Great cinema in Berlin

The Berlinale has had a chequered history in different places in Berlin.

The history of the Berlin International Film Festival, or Berlinale, began in June 1951 at the Titania-Palast in the Steglitz district. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” was shown at the opening. The Titania-Palast had survived the Second World War relatively undamaged and it was where the Berlin Philharmonic gave their first concert after the war. World stars like Louis Armstrong, Marlene Dietrich, Zarah Leander and Josephine Baker also performed here. But the cinema was comparatively out-of-the-way in the southwestern corner of Berlin, and the first Berlin International Film Festival was also the last one held in Steglitz. The only things that the present Titania-Palast really shares with the historical film theatre are its name and location. Outwardly, however, the new cinema has retained some architectural features of the original building in the New Objectivity style.

In 1952 the festival went to the Delphi-Filmpalast and the Capitol, which meant a move closer to the centre of the western part of the city. During the early years the Berlinale Bears were awarded on the open-air stage of the Waldbühne close to the Olympic Stadium. That was not a problem at that time because the competition was initially held in summer. At the 3rd Berlinale, international festival visitors discovered just how politically explosive the city was: on 17 June 1953, one day before the official opening ceremony for the Berlinale, there was a workers’ revolt in East Berlin.

Dream factory at the Zoo Palast

From 1957 until it moved to the Berlinale Palast at Potsdamer Platz in 2000 – in other words, to the centre of a reunited capital city – the film festival’s central venue was the Zoo Palast. The time of temporary post-war arrangements was over, and celebrities liked to appear at the premieres in the cinema at Bahnhof Zoo. One striking feature of the Zoo Palast is the listed ceramic facade on which film advertising can be painted by hand. And who was the largest film star to ever appear at the Zoo Palast? King Kong. In 1993, for his 60th birthday, he was enthroned on top of the city’s main cinema. Since 2014, following its renovation, the Zoo Palast has again become a Berlinale venue. Located not far from the listed Bikini-Haus, it is now part of the renaissance of City West in Berlin-Charlottenburg.     

Berlin International Film Festival until 15 February 2015