Hellmut Stern (21 May 1928 – 21 March 2020) was a German violinist who played principal violin with the Berlin Philharmonic. He published his autobiography in 1990, narrating his life in exile in China from 1938, in Israel from 1949, and the U.S. from 1956, and his return to Berlin in 1961, where through his membership of the board of the Berlin Philharmonic, he initiated the orchestra's first tour to Israel.
Stern was born in Berlin into a Jewish family. His father, Dittmar Stern, was a voice teacher, and his mother, Ilse Rose Stern, was a pianist. His mother taught him to play the piano from age five. He attended a Jewish school in Wilmersdorf, where a patron donated a violin to the most gifted pupil, which he received at age nine. The family tried to emigrate beginning in 1933. After the November Pogrom in 1938, they escaped from Berlin to Harbin, now in China, where his mother had received a fictitious contract as a pianist. In exile, Stern helped the family income as a pianist and violinist, playing in bars, nightclubs and hotels. In 1948, the family was permitted to settle in Israel. As a bar pianist at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1951, he met Isaac Stern, who made it possible for him to play with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv as a second violinist.
In 1956, his parents moved to the U.S., because they could not make a living in Israel. He planned to stay but followed when his father became seriously ill. Without a work permit, he again had to take occasional jobs. In 1958, he was taken on by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and later played with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra.
Stern returned to (then West) Berlin in 1961. He belonged to the Berlin Philharmonic for 34 years, as a first violinist, and as principal violinist from 1986. He was a member of the orchestra's board (Orchestervorstand) from 1969. He played with many leading conductors of the time, especially with Herbert von Karajan. He participated in many recordings and was a soloist in several concerts, like the Humoristisches Festkonzert celebrating the orchestra's centenary in 1982, conducted by Vicco von Bülow (Loriot). He was part of efforts to organize a tour of the orchestra to Israel, first beginning in 1967, when the orchestra would have been welcome, but not Karajan. In 1990, with the orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim, his dream came true. The orchestra played several concerts, especially a joint concert with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta. Stern was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1993 by Richard von Weizsäcker. He retired in 1994.
After his retirement, Stern worked in schools as a witness to the rise of the Nazis and its consequences (Zeitzeuge). He wrote an autobiography, Saitensprünge, published in 1990.Stern died in Berlin on 21 March 2020 at the age of 91.