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Only in Berlin

The German capital does things differently – even classical music, as Brian Starbuck discovers

We went to stay with our friend Andrea in Berlin earlier this year. She lives in Kreuzberg, an up and coming area of the city full of mixed housing and apartments, cafes and restaurants. Although the area is gentrifying, it should keep its varied mix of people due to the combination of private and public housing. Let’s hope so.

Anyway, the point is that whilst we were staying there, our hostess asked us if we would like to go a piano recital in a factory. What an excellent idea!

This is how it can happen in Berlin. A local neurosurgeon loves piano music and pianos, so he begins to restore them as a hobby. He then rents an old factory space to enlarge his hobby into a business. He then thinks it would be great for people to hear these lovely pianos played by really good pianists. So every so often they clear a space in the workshop and arrange a motley collection of chairs to seat around 150 people. A pianist visiting the city will be invited to perform on one or more of their pianos and a series of piano concerts is born – fantastic.

We went along to this Piano Salon Christophori on a cold evening and parked in the works car park next to the factory. Wheelchair access for our friend is good as it is all on the ground floor – the factory floor in fact. We pay and wind our way through heaps of piano parts and equipment to our seats a few feet from the stage. It hadn’t occurred to me before that to store lots of pianos you need to take them apart and stack up all the components separately.

Two huge industrial heaters are blasting away to warm the large space. Pianos are wheeled about on stage and a very eccentric looking piano tuner works on the pianos right up to the last minute. The atmosphere is more relaxed than a traditional classical concert or recital but still purposeful.  The neurosurgeon does a short introduction introducing the music to be played and spending rather more time talking about the pianos it is to be played on. At this point, one of the staff squeezes past our chairs, turns the heaters off and then the concert starts.

The first part of the recital seems almost subdued and intimate but the second part, after a change of piano and composer is far more powerful and the sound easily fills the space, floating up through the girders and winch machinery. The pianist receives rapturous applause and although we can stay for drinks at the honesty bar we decide to go out into the cold night air and home for coffee.

A magical evening.

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