Writers’ Blokke
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Writers’ Blokke

Elphi: From Deemed White Elephant to Iconic Landmark

The Elbphilharmonie Is Celebrating Its Fifth Anniversary

Elbphilharmonie as viewed from Hamburg Hafen City [Photo: Vickey Maverick]

Even as we were walking along the Hamburg harbor, and towards the city’s main landmark, my better half narrated this incident for an umpteenth time.

She had first visited Germany’s second largest city back in early 2015. As her local colleagues showed her around, there was a certain hesitation to describe an under construction structure at the harbor front.

Her colleagues took turns to label it as the “most expensive mistake, “an embarrassment” and something that sticks out like a “sore thumb.” Coming from Hamburgians, known for having a deep sense of love towards their city (and rightly so), these were strong words.

I could very well identify with deemed white elephants. Frequent travels during my professional career has time and again made me come across such constructions which make you question its relevance, rather the necessity to build such vanity projects that otherwise serve little purpose. For instance, I clearly remember a trip to Myanmar a few years back. Naypyidaw, the new capital of the country, is a full blown white elephant. Nothing about the city is convincing.

Mandalay is a beautiful city no doubt, but its international airport sticks out like a sore thumb. I clearly remember having witnessed six aerobridges of which five were vacant. Not to forget there was only one flight at the entire airport, the one I was supposed to board. I have been told more flights have been added now, but you am sure you get the point I am trying to make.

Coming back to Hamburg the Elbphilharmonie, or Elphi as it is popularly known as, took almost a decade from conception to inauguration. It was opened to the public more than six years late, and by then it had palpably gone over budget. In fact the figures mentioned peg the final bill at €866 million, in other words the costs had risen tenfold.

I have to admit I had been more fortunate than my better half. In my previous visits to Germany I had never ventured to the north of the country. My first visit to Hamburg happened only in late 2017, and by then the deemed white elephant had not only opened with a grand ceremony but had also become a well-known landmark of the Hanseatic city.

Perched majestically on the banks of the Elbe Elphi is a sharp contrast to the city’s other major landmarks. Many have since visited the imposing crystal structure that rests atop an old brick warehouse, and many more have it added to their bucket lists.

When we moved in to Hamburg staying close to the harbor, and to Elphi, was a no-brainer. Fortune favored us to such an extent that we got ourselves a place that had a view of the imposing structure from the living room. That was not enough though, as we would visit the Plaza, the viewing platform 37 meters above ground level, whenever it was possible.

Taking an evening stroll along the harbor and admiring the wonderful piece of architecture is something we have done a number of times. Not to forget taking photographs and selfies with this architectural marvel serving as the background is something we are yet to get tired of. There are many wonderful memories to be honest.

Even as Elphi celebrated its fifth anniversary this January we made it a point to visit our once neighbor, and wish her the best. It is a fact that anyone who has recently lived in Hamburg will always have a special place for Elphi in their hearts.

That disgusting virus — its many variants, and the resulting restrictions meant the celebrations have been scaled back to a great extent. On a positive note though there’s something being planned for April. Hopefully, we will be able to visit the place, be a part of these celebrations and have a good time. Watching another concert will be an icing on the cake.

Until then, there are many memories linked to Elphi to cherish, as also the satisfaction that in the final analysis it not only avoided being a costly mistake but has also gone on to become an iconic landmark of Hamburg.

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