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Bum note haunts Kaiser’s concert hall

Patronized by Wilhelm II as a music centre and since graced by Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Springsteen, Frankfurt's Festhalle is stinging at its new epithet of 'Germany's worst venue'.

Bum note haunts Kaiser's concert hall
Up the Kaiser's alley? Rihanna performs at the Frankfurt Festhalle in 2010. Photo: DPA
But if the city wants to hear homegrown hits like 'With peppermint I am your prince' performed live again it must build a new concert hall fast, warns German rock legend Marius Müller-Westernhagen.
 
"In terms of acoustics, the Festhalle is the worst in Germany," the 66-year-old rocker said as he prepares a new tour of German cities – bar the fifth largest.
 
"I won't perform again in Frankfurt until they build a hall that you can actually cover with sound," vowed Westernhagen, who shot to fame in the 1970s, has sold over 11 million albums and is revered as one of the most successful German musicians ever.
 
No matter that the Festhalle will this year host performances by André Rieu, Queen, Lionel Richie, Simply Red and Ennio Morricone – the New Year lashing over acoustics has set the management on the back foot.
 
"Good acoustics depends on good sound engineering," Markus Quint, spokesman for the Frankfurt Conference Centre which runs the hall, told The Local. 
 
 
 
And this is the responsibility of the individual artist, he stressed.
 
"Concerts here by Pink Floyd and Pavarotti had outstanding sound quality," Quint added in defence of the 6,000 square-metre hall, which can stage concerts for 13,500 people, as well as conferences, trade fairs and even show jumping events.
 
Nor was he aware of plans to build a new venue in the city, although there has been some discussion. So like it or lump it Herr Westernhagen, it seems.
  
'Grand old lady' isn't yielding
 
Designed by architect Friedrich von Thiersch and opened in 1909, the Festhalle is an historic cornerstone of Frankfurt's cultural life. 
 
"Even at the ripe old age of 100, the ‘grand old lady’ of event halls is still going strong," the hall's website states proudly.
 
And having also hosted MTV Europe Music Awards in 2012, complete with a performance of 'Gangnam Style'  by South Korean artist Psy, it shows no sign of giving up its musical mantel.
 
 
 
Meanwhile, fellow rock veteran Herbert Grönemeyer  – who tops even Westernhagen with 13 million albums sales in Germany – is unphased by the issue and is slated to play here in May.
 
"Shame that the Frankfurt concert will be at the Festhalle, the acoustics are a catastrophe," Grönemeyer fan Denise wrote about the tour on the 58-year-old performer's Facebook page.
 
Despite the hall's rich history, it seems many others agree with her. In a reader survey conducted by the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper this week, 47 percent said the acoustics were a mess, and 39 percent agreed that sound quality depends on the set-up of individual performers. Only 14 percent said Westernhagen was off the mark.
 
Train station vibe?
 
Reviews of past concerts add grist to the acoustic gripe mill.  
 
Deep Purple fan Thomas Memleb saw his heroes perform at the Festhalle with the Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra in 2000 and found the event "amazing, fantastic, superb!"
 
"The only bad point was the abominable acoustics of the Festhalle, the building sounds about as 'echo-ey' as a railway station, only there are no trains in it," he wrote on a band forum.
 
True, sheer crowd enthusiasm can drown out the music. Consider The Beatles' 1966 concert at Shea Stadium in New York, when the hysteria was so great that no-one, including the Fab Four, could really hear the songs.
 
The Festhalle has had some of that too in its time. 
   
"Jimmy Page tried to calm down the audience, which was completely freaking out, with his words 'Please give us a chance…' after having played some gentle chords which he obviously couldn't hear," a German soldier wrote after seeing Led Zeppelin play here 25 years ago. "This was 1980 and the in-ear monitor wasn't invented yet."
 
Westernhagen at least should have no problems cutting through the hubbub with a decent surround sound. For a comeback tour in 2000, his crew built a 570-tonne stage with catwalks and a 200,000-watt sound capacity.
 
But if some may think his rock star legend status is bringing out the prima donna in him, he feels differently. 
 
"I'm just a musician, get up in the morning, look in the mirror and it's just me, no stars in sight," he told the news agency dpa amid his tirade against the Festhalle.
 

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MUSIC

Dancing like there’s no Covid: first German nightclub reopens in Leipzig

For techno enthusiast Philipp Koegler, it almost felt like a normal Saturday night again as he joined 200 fellow revellers at "Distillery", the first German nightclub to reopen since the start of the pandemic.

Dancing like there's no Covid: first German nightclub reopens in Leipzig
A file photo of a disco ball in a night club. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

“Tonight, there are no rules,” the almost 30-year-old told AFP, whipping off his mask on his way to the dance floor.

Despite more than a year of closures forced by the coronavirus, it didn’t take long for the thumping beats, low lights and buzzing crowds to reawaken the much-missed club atmosphere.

“It feels like I’ve come back after being away on vacation for a week,” Koegler beamed.

But of course there are some rules to restarting the party, even in Germany where coronavirus infections have declined steadily in recent weeks as the pace of vaccinations has picked up.

The Distillery club in the eastern city of Leipzig, which bills itself as the oldest techno venue in Germany’s former Communist east, is taking part in a pilot project supported by scientists from the Max Planck institute and the local university hospital.

Just 200 club-goers are allowed in instead of the usual 600 and each person must take two different kinds of coronavirus tests earlier in the day, with entry granted only if they test negative both times.

Once inside, the masks can come off and revellers don’t have to socially distance.

Each participant also agrees to being re-tested a week later, to uncover potential infections despite the precautions taken.

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Organisers hope the project can serve as a blueprint for further club re-openings to help the hard-hit sector back on its feet after a devastating year.

Although several venues in Germany experimented with open-air parties, club-goer Konny said it “just isn’t the same”.

“In the club, you’re in a different world,” she said.

Growing influence

Distillery manager Steffen Kache expressed pride at being the first club in the country to reopen indoors.

“Everyone is jealous,” he told AFP.

Kache said that if there has been an upside to the pandemic closures, it was that politicians had woken up to the social and economic importance of Germany’s vibrant club culture.

Lawmakers last month agreed to reclassify nightclubs as cultural institutions rather than entertainment venues, putting them on a par with
theatres and museums to provide more protection and tax benefits.

Germany’s nightlife capital Berlin alone – home to iconic clubs Berghain, KitKat and Tresor – usually attracts tens of thousands of foreign visitors each year who generate over a billion euros in revenues.   

Many observers fear that when the pandemic dust has settled, not all of Germany’s clubs will have survived the lengthy shutdowns.

The collaboration with local authorities that made Distillery’s pilot project possible was “unthinkable before the crisis”, Kache said, and evidence of a “reconciliation” between underground club culture and the political establishment.

He said he hoped the next step would be “the nationwide reopening of cultural spots and clubs, without Covid restrictions”.

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