Fire breaks out at Berlin Philharmonic building

A fire broke out today at the Berlin Philharmonic's home, sending thick smoke pouring from the crest of the iconic downtown building as firefighters and musicians rushed to save instruments.

The blaze broke out beneath the roof of the building directly over the main concert hall, which seats 2,500 and is famed for its extraordinary acoustics. The cause was not immediately clear, said Marco Trenn, a spokesman for Berlin firefighters. No flames were visible from the outside.

"We don't believe anyone is in danger, as the fire appears to be contained to the roof," Trenn said. No instruments were believed to be in danger either, he added.

Still, he said firefighters faced the job of cutting holes in the tent-shaped roof, which is 160 feet (50 meters) above the ground, to get at the fire. "To fight this is not simple," he said.

Firefighters rushed to the scene after several calls alerting them to the blaze at 2:05 p.m. (1205GMT), Trenn said. Fire officials said some 170 firefighters were sent.

Bassoonist Stefan Schweigert said he had arrived at 2:20 p.m. (1220 GMT) to find the fire already under way.

Nevertheless, musicians were allowed into the building to remove instruments they had left in their lockers overnight following Monday's rehearsal, assisted by firefighters.

"We just tried to save the instruments that were locked in the musicians' lockers," Schweigert said, noting that many of the instruments, such as the pianos and timpani, are too large to be removed.

While in the main concert hall and the musicians' locker rooms behind it, Schweigert said he could not see any visible damage but could smell smoke.

Firefighters could be seen on the rooftop of the bright yellow concert hall, designed by Hans Scharoun and completed in 1963. Together with the city's main library, it makes up part of the Berlin Kulturforum, or Cultural Forum, near Potsdamer Platz.

The Philharmonic, the German capital's leading orchestra, is directed by Sir Simon Rattle.

Other concerts also take place in the building's foyer. A lunchtime performance was just letting out as the alarm sounded.