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Unusual Stories from the Laeiszhalle

Ten of the most entertaining stories about Hamburg's venerable concert hall.

1. Honey on the Roof

Majestic with a superb sound – two things the neo-Baroque Laeiszhalle definitely has to offer. But since 2013 the Laeiszhalle has also been the first concert hall to produce honey: the two amateur beekeepers Andreas Sterr and Gunnar Weidt look after some 120,000 bees in hives set up on the roof of the Laeiszhalle. It's a perfect location for the bees: only 500 yards away is the Planten un Blomen park with all kinds of pollen for them to collect.

Andreas Sterr (r) and Gunnar Weidt with their bee hives © dpa

2. The Recital Hall as a Recording Studio

The Laeiszhalle Recital Hall is regarded in Hamburg as a classic example of 1950s architecture. But what did the hall originally look like? The photo shows clearly that it originally resembled the Grand Hall! Following the Second World War, the British occupying forces set themselves up in the Laeiszhalle and turned the Recital Hall into a temporary broadcasting centre for their military radio station BFN (British Forces Network). After the radio station moved out in the 1950s, the hall was radically renovated in keeping with the aesthetic standards of the day. Embellishments and barrel vault disappeared, and the acoustics were substantially improved.

The Original Recital Hall
Laeiszhalle Recital Hall
Following Renovations in the 1950s © Thies Rätzke

3. Place of Refuge in World War Two

Built in 1908, the Laeiszhalle has experienced two wars in its long history. In the Second World War, it served mainly as an air-raid shelter for the local population. In order to protect people from the impact of artillery shells, the foyers were insulated with heavy sandbags; the floor had to be reinforced to take the extra weight. Heavy steel doors and supporting pillars in the basement still bear witness to this turbulent time. As part of ongoing renovation work, the pillars are currently being removed in order to return the building to its original condition.

4. Shiny Behind

The Brahms Foyer takes its name from the big Brahms statue. An interesting detail is that the statue, set up on a round pedestal, could originally be rotated on its own axis. This function has since been deactivated. The statue is made of matt marble, but one spot is suspiciously shiny: the behind of one of the Muses that dance around the figure of Brahms.

Rotating Pedestal and the Muse's In-Your-Face Behind

5. Daylight in the Grand Hall

Daylight in the Grand Hall: pretty cool, don't you think? Well, to be honest a little trick is involved: there is actually another room above the glass cascade ceiling, and this has large skylights. So there really could be daylight in the hall, except that the skylights are generally covered to keep the cold out. What people think is daylight is actually produced by neon tubes adjusted to the colour of daylight. Thus it's even possible to produce artificial dusk, irrespective of when dusk falls outside. Which is pretty cool after all!

Daylight in the Grand Hall © dpa

6. Laeiszhalle On Air

From 1945-1953 the Laeiszhalle fell into the care of the British army. Instead of resuming concert operations, the British decided to use the concert hall for a different purpose: it became the home of the radio station British Forces Network (BFN). The editorial offices were stationed in the dress circle cloakrooms, while the Brahms Foyer accommodated the music archive with over 60,000 shellac records. The Recital Hall was used to broadcast orchestral and big band recordings; known as »Studio B« at the time, it is still referred to internally as the »B-Saal« (B Hall).

7. Meat Loag and his Harley

With a total of 43 million copies sold, Meat Loaf's album »Bat Out of Hell« is one of the most successful records in rock history. And Meat Loaf's 1979 appearance at the Laeiszhalle was certainly worthy of a rock star: the Texan singer bombed on to the stage on a Harley Davidson with a full tank of gas and then roared down a ramp right into the dress circle. That would be inconceivable now, with all of today's strict safety and fire protection requirements!

8. Vladimir Horowitz’s Final Concert

Vladimir Horowitz was one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. The world-famous musician was already 83 when he gave his last recital in Hamburg on 21 June 1987. The location was the Laeiszhalle, of course, where he had laid the foundation stone for his international career 60 years previously. As one would expect from a star of his status, Horowitz voiced some very special wishes for his appearance: he asked that a made-up bed be provided for him in the interval, and he didn't want there to be any steps on the way to the concert platform. Burkhard Lübke, the operations manager of the Laeiszhalle at the time, fulfilled his wishes to the letter. However, things worked out differently…

9. Loudest Concert

Although there were already bigger concert locations in 1970s Hamburg, namely the CCH and the Alsterdorfer Sporthalle, the Laeiszhalle (under its former name of Musikhalle) enjoyed popularity with a lot of bands. And in 1976 it finally happened: AC/DC, in those days the noisiest rock band in the world and guaranteed to strike fear into every mother-in-law's heart, rocked the stage in the Grand Hall with Marshall amplifiers, set up in front of the organ with its decorative mouldings. Yeah!

AC/DC 1976 in der Laeiszhalle

10. Seeing with Your Ears

Listening seats – is there such a thing? There certainly is! On the sides in the lower and upper circles and right at the top of the Laeiszhalle behind the columns. The view of the stage is very restricted – in complete contrast with the modern concert hall architecture of the Elbphilharmonie, where everyone can hear and see equally well. In exchange, the listening seats are extremely cheap and there are often tickets still remaining to purchase – even for very popular concerts.

Text: Philipp Seliger, last updated: 28 Oct 2019

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