Standing in place of the previous Berlin Philharmonic Hall, Hans Scharoun’s yellow expressionist building has remained timeless in its design and iconic to this day. Expressionism is seldom seen in the state as it was before WWII, with this side of art and architecture being claimed as ‘degenerate’ in the 30s and 40s. In 1964, however, the West Berlin authorities commissioned a replacement for the Philharmonic Hall by a renowned expressionist architect.
The Berlin Philharmoniker, the orchestra behind the music inside the Philharmonie have had an up and down history, with not only a change in conductors over the decades but also a complete change in artistic schedule during WWII at the hands of National Socialism. From 1934 to 1954, the Philharmoniker were at the disposal of the Nazi regime, controlled by Joseph Goebbels for the many propaganda events of the regime.
Before the period of what has now been called the ‘Reichsorchester’, the principal conductor was a man by the name of Wilhelm Furtwängler. Due to conflict with the politics of the country after standing up for Jewish musicians, he was forced to step down from the position, however, still remained a part of the orchestra.
Not until 1952 was he reinstated as principal conductor, after a period of turmoil for the organisation. Still recovering from financial troubles during the 1930s as well as the destruction of the main concert hall in Berlin during an Allied bombing raid, the Philharmoniker played in venues around the city that had avoided ruin, however, nowhere near the level they were known for before WWII.
After many years of uncertainty around the future of a united Germany after WWII, and extensive rebuilding of the city, the Berlin Philharmonie was rebuilt under the designs of Hans Scharoun. Scharoun’s background was in organic expressionist architecture before the height of the war, during which he was responsible for rebuilding many sites of bomb damage. Due to the ban and destruction of expressionist artwork and buildings, Scharoun’s piece is part of a rare collection of architecture in Germany.
The use of organic expressionism here is not only as a memorial to the creative losses under National Socialism, but also as a sign of what it is capable of. The curves and obscure textures created unlike anything seen in the majority of architecture in cities such as Berlin. There is also a strong contrast between the Eastern Block architecture style of the most efficient use of space and materials, creating an almost identical look of buildings all of a certain type.
The contrast between Eastern and Western architectural styles only escalated in the decades following the Berlin Philharmonie’s construction. With many buildings around the Western centre of Zoologischer Garten, as well as many residential areas throughout the isolated West Berlin. The Berlin Philharmonie was built before the height of tension between capitalist and communist politics, which centred around the city of Berlin for forty years.
The Philharmonie has stood watching all developments and conflicts from twenty years after the previous world war, through the closest to global war mankind has come to since. It stands as an example of the potential creativity lost and subdued.