March 20, 2021