As Berlin rolls out the red carpet over the next few days for the who's who of international film and cinema, the eyes of the world will look to Potsdamer Platz. The Sony Center, with the ‘CineStar' movie theatre and neighboring ‘Cinemaxx', are the centre of attention during the film festival, but throughout the year, film premieres attended by the most illustrious Hollywood stars are also celebrated here. These theaters mainly show blockbusters, often in the original version. However, Berlin also has an array of wonderful cinemas beyond the multiplexes, many with an impressive history.
As long ago as 1915, movies were screened in Hardenbergstraße in the Charlottenburg District, today home to the ‘Zoo Palast'. In 1927, Fritz Lang's classic silent movie "Metropolis" premiered at the ‘Palasttheater am Zoo'. Following its almost complete destruction during WWII, the movie theater reopened in 1957 as the ‘Zoo Palast', housed in a new building designed by Paul Schwebes, Hans Schoszberger and Gerhard Fritsche. In 2010, this popular premiere venue closed for renovation. It celebrated its comeback in November 2013 with a brand new concept: now, guests can enjoy a truly luxury cinema experience, with champagne served to special box seats. There are also two club cinemas, with retro library-style décor (see above; photo credit: Jan Bitter), which can be booked for private screenings. Zoo Palast returned as a Berlinale location in 2014.
The atmosphere is equally luxurious just a couple of hundred meters further along Kurfürstendamm, at no. 225, in the listed building in which the ‘Astor Film Lounge' opened its doors in 2008. With its excellent service, this luxury movie theatre is a reminder of a long-forgotten age: the doormen provide a valet-service on request and take care of guests' cloakroom items before serving them a glass of sparkling wine ahead of the film or live broadcast of opera or ballet performances, which guests can enjoy from generously comfortable seats, complete with footstools.
What the Ku'damm was for the cineastes of the West, the Karl-Marx-Allee was for film enthusiasts in the East. Since its completion in 1959, ‘Kino International' in Karl-Marx-Allee (see above, photo credit: Daniel Horn, Yorck Kinogruppe) was the venue for countless premieres, including classics such as "Trace of Stones" ("Die Spur der Steine"). Even then, the International was much more than just a movie theater - a youth group regularly threw parties on the upper floor level and the International continues to be a party and event location to the present day, making it a popular premiere venue. And as if that weren't enough, the cinema itself recently got its chance to shine in a Hollywood production: it plays the role of the Zoo Palast in a Steven Spielberg production starring Tom Hanks, with the film crew simply acting as if the Karl-Marx-Allee were the Kurfürstendamm of 1960s-Berlin. The building, clad in light sandstone, was designed by architects Josef Kaiser and Heinz Aust, who also designed ‘Café Moskau', located opposite, and the ‘Kosmos Cinema' at Karl-Marx-Allee 131a. After serving as a movie theatre during the GDR-era, cinema operations at the International ceased in 2005. Nowadays, the International is a fashionable event location.
Travelling further east, we come to the neoclassical façade of the ‘Filmtheater am Friedrichshain' by the Volkspark Friedrichshain in Prenzlauer Berg. It opened with 1200 seats in 1925 under the name of ‘Olympia'. In 1995, Yorck Cinema Group took over the cinema and renamed it following a complete overhaul, which involved individually designing each of the five theatres to give them their own unique look. In the summer, the adjacent beer garden is the ideal place to enjoy a post-movie drink. ‘Babylon Mitte' cinema, located opposite the Volksbühne at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, also dates from the 1920s. It opened in 1929 as a silent movie theatre and was faithfully restored in 2001. As well as film screenings, it is also a popular venue for readings and concerts.
While the outside appearance of some movie theatres already promises great things, the splendor of others is not immediately evident; this is certainly true of ‘Neues Off' cinema in Neukölln (see above, photo credit: Daniel Horn, Yorck Kinogruppe), where a stunning movie theatre with turquoise velvet seats lies hidden behind the simple façade of a residential block at Hermannstraße 20. Films were already screened at this location in the 1920s and 30s, at the ‘Rixdorfer Lichtspielen', or ‘Rixi' for short. Today, the movie theatre (also part of the Yorck Cinema Group) is a showplace for independent films. Another insider tip is the ‘Tilsiter Lichtspiele' in Friedrichshain: Berlin's smallest cinema might have just 66 seats, but boasts a lovely bar in the lobby. For all its unimposing appearance, this cinema has a long history and celebrated its centenary in 2008.
Zoo Palast: Jan Bitter
Kino International: Daniel Horn, Yorck Kinogruppe
Neues Off: Daniel Horn, Yorck Kinogruppe