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Leading German architect revamps Berlin's Metropol Theatre

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Berlin (dpa) - Nearly 2,000 people swarmed into Berlin's former Metropol Theatre at the weekend for the VIP opening of the swanky 11 million euro "Goya Club" on downtown Nollendorf Platz in the Schoeneberg district.

Celebrities and the not-so-rich jostled one another in their eagerness to catch a piece of the action at Berlin's latest upmarket fun palace with its candle-lit Baroque chandeliers; its cavernous dance area, black leather sofas and all-embracing circular bar.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Metropol was located in an area rich in night-club and cabaret activity. Author Christopher Isherwood lived just around the corner from the theatre when writing "Mr. Norris Changes Trains", his saucy, titillating account of pre World War II life in the German capital.

But the theatre's heyday had long since passed when in 2001, Peter Glueckstein, a night-club entrepreneur, came up with the idea of developing an elite night club in the nigh 100-year-old premises.

A theatre before morphing into the landmark Metropol many years ago, the building had been a cutting-edge music nightspot for a spell in the 1980s. But in more recent years, questions about its future had put it in jeopardy.

Four years ago, Glueckstein approached Hans Kollhoff, one of Germany's leading architects, to see if he was interested in restoring the theatre built in 1906.

Kollhoff said he was, but at the bubbly launch of the Goya Club at the weekend, he admitted it had been no easy assignment.

"Glueckstein and I had some heated arguments along the way. But we overcame them and, as you see, were still on speaking terms," he chuckled.

The Berlin-based Kollhoff has played a major role in revamping the German capital since the fall of the communist-built wall. But suggest to him "new look Berlin bears a resemblance to the nations pre war capital" and he murmurs, "No its very different. No comparison."

"Berlin will never be what it was in the '20s and '30s, he insists." Its future lies in other directions."

Part of Berlin's new direction was illustrated in the 1990s when Kollhoff and other international architects including Richard Rogers, Arat Isozaki, I.M. Pei and Sir Norman Foster raced one another to complete a set of "new-wave buildings" on the Potsdamer Platz.

Kollhoff's effort was one of the bigger projects on the square, near Renzo Piano's high-rise Debis building. Later, came an impressive white villa designed in new urbanism style for a wealthy German lawyer in the city's Dahlem district. Now, comes the redesign of the former Metropol.

"Wow, I'm surprised by the scale of the revamp job," says Peter Oldani, an American living in Berlin. "Kollhoff has skilfully restored the building's noble elements and reshaped its cavernous white interiors."

Oldani says the premises still have an atmosphere of the theatre about them, "thanks to the two pleasingly curved balconies overlooking the dance-floor, and the small stage where gigs can be performed."

What makes the Goya Club experiment unusual is that it has invited its "target clientele" to become shareholders. So far several thousand of them have accepted - paying 4,000 euro (4,686 dollars) each for share packages.

Among those who are now club shareholders are Falko Goetz, the Hertha BSC football trainer; renowned German artist Markus Luepertz; actors Vadim Glowna and Rolf Zacher, and, recently retired swimming champion Franziska van Almsick. Their investment ensures them life- long free admission and access to the VIP area.

Without financial assistance amounting to around 7.75 million euros from these investors, Glueckstein admits the Goya project would never have got off the ground.

The question now is whether the ambitious project can prove successful in a city currently battling high unemployment, and an economic downturn. Berlin's average annual income is just over 16,000 euros, modest indeed when compared to the 29,000 euro average in Munich and 24,000 euros in Hamburg.

Glueckstein is convinced the Goya will be successful. "It represents a career dream for me, he says. Surrounded on the Goya stage by a team of 75 helpers, the red-blazered operator proclaims: "I'm proud of the result. The Goya is now up and running, despite all the sceptics."

He aims for a well-heeled clientele of club members ranging in age from between 30 and 50, who like the comfort of a well-appointed club, with wining and dining facilities, dancing and stage gigs. Non members will be admitted for 10 euros each.

Two inaugural celebratory get-togethers were held for shareholders and invited guests at the weekend and the club becomes full operational this week.

Glueckstein says he first conceived the idea of developing a club in Berlin with broad international appeal while staying at Madrid's Hotel Reina Victoria in 200l.

A visit to the Prado Museum later led him to name his project the "Goya Club" after the great Spanish artist Francisco de Goya.

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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