Oh no, they’re tearing down Karajan’s home-from-home

Oh no, they’re tearing down Karajan’s home-from-home


norman lebrecht

June 28, 2015

In 33 years as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan never lived in the city.

He stayed at the Kempinski hotel on the Ku’damm, turning it into an elite hangout for Berlin Phil soloists and guests. You could catch him before breakfast in the pool.

Today there’s a huge painting of Herbie right behind the reception desk.

But, as the surrounding area gets upgraded, the Kempi (built in 1952) is showing its age. The site owners want to pull it down.

So many personal memories will go with it … Maestros of all shapes and sizes, Midori in her teens dining only on desserts, Berthold Goldschmidt talking for hours about Berlin before and after…

Sic transit.


kempinski berlin


  • Pedro says:

    I have stayed there many, many times to attend more than 30 outstanding Karajan and other conductors’ concerts, includind the unforgettable Kleiber first one with the Berlin Phil in March 1989. The concierge only charged the price of the ticket, with the tip at the guests’ discretion. When I look back, the only thing I can say is that no orchestra today can match the quality of the BPO in those days, certainly not the BPO itself. This was due to Karajan’s persistent work, which is unfortunately poorly documented in the major part of his later studio recordings – the fault of producers like Glotz – with their saturated and artificial sound.

    • Hilary says:

      Maybe the case but it was a sound which Karajan sanctioned. If the documentaries are anything to go by, he was unusually involved at this level.

    • Peter says:

      Glotz had relatively little influence on the sound, that was mostly the domaine of Guenther Herrmanns. But the main problem was Karajan’s reluctance in his late period to not spend more than the bare minimum time in the studio. Also Karajan didn’t have the wisdom to let the experts do what they do best, but considered himself an expert at the mixing desk himself, which he obviously was not. He was a control freak.
      Also he had replaced his producer Webers in the late years with Glotz, because Webers was not a “Yes man” and demanded too many retakes.

      • Hilary says:

        One thinks of the wrong trumpet note in a climactic moment of Strauss’s Domestic Symphony. Karajan wasn’t bothered by it, and the mistake is there to this day.

  • Kate says:

    but most of the reviews of the hotel on Trip Adviser are favourable. Leave the hotel as it is.

    • Pedro says:

      I agree, but service at the brasserie of the hotel is now very poor. That was after a Bruckner 7 conducted by Rattle. When Karajan conducted in Berlin, service there – and orchestral playing at the Philharmonie – used to be much better.

  • RVT says:

    In the 70’s I had driven from East Germany a day later than planned and, since the World Swimming Championships were being held in Berlin. The only – and mean only – room I could get was the Herbert Von Karajan Suite at the Kempinski. If I recall correctly it had four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. Despite negotiating a 50% discount due the lateness of the hour, the price was still very high. Many of the furnishings, such as rugs or paintings had discreetly hidden price tags attached in case you 2anted to purchase them. My most expensive overnight stay.