Introducing Berlin’s secret concert life

Introducing Berlin’s secret concert life


norman lebrecht

June 02, 2019

From our diarist Anthea Kreston:

Berlin is chock full of venues. And those venues are crammed with people. It’s really, actually crazy here. You’ve got the Philharmonie – both halls busy most nights – same goes for the double halls at Konzerthaus. Then there’s BoulezSaal, just down the street. All three venues are within an easy walk of one another, and I’m not even talking here about the three full-time opera companies, all with their own buildings and chamber and orchestral series, and the 9 full-time orchestras, with their own chamber series as well. And – and – and – Hans Eisler and Universität der Künste – both world-class, full-service music schools, with prep departments, chamber, opera, orchestra, the whole 9 yards. Plus many other second- and third-tier orchestras, opera companies, full and part-time chamber groups, and probably around 10 adult amateur orchestras. It always takes me aback – the size of Berlin is only about 3.4 million – and yet, even the 12 student chamber recitals each year at the Universität der Künste are stuffed with audience – on nights when they could have chosen between a 3 hour concert of student groups, Hilary Hahn, Casals Quartet, or Rattle conducting the Phil.

And so – I am now half-way through a 4-concert Beethoven Piano Trio Cycle in one of the funkiest, most-loved venues in Berlin, the PianoSalon Christophori. When you arrive at the venue – inside a complex of semi-abandoned old warehouses in the up-and-coming working-class neighborhood of Wedding, you walk beside one of the old canals of Berlin (did you know Berlin has more canals than Amsterdam?), and then enter a loading area through a metal gate to find a large, somewhat worse-for-wear, dark grey warehouse.

Arriving early for the dress rehearsals, I bang on the huge sliding doors, and as they squeakily shudder open, I am once again happy to come to this cultural haven – a huge space, walls covered by the entrails of old pianos, antique chandeliers precariously strung up from the 30-foot tall ceiling, a mish-mash of old chairs, couches, and benches stretched around the rounded plywood stage, itself crowded with 4 or 5 grand pianos and odd funky bits of furniture, and enough space for a small chamber orchestra. The audience is close – right up against you – cradling the glass of wine or beer which come with the moderately priced admission, sometimes even resting their feet up on the stage.

The vibe is relaxed, the space other-worldly, and the proprietor, an energetic, sporty father (with a dapper sense of style – think tan riding boots and a red corduroy vest), who recently stepped away from a successful career in medicine to run the series full-time, announces the program from the stage, sometimes even with his youngest son clinging to his leg. He tries to take one day off of concerts per week, but his venue is so popular – with audience and performers alike – that this is not always possible.

His performers are a mix of young, recent international prize-winners to top-shelf groups and soloists, who come to play because they love the vibe as much as the audience does. It’s actually magical. I don’t even think they advertise.

And, to cap off an evening, one has to only toddle over to the next building – the gatehouse to a former bus-repair station, where the Pförtner Café offers rustic and market-fresh comestibles. A select few tables are even inside the cool vintage public bus, just sitting in the courtyard. It all makes for a memorable evening – as many of which I have enjoyed from the stage as from the comfort of a worn, velvet couch.



  • Daniel Auner says:

    I played there the Richard Strauss Sonata, and we filmed and edited it in a combination with old film material from Vienna 100 years ago..

  • Zenaida says:

    The Piano Salon is great and it’s audience also very knowledgeable and interested in the music and musicians who perform there. At the other end of town, in Wilmersdorf, there is an ex-telecommunications bunker from WW2 transformed into a small concert hall called Artist Homes, run by Jung Ha and Keiko from South Korea. There is a good Steinway and room for a concurrent art exhibit, too. The programming is a touch more experimental and crossover than the Piano Salon

  • Mike says:

    Cristofori has been there for years. Hardly a secret.

    • LEWES BIRD says:

      Whatever. Other than projecting how plugged in you are, anything else useful to add? Cristofori *is* a secret because it’s never been advertised and is essentially known to new audiences only through word of mouth or via “secret Berlin” articles like the one to which you felt the need to spew your contempt. You won’t find it in the usual sources of event listings such as Zippy, Tip, Bln. Programm, of the weekend listings supplements of the newspapers.

    • Tod Brody says:

      Another classic Slipped Disc snarky troll-ey comment of no value whatsoever. Get a life.

  • Alan says:

    I’m heading to Berlin on 14 th June for a few days. Can you provide with a link to this venue?

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      David put a link below – just click on the Konzert tab and you can navigate and reserve your seat……have fun! We play our final Beethoven on the 30th….

    • Emil says:

      Konzertfluegel dot com.
      In my experience, it is possible to book tickets reasonably late, but hoping for a ticket at the door will be a gamble, as the few times I’ve been have been sold out. They do have a generous cancellation policy (as you pay at the door), so it can always be worth taking a chance and cancelling later.

  • william osborne says:

    Could someone list the 9 full time orchestras in Berlin the author mentions? I’m aware of seven:

    + Berliner Philharmoniker
    + Konzerthausorchester Berlin
    + Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
    + Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
    + Orchester der Staatsoper Unter den Linden/Staatskapelle Berlin
    + Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
    + Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    Excellent. Bravo!! When people like this sort of thing, people like this sort of thing. Where my uncle is from, 95% of these venues would go empty, regardless of the month, the day, or time of day. The rest of the venues would go half-empty.

  • David says:

    I strongly second Ms. Kreston’s recommendation. PianoSalon Christophori was recommended to me by a friend, and my evening there was a highlight of my visit to Berlin. It is a quirky, unique setting with first-rate musical performances and knowledgeable, appreciative audiences. It’s a popular venue among Berliners in the know and you need to reserve a space online ahead of time (the website is in German, but I managed to navigate it reasonably well: You’ll be inspired to leave a generous farewell donation in gratitude for a delightful experience. By all means go–you won’t regret it!

    • John Borstlap says:

      Cristofori Piano Salon sounds exactly like an earlier incarnation in Amsterdam: in a deserted old warehouse on one of the canals, piano bits all around, ‘alternative’ concerts by young players. In 2007 they closed shop since audiences were shrinking and since then, it is a commercial parvenue brasserie:

      Amsterdam is increasingly into eating and drinking, on the expense of the arts. Berlin however, appears increasingly as an international culture hub.

  • Marg says:

    Oh, I love the sound of this venue!! “Resting their feet up on the stage…” – that would be me. I love to sit right up the front and feel like I’m part of the musical action! And its inspiring to think a city of 4.3m people can fill so many venues that offer classical music. My city feels poor by comparison.