They are the expert helpers in the background: whether it is a question of giving directions to a concert-goer who doesn’t know the way, answering questions about concert events and the evening’s programme, or providing information about the Philharmonie and the orchestra, the Philharmonie’s volunteers are people the audience can always turn to ─ and have been for 10 years. “The people are really enthusiastic about this building,” says Gabriele Bühler, manager of the volunteers project. “They identify very strongly with their Philharmonie.” When she introduced this service, she was a pioneer. The former lawyer had seen the Volunteer Program of the Kennedy Center during a longer stay in America and thought, “We need that in Germany, too!” Initially, she set up a small volunteer team at the Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt. In 2007 she managed to persuade the Berliner Philharmoniker of her idea.
Open, communicative, flexible
As volunteers, Gabriele Bühler looked – and looks – for people who have their professional life behind them but are still fit and active. Her first appeal attracted over 300 people. The most important criterion for selection was and is a love of classical music. In addition, foreign language skills, friendliness, team spirit and flexibility are among the key qualifications for this activity. Gabriele Bühler started with 38 women and men. Although they were initially only used as a service team for concertgoers, the range of tasks grew enormously in the following years. The work of the volunteers has now also been welcomed backstage. They assist the musicians who are invited to audition, and they accompany pupils during the rehearsal visits of the education programme. Their help with the vocal heroes projects is also invaluable. They cut up fruit and vegetables for the young singers and, with their presence, relieve the chorus masters who need to concentrate on their musical work alone.
Also active backstage
A further aspect is their support of guest artists: The volunteer ladies are there to organise drinks, snacks and headache pills. Occasionally it is necessary to sew on a button or to iron a crumpled shirt ─ briefly, in such a way that the guest can devote themselves entirely to their artistic task. Today , 53 women and 13 men belong to the team of volunteers, 24 of whom have been there since the project began. Gradually, however, a generational change is emerging. Although there is already a waiting list, applications are welcome. Newcomers receive intensive training during which they are informed all about the building and the institutions of the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation. It’s well worth getting involved: the volunteers meet like-minded people, are very much part of life at the Philharmonie and earn a lot of praise and recognition. Gabriele Bühler looks optimistically to the future: “I hope the team spirit will continue to be as good.”
The volunteers in action
“Working in one of Berlin’s greatest buildings for one of the best orchestras in the world is the best voluntary job I can imagine.”
“We do our best to make the great atmosphere of the house even better. I am particularly fond of the young people we look after during rehearsals. I want to convey that classical music can be open and inspiring!”