Last update on February 28, 2019
Written by JB

Our editor takes the plunge and discovers that the Berlin Film Fest is worth the trouble.

I was a slow convert.

I have lived in Berlin for four years and at first, just couldn’t be bothered with the Berlinale. In the US, I always had to wait for the occasional big foreign hit to be released into an ‘alternative’ American movie theatre or attend a special film festival. But here, there is feast of foreign films available, anytime I want.

No, I didn’t need the Berlinale, especially the legwork involved in picking through an enormous selection of movies, the Herculean effort to get tickets or the intense crowds.

Berlinale: getting tickets

This year, I decided to see what all the hype is about. I managed to comb through the program before tickets went on sale. I spent a few hours making a schedule for buying tickets and seeing films. And I was online each morning at 10 a.m. on the designated day the tickets I wanted were to go on sale.

What a pain.

First of all, getting tickets is insane. I opted to buy online which might seem easier. Wrong. Here is how it generally goes: I go online, ready to buy, and there is a sign next to the movie showing that it is not available yet for purchase even though it is supposed to be. I keep refreshing the web page. A few minutes later, a sold out symbol shows up.

The first time this happened, I didn’t buy into it: The movie I wanted was too obscure to be sold out in less than a minute. So I kept refreshing. And refreshing. And refreshing. Voila – finally a symbol appeared that it was available.

Next, you have to hope you don’t get the ‘not available’ message that frequently appears after you have selected a movie. Otherwise, you might face a long wait to confirm. This takes repeated pressing of the confirm button every 20 seconds because of caller volume holding you hostage to the computer.

Picking up tickets is also annoying: It is necessary to navigate the crowds at Arkaden (shopping mall) in touristy Potsdamer Platz and wait a minimum of 30 minutes in line, if you can find the right line.

On the night: my Berlinale experience

The night arrives: another wait, another pushy crowd. And, of course, the chance there are no seats left because theatre staff lets in people with accreditation to sold out movies. And I kept thinking, I can’t believe I went through all this.

Still, watching the world premiere of “Fighter,” a Danish movie about a young girl of Turkish immigrant parents who loves martial arts was a magical experience. The frisson of excitement in the crowd at the Babylon Theater Sunday and the presentation and comments by the director and cast who were on hand made this more than a night at the movies.

Ditto for the Danish production, “To Verden” (Worlds Apart), the true story of a young teenage Jehovah’s Witness who struggles with her faith. In fact, that night, the real woman at the center of the story made an appearance with the tearful director and cast to a standing ovation Berlinale crowds are different, more enthusiastic, more connected, maybe even more grateful.

And even though German director Doris Doerrie didn’t show up for the screening of her new film, Kirschblueten Hanami (Cherry Blossums – Hanami) Tuesday night at the glamorous International cinema, it didn’t really matter. I was moved by this story of an older man coming to grips with his grief over his wife’s sudden death and the experience of seeing it with other Doerrie fans one nice Dutch fan even offered us a ride home out of the blue when he saw the long wait for a cab.

I guess I have discovered that the Berlinale is worth the trouble. You might even call me addicted. And I have three more screenings to look forward to and next year, of course.