Berlin launches pilot project to reopen long-closed cultural venues

By Julia Kilian, dpa

The famed Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra played in front of a large audience for the first time in months on Saturday night, part of a pilot project in which around 1,000 spectators who tested negative for the coronavirus were admitted.

All the tickets to the show were sold within three minutes, said artistic director Andrea Zietzschmann, in a sign of the pent-up demand for live cultural events as the pandemic drags on in Europe.

A special rapid testing centre for ticketholders was set up outside the concert hall, where about half the audience had a nasal swab test done. The results were then made available on their mobile phone.

The other half had an appointment at other test centres elsewhere.

A negative result had to be shown before entering the iconic Berlin building, a golden-coloured, asymmetrical concert hall.

Several cultural institutions in Berlin have joined forces for the pilot project, with a total of nine events planned through the beginning of April.

The Berliner Ensemble theatre company kicked things off on Friday evening with the world premiere performance of “Panikherz” by German writer and journalist Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre.

In addition to testing beforehand, the audience must wear medical-grade face masks during the performances. Seats are also left empty between visitors.

Berlin Cultural Senator Klaus Lederer told the philharmonic audience how lucky they were to see the concert, given that theatres, concert halls, operas and other major venues remain closed nationwide as Germany grapples with a third wave of infections.

“There’s people saying you guys are out of your minds,” Lederer said of the pilot project’s sceptics.

But he argued it was crucial to begin reopening the long-dormant cultural sector – a driver of Berlin’s local economy and global appeal.

Lederer pointed out that the building has well-functioning ventilation systems and strict hygiene rules in place.

“Where should you – if not here – try things out?” he said.

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