Roof of Berlin orchestral theatre catches fire. Cause: welding work (again!)

Berlin – The roof of Berlin’s Philharmonic Hall caught fire Tuesday, forcing the orchestra to break off a matinee concert and prompting a major call-out of firefighters to confine the blaze. A matinee concert was under way at the time, Peter Riegelbauer, chairman of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, said.

No injuries were reported as the audience and musicians were evacuated.

Thirty metres of the roof of the landmark golden building smouldered, enveloping the area in smoke. There were no open flames, witnesses said. Welding work on the roof had been under way just before the fire.

The asymmetrical theatre close to Potsdamer Platz is the home of Berlin’s leading orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

Emergency services deployed more than 20 fire engines including a 50-metre telescopic extension truck to extinguish the fire from above, with some of the 170 firefighters using chain-saws to cut open the sheet-metal roof to spray more water.

A spokeswoman at the hall said insulation material in the roof had apparently caught fire during the welding work. The insulation is above the hall’s concrete ceiling.

Musicians evacuated expensive instruments from the building, which also houses a musical instrument museum. There were fears the water used on the fire would cause far more damage than heat and smoke.

Fire services spokesman Marco Trenn said the fire was confined to the roof area.

A rehearsal by the main orchestra scheduled for later Tuesday was cancelled. The orchestra had been set to perform on Saturday under the baton of its former conductor, Claudio Abbado, who retired in 2002.

Abbado had been in the building at the time the blaze began on Tuesday.

The 2,200-seat building, designed by Hans Scharoun, opened in 1963 close to the Berlin Wall.