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Pay Up, Please!

The staff who run the Elbphilharmonie box offices talk about outbursts of joy, attempts at bribery and every evening's hope of getting the very last ticket.

Elbphilharmonie Magazine

This text is taken from the article »Zur Kasse, bitte!« from our Elbphilharmonie Magazine (01/2019), which is published several times per year. Order the latest issue

»You know what? Let's just get in the car and go!« Munich couple Renate Aßmann and Alfons Barr, both just turned 60, didn't want to wait any longer: their vouchers for a concert at the Elbphilharmonie had already been lying on the dresser for quite a while. They hadn't manage to find tickets online, so they just drove up to Hamburg. Now the two of them are sitting on a windowsill in the Elbphilharmonie's north corridor, waiting for the box office to open. It's a chilly Wednesday morning and this is their first time in Hamburg; they're a bit excited.

We had one woman camping in front of the box office overnight so she'd be served first the next morning.

Jens Völker has already seen Renate and Alfons from the inside: »There are often people queuing at the door.« In quarter of an hour, Völker will start his shift at the Elbphilharmonie box office, then he'll be giving out advice and information, selling tickets or asking people to be patient, until the evening. He pours himself another coffee in the kitchenette at the back before he starts work. There are thank-you letters and particularly charming emails from satisfied customers hanging on the fridge door. »We got this postcard from one loyal customer who even camped in front of the box office overnight so she'd be served first the next morning.«

Plum Job at the Counter

The 42-year-old had all kinds of other jobs before he started at the Elbphilharmonie box office: he played bass and guitar full-time, sold CDs in a large multimedia market, worked in retail, insurance and logistics – nine different jobs all told. »But I've never been part of such a nice team before.« He stops to think. »I really mean that.« Völker pins on his name tag, switches the lights on and starts the different ticket systems on his computer. Now he's ready for business. »There's often not a quiet moment in this job,« he says, »but I love working together with people.« And there's certainly no shortage of interesting encounters at the box office.

Jens Völker
Jens Völker © Gesche Jäger

All Kinds of Customers

Occasionally there are encounters that make Völker shake his head in disbelief: »I recently had a former football referee standing here at the counter. We had a nice chat about soccer, and then he offered me ten euros to look harder for some tickets«. Some people go one step further:

»I even had one person saying, ›I know you'll give me a call if there's a ticket available‹ – and then he actually tried to pass a 50 euro bill over the counter! That's out of the question of course«!

Tickets Through all Channels

While Jens Völker is welcoming one customer after another at the counter, the next ones are waiting behind the counter. His phone display shows that seven callers are on hold at the moment. »If we don't have someone standing at the counter,« he explains, »we pick up the phone at the box office as well«. Otherwise, calls are taken by his colleagues in the so-called back office, the customer service centre for the Elbphilharmonie and the Laeiszhalle. That's the second shift after the personal sales, which the box office staff take turns on.

Constanze Teichert is one of the people who spend their working day answering the phone and writing emails to customers. But her desk is not actually in the Elbphilharmonie building: she works from an office behind the box office in the Brahms Kontor, opposite the Laeiszhalle. »It looks a bit like a call centre«, she laughs, »and that's what it really is.« She and her colleagues sit behind glass panels, talking into their headsets with their eyes focused on the computer screen.

Constanze Teichert
Constanze Teichert © Gesche Jäger

Teichert joined the team in 2013, when she was one of seven box office staff.

Of course there were far fewer concerts in those days. There was less pressure, and we could take out time advising customers.

I always tell people to try out a concert with artists who aren't so well-known – they're just as good as the big names.

Once the Elbphilharmonie opened, things got more hectic: »Suddenly we were confronted with people who went and bought up tickets at random, or who were angry about all the tax money, and wanted to share how they felt. Or with people who didn't want to accept that they suddenly couldn't get a ticket any more.« In the meantime, she says, things have calmed down a bit. »There are still rumours floating around that there's not a single ticket to be had, but I always tell people to try out a concert with artists who aren't so well-known – they're just as good as the big names.«

Elbphilharmonie Ticket Shop
Elbphilharmonie Ticket Shop © Michael Zapf

I once had a customer on the phone who threatened that if I wanted to keep my job, I needed to do this and do that.

A Thick Skin and a Big Heart

One thing's for sure: you need a thick skin in this job: »I once had a customer on the phone who threatened that if I wanted to keep my job, I needed to do this and do that. I had to take a deep breath and count to ten, I can tell you!« Ms Teichert admits that she can often understand how annoyed customers are, so it's better not to take things personally. »The next caller might be an elderly lady who wants to go to one concert at the Elbphilharmonie while she still has time: if you manage to fulfil her dearest wish, she'll be endlessly grateful.« The job is a constant emotional roller coaster, and in the last two years a couple of extra loopings have been added. Nonetheless, Constanze Teichert still enjoys the ride.

Ticket Shop Customer
Ticket Shop Customer © Gesche Jäger

Waiting with a View

A change of scene. Back at the Elbphilharmonie, several familiar faces can be seen outside the box office: customers who weren't able to get tickets that morning come back around 17:30 and wait for the box office to reopen. Ninety minutes before the evening's concert begins, the last tickets to become available are sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

Today, the mood is good again. Just before 18:30 a member of the box office staff announces to those waiting, »I've got a total of 14 tickets today. Please form an orderly line in front of the counter.« The first person in line is from England, and he goes up to the counter. »Don't buy all 14!« calls a woman behind him who translated the ticket information for him earlier on. The other people in the queue laugh. Among those queueing are Sun Ha Park and her boyfriend: the couple from South Korea is on holiday in Germany. A few minutes later they are jumping for joy: »We've got tickets! Wow, we weren't expecting to get lucky. What an honour!« Well, enjoy the concert!

Text: Fränz Kremer, 5 April 2019

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