A tour of the Philharmonie/Fulbright in Hamburg

4:04pm: Sitting on a (delayed) S-Bahn on my way to teach. Living in a big city certainly has its challenges. The public transportation is fantastic, and there are so many amazing things that I access in Berlin. However, sometimes it feels like it takes a long while to get anywhere. Also, delays…enough said. On the way to work...even better. I was disappointed today because I wanted to go to a (free) lunchtime concert at the Berlin Philharmonic. Even though I showed up fifteen minutes before the start time, they were not letting anyone else into the building because it was too full. Sad day.

Luckily, I was able to take a tour of the Philharmonie (includes the main concert hall and the smaller chamber music hall)  just a half hour after the concert start time. Because I was 45 minutes early for that, I was able to pick up one of the 20 tickets they sell each day. I learned so much about the building and its history. Since it is all fresh on my mind, here are some fascinating tidbits...

1. Hans Scharoun, the architect of the big hall, grew up in a harbor town in the north of Germany. Because of that, the building has many subtle nautical details, such as round windows and winding inside staircases. With a little imagination, the outside looks harbor-esque. Once you see it, you can’t not see it!

 Small, colorful round windows in the Foyer of the Philharmonie

Small, colorful round windows in the Foyer of the Philharmonie

 The outside of the Philharmonie

The outside of the Philharmonie

2. The architect paid extremely little mind to acoustical concerns. He was interested in influencing societal norms by building a space that acts as a stage, if you will, for all of the people in it (performers and audience members). Since the main purpose of this building is to bring people together to listen to music, he wanted to design a building which truly served that function. This was one of the first concert halls that was designed with the stage in the middle. Why? Because it makes the whole experience more organic. Think of how people tend to gather around street musicians…yep...a circle. This idea was met with a great deal of resistance. Luckily, Herbert von Karajan, the music director at the time, was a big supporter of this forward thinking design model. Thank goodness he was. It never ceases to amaze me how big ideas like this are met with so much resistance. Even after it was built, many chamber musicians cancelled their concerts in the Chamber Music Hall because they were too freaked out by the stage being at the level of the audience and by people looking at them from all sides. This was in the 1980s! Fun fact: The architect was also very against building VIP boxes because he was keen on the ideas of equality and democracy. To this day, the VIP boxes that were built in the large hall offer some of the poorest acoustics in the entire space! ha! 

3. The acoustics of the large hall were a struggle for a long time. One of the biggest problems was that the string sound was constantly swallowed. It was such an huge issue that various sound engineers and acoustics experts were brought in over the course of ten years to attempt to solve the problem. At some point during all of these visits,  Karajan wanted the strings to be seen better on his TV productions. To address that, the risers which elevate each semicircle of strings a bit more than the one before it were built. This made all the difference, and suddenly, the acoustical problem was solved by solving another problem entirely. This funny story speaks volumes to human nature and problem solving. TEN YEARS?

It was very sad I did not get to see this lunch concert today, but taking a closer look at the halls and learning about them was great. Plus, I got some tickets for upcoming shows in advance. Not all is (ever) lost. So much of living abroad is learning to be flexible. 

 v. cool to be this close to the stage! 

v. cool to be this close to the stage! 

This past weekend, I went to Hamburg for the welcome conference hosted by the Fulbright Alumni Association. Most of the attendees were americans just arriving in Germany and germans just returning to Germany from America. So, exchanging stories and talking about cultural differences was a big part of the weekend. It is so important as a citizen of any country to listen to outside perspectives. America, our lack of widespread recycling is embarrassing! Other highlights of the conference included hearing a US diplomat give our keynote address, a fancy reception at the US consulate, a crazy dance party at the Hofbrau Haus, and taking a 'super selfie' with over 100 people. Thanks to all of the brilliant people I met, the beautiful scenery of the city, and the fall colors, Hamburg really won my heart. Here are just a few pictures taken by my awesome fellow Fulbrighter and welcome weekend roomie Gabe. If you want to be inspired, check out his design website.

 The Alster, Hamburg

The Alster, Hamburg

 German Playgrounds > American Playgrounds!

German Playgrounds > American Playgrounds!

 Japanese Garden in Hamburg

Japanese Garden in Hamburg

 Autumn walk in the park with hot coffee...heaven :-) 

Autumn walk in the park with hot coffee...heaven :-) 

It’s been a solid two months now since I have arrived. There was a really beautiful moment when I was on the bus home from Hamburg when I realized that well, I am starting to feel at home here, and, thanks to a great conference, I am beginning to formulate thoughts about what this whole Fulbright experience means to me...but more on that later. :-) Bis nächestes Mal!

Our future is not in the stars but in our own minds and hearts. Creative leadership and liberal education, which in fact go together, are the first requirements for a hopeful future for humankind.
— Senator J. William Fulbright