Many Hamburgers consider Berlin to be just another suburb of their own beloved city. Naturally, it’s not; it’s the capitol of Germany with a population twice as big as Hamburg. But the two cities are very close together, just 90 minutes by train. A daytrip to Berlin to enjoy the 65th Berlinale film festival is doable.
I tested this theory on a Saturday. My train ticket was 78 euros or half price, since I had a special train deal which gave me 50% off (Bahnkarte 50). I wanted a ticket good for all trips, so that I could spontaneously decide when to leave and return.
All day Friday I sat hunched in front of the computer reading everything on the Berlinale website. Do you think that I understood how to book a ticket online? Far from it. However, I did understand that if the icon (which looks like two pieces of paper, one dark and one light, on top of each other) was crossed out, then that ticket was sold out for online customers. All of my choices were crossed out. No matter: it’s Berlin; here I come.
I left Saturday morning from Dammtor train station at 7:00. The trip was uneventful, a nice relief from my otherwise hectic schedule. I got out at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, took the S-Bahn to Zoologischer Garten, changed to the U-2 and rode to Mendeslsohn Bartoldy Park. That’s one stop before Potsdamer Platz, but near the Potsdamer Platz Arcade where the main ticket office was. The Arcade is a big mall, across from the Grand Hyatt Hotel and next to the Audi Berlinale Lounge. Next to it is the Berlinale Palast, where all the premieres take place. You recognize it immediately with the red carpet and the TV screens showing either LIVE press conferences (which are only available for accredited journalists) or reruns.
Inside the Arcade I immediately picked up the entire schedule in print magazine form, as well as the Berlinale Journal, a 148-page magazine which also has the schedule, as well as small descriptions of all films in both English and German. I truly love print. I understand it! There was also a stand where young women sold Berlinale souvenirs: a mug, a bag (the same one accredited journalists received), a baby’s bib, etc.
The middle of the Arcade was crowded with people patiently waiting in three long. One was for people, fetching tickets they had ordered online. Two were for general tickets. One ticket counter had a big screen at the top which listed all the films, each noted in green, yellow or red which indicated: still available, limited availability, or sold out. I didn’t mind waiting, because a wait would give me time to find my bearings and decide which films I might want to see. It took 30 minutes for me to realize that all the films on the board were for the NEXT and all following days. None for today! Were they sold out?
I talked to the nice, young woman behind me. She said, “Films for the day are only available at the individual cinemas where they will play. All tickets at the Arcade ticket office are only for the next days. You have to go to the respective cinemas.” Film people, whether film makers or fans, are all very nice is my experience.
I chose to try for three cinemas which were nearby, so that I would lose no time riding around the city: Cinemaxx, CineStar and Forum. Cinemaxx is right across from the Arcade and the other two are one street over in the SONY center. By then all the 10 a.m. films had already begun. There was a long line at Cinemaxx, too, and the girl in charge kept saying, “I’m not here to answer questions,” although she was wearing a Cinemaxx blouse. People wanted to know if they had to stand in the long line or go to one of the counters where there were no lines. I decided she was no help and sat down in the Cinemaxx restaurant for a ham and cheese sandwich and a look at the Cinestar schedule.
At Cinestar there was an extra, well-marked line for Berlinale tickets. All of my three choices were available at 10 euros each, running from 12 noon until 19:15. All three were in the Panorama category, two documentaries and one feature, all candidates for the Panorama audience prize.
I saw Une Jeunesse Allemande by French director Jean-Gabriel Périot, a documentary about the German Baader-Meinhoff Red Army Faction. The second film was Misfits, a documentary by Jannik Splidsboel from Denmark. He featured three gay American teenagers and their difficult life in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA. The last film was Out of my Hand about a man from Liberia who goes to NYC to drive a taxi. Although it plays in Liberia and New York City, the director is a young Japanese man, Takeshi Fukunaga and this was his first feature film. All three directors answered questions from the audience after the showing; all three films and Q & As were in English.
By chance I met up with my friend Shelly at the Misfits film. She was an accredited journalist at the Berlinale. We had 30 minutes for a quiet cup of coffee and she told me about films she had seen so far. She had scheduled an official interview with director Splidsboel for the next day. I also had some time to walk over to my favorite women’s hotel, Intermezzo, at Gertrud-Kolmar Strasse, five minutes from Cinestar. I knew that this hotel had long closed down; the sign was still there, but there was no sign of life. Perhaps the building will be torn down and rebuilt, as so much has been done at Potsdamer Platz and Berlin-Mitte. At the end of Gertrud-Kolmar-Strasse I was surprised to find – just that – one building gone and a huge big mall in its place: a café under a huge roof and gangways connecting the different levels of the mall. I was happy to see that the building also houses a new Motel One Hotel, right at Leipziger Platz next to the Potsdamer Platz U- and S-Bahn. They had rooms available for the duration of the Berlinale at 83 euros per night without breakfast.
At the end of a long day, I stopped in at the Audi Berlinale Lounge for a discussion, free of charge and open to the public, with producer Christoph Bauer and lead actress Laura Tonke about their film Hedi Schneider is Stuck (Steckt Fest to open in Hamburg cinemas on May 7).
I took the last train out of Berlin at 21:10, after having enjoyed a WHOLE day of the Berlinale, including three films, discussions, snacks, sightseeing, and train ticket for the price that I had paid earlier for my one ticket to the musical Das Wunder von Bern in Hamburg.