Berlinale 2017: Exploring Berlin's Many Movie Palaces Around the City
by Alex Billington
February 20, 2017
I love movie theaters. Every time I walk into one, I get the feeling I'm at home again. They are my places of worship, they are my cathedrals, they are my palaces. Every last city in the world has their own unique set of movie theaters, usually with an extensive and interesting history behind each one. Over the last 10 days of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival (aka "Berlinale") I was able to explore a number of different venues for screenings all over the city. I really love Berlin, and it's now my home where I live, but I'm still exploring and still going to places I've never been before. Looking back over this year's festival, I wanted to highlight a few of the gorgeous movie palaces I visited and share some photos of these places, since they're all so lovely.
There's nothing like watching a movie in these cinemas. But until you can visit and check them out yourself, photos will have to do. In total, there are roughly 25 different screening locations that Berlinale uses (full list here). Most of the major world premieres and press screenings take place at the Berlinale Palast (the Stage Theater am Potsdamer Platz converted to a cinema - as seen in the photo below), or at the CineStar megaplex at Sony Center and the Cinemaxx megaplex, both located at Potsdamer Platz as well. However, there are so many other cool theaters all over Berlin and I'm glad I ended up catching a few screenings at some places I had never been before. Before exploring a few of the new ones - a look at the Berlinale Palast.
The "retrospective" theme at Berlinale this year was science fiction. They showed a bunch of classic sci-fi movies, many of my personal favorites, and I was lucky enough to see The Fifth Element and the original Ghost in the Shell anime on the big screen. The Fifth Element screening was held at a place called the Zeughauskino - a smaller, 164-seat cinema located inside the Deutschen Historischen Museum (German History Museum) right across from Berlin's famous "Museum Island". The cinema was first launched as a public venue in 1992, and they show many older classic movies there on a regular basis during the rest of the year (official website here). The sound wasn't perfect, but I can't really complain about anything else. It's a very cool cinema and I hope to return again to see more movies. Here's my photo from the night I was there:
— Alex Billington (@firstshowing) February 11, 2017
The seats aren't that impressive inside the Zeughauskino, but it's still a very nice place to catch classic films.
While I've been to this next theater before, I always enjoy going to movies at the magnificent Zoo Palast cinema in Berlin. Located near the Zoologischer Garten (or Berlin Zoo) in the Charlottenburg neighborhood, this venue has a total of 5 screens. But the biggest one is a glorious 773-seat movie palace with amazingly comfortable reclining leather seats and a huge screen. This old venue was converted to a cinema in 1915, but has been upgraded since then. It's one of those grand movie palaces with a luxurious curtain that only rises right as the movie is about to start. Every seat in the house is a good seat. I love watching films inside this cinema, and I wish I could see more here during the rest of the year. At Berlinale this year, I attended the premiere of The Lost City of Z, James Gray's adventure into the Amazon, at Zoo Palast. Here's my photo:
You can find details and get info about what is currently showing at Zoo Palast by vising the official website.
Next up, I caught a documentary at a location known as the Delphi Filmpalast, an old art-deco cinema located a few blocks from the Zoo Palast. I had never been to this place before, but I was excited to get a look inside and watch a film here. It's a very unique, vintage movie palace with some interesting architectural features. The 661-seat cinema has been used by Berlinale since the beginning, and is the main venue for the Forum programme. It was opened in 1949 by the cinema owner Walter Jonigkeit, whose aim was to make it the city's largest and most elegant cinema for premieres. It's honestly not the most comfortable place, but it is another top-notch cinema. At Berlinale this year, I attended the screening of El Mar La Mar, a doc by Joshua Bonnetta & J.P. Sniadecki set on the US-Mexico border. Here's the big sign hanging out front:
One of the biggest venues at Berlinale is another stage turned into a cinema - Friedrichstadt-Palast. This place normally hosts elaborate stage shows throughout the year, but during Berlinale they toss up a giant screen and pack the house with cinephiles. Friedrichstadt-Palast is located on Friedrichstraße right near the Spree River. The seats in this place are the worst - they're made of wood without much padding, they don't move at all, and it feels terribly cramped (there's no leg room at all). But the screen is big, the sound is good, and the audience gets excited for big movies when they're in here together. Berlinale likes to use this venue for more popular screenings because it has 1,893 seats, and the more people they can get in, the better. I caught James Mangold's excellent Wolverine Western Logan here for my second time. Here's the entrance:
The final theater I want to highlight is the Colosseum at the UCI Kinowelt megaplex in the neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg. This is one of my other favorite movie palaces, mostly because it's another one-of-a-kind venue. There's a megaplex right next door showing tons of Hollywood movies, but their primary big screen is called the "Colosseum". The neon signs out front are beautifully old-school and totally alluring, attracting moviegoers likes flies from all over Berlin. The Colosseum cinema has 523 seats and first opened in 1924. When it first opened nearly a decade ago, it had seats for 1,200 but was eventually renovated (most likely to be more comfortable) in 1957. The seats aren't bad, they're not great either, but I still enjoy watching movies here. It seems like one of those long lost cinemas that is somehow still around, still alive, still thriving, and that makes me happy no matter what. I do plan to come back here throughout the year. Here's a look inside:
You can find details and get info about what is currently showing at Colosseum by vising the official website.
There's also a very cool cinema in the basement of the German Film Museum at the Sony Center called the Arsenal Cinema. This two-screen venue is two floors below ground level, but it's very nice. Great screens, comfy seats, another gem. I didn't get to see any films at Arsenal during Berlinale this year, but I've been there in years past. I love exploring all of the different cinemas around Berlin, and I'm always excited when I get to go somewhere new. There are so many amazing movie palaces hidden around Berlin, especially small art-house theaters that are still operating. Every cinema is unique, no two are the same. Many of the bigger ones still try to maintain that authentic cinema feeling by raising the curtain when the projector first goes on. And most of them have upgraded their seats so that everything is nice and comfortable. Another one I recommend is the Astor Film Lounge located in Charlottenburg. I love the aesthetic of the Astor cinema.
For more of my photos from Berlinale, follow me on Instagram - @abillington. You can also check out my post from a years ago - Dancing Bears: A Photographic Look at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival. Read more of my coverage and reviews from Berlinale right here. And find me on Twitter @firstshowing for more updates.