Elbphilharmonie  is Germany’s latest, most extraordinary “wow” landmark. Elbphilharmonie is a sparkling concert hall perched above a historic brick warehouse on a triangular plot surrounded by waterfront in the northern city of Hamburg. It’s unlike any building you’ve seen before and most unlike the local Hamburgers’ penchant for geometric, understated art deco design.

As a highlight of my recent hosted trip with Air Berlin and the Hamburg Tourist Board, I was eager to take my seat for a piano recital by the talented Boris Giltburg. After hearing all about the concert hall from the Elbphilharmonie media marketing executive, we headed for the venue.

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg's striking new concert hall

Elbphilharmonie’s shimmering silhouette Photo by Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Named for the main waterway connecting Hamburg to the North Sea, the structure rises 360 feet above the River Elbe. Hamburg’s newest, tallest building is the centerpiece of a regeneration project for the old docks that’s meant to eventually double the size of the HafenCity quarter.

Some 1,000 curved, shimmering windows designed to capture reflections of the city, the water, the sky, and the sun encase the ultra contemporary Elbphilharmonie. This architectural phenomenon, opened in January 2017, features a shimmering wave-like silhouette that had many hearts to win over after it was completed 10 years late and 10 times over budget (coming in at 789 million euros).

By February, Elbphilharmonie had already received its one millionth visitor.

Singing the Praises of Elbphilharmonie

Within a matter of weeks, Elbphilharmonie had overtaken the 19th century turreted Romanesque-like Neuschwanstein Castle (which famously inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty fairytale castle) as Germany’s most visited attraction.

What’s the reason for so many visitors to Elbphilharmonie? Even with its Grand Hall seating to accommodate 2,100 concert-goers, even with sell-out concerts, how could the numbers begin to approach the 1.5 million visitors to the former Bavarian home of Ludwig II?

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg's striking new concert hall

Contemporary design inside the brand new Elbphilharmonie Photo by Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Elbphilharmonie (just say Elphi, like the locals do) has the answer. It lies not only in the attraction of the music, but also in the access to excellent views from a stunning public space.

Inside Hamburg's new concert hall

Contemporary interior space at Elphi concert hall Photo by Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Elbphilharmonie – Inside Looking Out

You enter Elbphilharmonie via an escalator embraced by a curved tunnel decorated with thousands of reflective off-white discs, like the inside of a pearlescent oyster. Soak up the experience, since the tunnel’s length and curvature prevents you from seeing where your ride will end.

Inside Hamburg, Germany's striking new concert hall

A 4-minute ride up an escalator tunnel deposits visitors inside Elphi. Photo by Laurie Jo Miller Farr

A full four minutes later, it does indeed come to an end, spilling travelers out in front of an unexpected panorama. An interior brick plaza connects to a 360-degree outdoor viewing platform that encircles the building, offering sweeping water views.

Elbphilharmonie concert hall is Hamburg's newest sensation

Views of Hamburg from the outdoor platform at Elbphilharmonie. Photo by Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

Plaza tickets for a same day visit are free of charge via the ticket machines located in the Elbphilharmonie Visitor Center and in the main entrance area of the concert hall. Advance booking online or for a future visit up to 18 weeks out attract a booking fee of €2 per ticket.

This public observation area is open all day long from 9 a.m. to midnight. A total of six bars that open 90 minutes before the start of events are available to both ticket holders and visitors without tickets.

Views from Hamburg's new concert hall

Views of Hamburg from Elphi observation platform Photo by Laurie Jo Miller Farr

“The Elbphilharmonie takes inspiration from three structures:
the ancient theatre at Delphi, sport stadiums and tents.” —
Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron, architects

What About the Acoustics?

For the interiors of the world’s most acoustically advanced building, Swiss architects Herzog and De Meuron (the partners behind London’s Tate Modern) worked with highly regarded acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota to create an optimal sound map for the tiered vineyard-shaped venue.

The massive organ’s silvery 4,765 pipes are visible and touchable throughout the Grand Hall.

Hamburg concert hall, organ pipes

Elbphilharmonie organ.  Photo courtesy Maxim Schultz, Elphi press kit

They used algorithms to generate 10,000 interlocking acoustic panels of gypsum fiber to line the auditorium’s walls and ceilings, resembling nothing more than a flattened, bleached coral reef. Lit by 1,000 hand-blown glass bulbs, the overall appearance is futuristic.

Grand Hall, Hamburg Elbphilharmonie

Vineyard-like seating for 2,100 inside the Grand Hall. Photo courtesy Ian Baan,  Elphi media kit

Shaped like a shoebox, the more intimate Recital Hall has contoured wooden walls that bear more than a passing resemblance to a windswept desert floor or a sandy beach when the tide goes out.

Sleep at the Elphi

Visiting the birthplace of Mendelssohn and Brahms? The 244-room Westin Hamburg hotel with spa, heated swimming pool, sauna, and steam bath is located in the upper east part of the Elbphilharmonie. The hotel with smashing views offers special packages with concert tickets, Moët Champagne in your suite, concert tickets, a three course dinner, and a post-concert drink. And if you’re heading off on a RMS Queen Mary 2 cruise (or another cruise ship to one of the 222 ports around the world that are served out of Hamburg), you couldn’t be in a better location.

Visiting Hamburg

Getting There: airberlin is a main airline for nonstop flights from North America to Berlin and Dusseldorf. Frequent train service from Berlin to Hamburg takes as little as 1 hour, 42 minutes. Airberlin offers direct flights weekly, more during May through October, from New York (JFK), Boston, Orlando, Miami, Fort Myers, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver.

Accommodation in Hamburg: Overlooking another aspect of Hamburg’s maritime story, Le Royal Meridien Hamburg is right on the shores of Alster Lake. Book a room with lake-facing balcony, do some laps in the hotel swimming pool, and enjoy more watery views from the 9th floor breakfast room. If you’re visiting shortly after mid-October 2017, you’ll be among the first guests to check into The Fontenay Hamburg on Alster Lake’s opposite shore. It’s the first five star superior hotel to open in Hamburg  in 18 years. 

Hamburg Tourism: Visit the tourist board’s website to find out about things to do and see, cultural events, sightseeing, tours, shopping, hotels, and more.

Visiting Hamburg, Germany

Rathaus City Hall downtown Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Elbphilharmonie Address:

Elbphilharmonie Plaza
Platz der Deutschen Einheit
20457 Hamburg, Germany


Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodation, sightseeing and meals for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this article, the writer believes in providing full disclosure should there be any potential for conflict of interest. 

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Elbphilharmonie is Germany's latest, most extraordinary