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What eurocrisis? Hamburg to build $500 million concert hall

Hamburg, Germany aims to build one of the acoustically best concert halls in the world, admist one of Europe's worst economic crises in recent history.

By Isabelle de PommereauCorrespondent / February 17, 2012

‘Elbphilharmonie,’ a 26-story concert hall, is slated to open in 2015.

Isabelle de Pommereau

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Hamburg, Germany

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 Christian Becker calls the project “insane” at a time when libraries are cutting hours and kindergarten prices are up. But Hans Christian Riekhof sees it as “an investment in the future” that will draw tourists and boost the local economy.

What’s dividing the two Hamburg residents – and this city on the Elbe River – is a controversial cultural behemoth. Plans for the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, or “Elbphilharmonie,” envision a concert hall built on top of a former warehouse on the harbor that could seat 2,150 people in “acoustically one of the best concert halls in the world,” according to acoustic designer Yasuhisa Toyota, who refurbished the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

City officials see it as a new world landmark that could make Hamburg almost as famous as Paris and New York City. When finished, the 667,000 square-foot glass structure will rise 360 feet above the Elbe River, its 26 floors curling into a series of waves reflecting the sky, water, and city.

“There is something playful, almost crazy about what we are doing,” said Karl Olaf Petters, a spokesman for the project. “It is not necessary, but by the same token, neither was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”

Part of an ambitious revitalization of the Hamburg Harbor, the concert hall was to be paid for through mostly private money. Now, huge delays and cost overruns have dampened the city’s dreams of grandeur. The hall, it turns out, will cost up to five times its original estimate of $100 million, and the city’s share of the cost has more than quadrupled. The concert hall was slated to open in 2012; now it won’t open until 2015 at the earliest.

“If we were in Paris or in New York that would be fine, but not in such a small town as Hamburg,” complained Mr. Becker, soaking up the sun on the piers of the Elbe River with the half-constructed Elbe Philharmonic Hall shimmering in the distance.

Even so, every Sunday, visitors wearing yellow construction hats are touring the construction site.

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