Musicians flee Philharmonic fire in Berlin

German firefighters battle to save home of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra as fire breaks out following welding work

German firefighters were battling to save the home of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra last night after a fire broke out beneath its roof, engulfing the building in black smoke.

Musicians were seen rushing in panic from the concert hall clutching instruments they had managed to save as clouds of smoke up to 30 metres high spread across the skyline. Some larger instruments such as pianos and timpani had to be left behind and orchestra members said they had ripped open musicians' lockers in an attempt to remove as many instruments - some of them uninsurable - as possible.

"I came to a rehearsal and was horrified to see the scene when I arrived," a double-bass player said. "It's a shock for us all."

Around 170 firefighters and more than 30 fire engines were on the scene attempting to save the mustard-coloured construction, which is known for its superb acoustics.

A spokesman for Berlin's fire brigade said holes had been cut into the 50 metre high tent-like roof so that the flames could be more easily reached. Foam rather than water was being used to reduce damage to the building and its contents.

Initial reports indicated that welding work which had been carried out earlier in the week was to blame for the fire, which broke out shortly after the end of a lunchtime concert. It is thought that sparks from welding tools set light to insulation material in the roof and had subsequently set fire to the VIP box.

Sir Simon Rattle, the Philharmonic's director since 2002, was not thought to have been in the building at the time. But his predecessor, Claudio Abbado, present for a rehearsal, was safely guided out of the building.


Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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