When it comes to shabby chic, Berlin takes all the prizes. But it’s not just cool clubs, hotels, restaurants and bars that have moved into old warehouses and factory buildings. Fans of classical music have their own alternative scene at the Piano Salon Christophori, a unique combination of piano repair worskhop and concert venue tucked away in the gritty Berlin district of Wedding in a former garage complex used for bus repairs. Everything about this place has edge and style. It attracts world-class performers and creates a classical music salon experience in unlikely surroundings.
The concert area
The nearest U-Bahn station is Pankstrasse and then it’s about a 15 minute walk down cobbled streets lined with tall trees, apartment blocks and interesting-looking cafés. The ‘salon’ itself is located at the back of a car park and the building and entrance area all look quite bleak and unpromising – until you draw aside the curtain to the concert area and workshop space. Then the wow factor kicks in. The interior is simply crammed with pianos waiting to be renovated or left in bits piled on top of each other haphazardly. From the ceiling hang various light fittings and chandeliers and the walls are covered with wooden music stands from old uprights and grands. I had booked my seat on the internet and was told that my name would appear on a list with a seat number and that this seat would have my name on it. And so it was – on a red velvet cushion.
The lists of names hung inside the entrance
At the time of booking no money changed hands and when I arrived there was a ‘free’bar set up at the back of the room where you could help yourself to drinks. In the interval more drinks were available on the same basis. The whole concert experience, including drinks, is meant to cost a minimum of 14 euros, although the audience is invited to be as generous as possible when they put their money in a bucket on the way out. The recital last Friday by Sofya Gulyak, the brilliant Russian pianist who won the Leeds Piano Competition in 2009, was worth far more of course. We were even treated to two encores.
During the interval I wandered round the room looking at the piano repairs in progress and at all the pianos and piano paraphernalia stacked up on the spare floor place and hanging from the walls. The audience can even walk on to the stage and have a close look at the grand piano used for the performance. This former garage has been magically transformed into a veritable Aladdin’s cave, then dimly-lit and furnished with a hotch potch of chairs and cushions for the evening concert. The project was started in 2007 and is the brainchild of Chistoph Shreiber, a doctor and piano fanatic who still views his workshop and concerts as a hobby, despite their international renown. I hope this ensures that the Piano Salon Chistophori remains authentic and uncommercialised. It epitomises that ‘Berlin feeling’.
The piano workshop area