Multitalented. The SAP Arena, Mannheim

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Mannheim, the second largest city of the German federal state Baden-Württemberg, is situated at the junction of the rivers Rhine and Neckar and, together with the neighbouring cities of Ludwigshafen and Heidelberg, they create a strong industrial and cultural centre and an important traffic hub south of Frankfurt. This baroque city, designed with a classical 'chessboard' ground plan that dates from the 17th century has a long cultural tradition, boasting the largest baroque palace in Germany, the Schloss that is now the university. The famous play "Die Räuber" by Germany's national poet Friedrich Schiller was premiered in Mannheim, and this year being the 250th anniversary of Mozart, it should also be mentioned that Wolfgang Amadé himself composed several of his works here. When the SAP Arena opened in September 2005, it was not only Baden-Württemberg's largest multipurpose venue with fourteen thousand five hundred seats, but also one of the most modern sports and event spaces in Europe. The arena, which is named after its main sponsor, German software giant SAP, is primarily the new home of the ice hockey champions Mannheimer Adler 'Eagels' and the first league handball team SG Kronau/Östringen who hold their home games there.

Thanks to sophisticated technology the conversion of an ice stadium into a handball field, a concert venue or a theatrical stage can be easily achieved in no time at all. Consequently the SAP Arena not only emphasizes Mannheim's position as a premier sports location, it also presents itself as an ideal venue for big music events, congress meetings, conferences and trade fairs. Apart from its large floor space of forty four thousand two hundred square meters, it also provides conference rooms furnished with all the necessary technical equipment and catering facilities.

Two main criteria really qualify the arena as a concert venue: the first is its impressive acoustics that completely removes the large space characteristic leaving the room with a very intimate sound even when no audience is present. The second is the installed d&b audiotechnik sound system consisting of fixed arrays of three Qi7 and four Qi7 installation loudspeakers distributed throughout the venue to cover the upper and lower tiers. Further independent Qi7 loudspeakers are hung below the video cube to cover the arena floor. The main installed d&b systems can ably reinforce any typical live sports event from ice hockey to tennis. For the larger music concerts mobile systems are typically flown left and right of the stage and are supported by the installed system. The entire installation was contracted to the German company Laauser & Vohl with Karl Maria Fölling taking on the project management.

The skilful assignment of the loudspeakers within the three and four deep arrays to the amplifier channels allows for separate control of the lower and upper tiers, enabling the use of the upper tier sound reinforcement as a delay system for concerts. This has the advantage that the mobile system positioned each side of the stage only needs to cover the arena floor and lower tier up to the glass-fronted VIP boxes. The installed sound reinforcement system for the lower tier and arena floor is always left in standby for emergency or evacuation measures. This ingenious arrangement creates a practical sound reinforcement concept that goes far beyond simply providing sound for the terraces.

As only sports events had taken place at the arena before, this inbuilt flexibility did not become evident until the concert premiere took place in September. Extra seating was installed on the arena floor and on the first night in front of more than a ten thousand strong audience the Philharmonic Orchestra of Rheinland-Pfalz performed, followed by Ronan Keating. On the second night the Mannheim Soul Orchestra gave a benefit concert that on the invitation of Rolf Stahlhofen featured some of the most important German rock and soul artists. These two official opening night concerts also featured an inaugural showing of d&b audiotechnik's latest groundbreaking J-Series loudspeaker range.

Since these official opening nights large scale sports and music events have followed one another: international handball matches, ice hockey, Holiday on Ice shows, Elton John in concert and the legendary local singer Xavier Naidoo. As if everybody had just been waiting for it, the SAP Arena was sold out at all these events.

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