Cinephiles unite at the annual Berlinale Film Festival in February, a premiere destination for international, arthouse and new German film. Best of all, the festival is in Berlin, one of Europe’s most forward-thinking, experimental and unique cities, which is reflected in the quirky, robust lineup. In this article, you’ll get our top tips for making the most out of your festival experience and leaving full to the brim with the best of Berlin.
1. Stay where you play
Although many of the festival cinemas are located near Potsdamer Platz, the area itself is a bit square and boring. With easy access to Potsdamer by U-bahn, S-bahn and bus, there’s no reason to stay here when cheaper hotels and better nightlife can be found in nearby Mitte and Kreuzberg.
Staying near Alexanderplatz (in Mitte) gives you a direct line to Potsdamer, as well as a great base-of-operations and a well-connected train station for exploring the rest of the city. It also puts you right next to Museumsinsel (Museum Island), the island home of Berlin’s top art museums and a refreshing place to recharge with some pre-20th-century art. Just south of Potsdamer Platz is Kreuzberg, the notorious punk neighborhood of West Berlin that used to be enclosed by the Berlin Wall. Make time for a decadent Sunday brunch here (it takes at least three hours) at one of the dozens of one-of-a-kind cafes.
2. Embrace early mornings and load up on tickets
If you are only going to see one film or show, you might buy tickets online or in person at one of the Berlinale kiosks near festival village at Potsdamer Platz. But for those of us who come to Berlinale to see movies all day, every day, a festival pass is essential. Get to the festival box office early (6:00 or 6:30 am is ideal) with your pass in hand to queue up for tickets to the day’s films. The box office opens at 8:00 am, but patrons can wait inside the building starting at 7:00 am, by which time there is already a long queue. Hot coffee is free inside and friendships are often forged in the chatty waiting area when excitement is high.
The program is only released a few weeks before the festival, so if you haven’t had time to look at it yet, don’t fear. You’ll have plenty of time waiting in the queue to familiarize yourself with the films playing that day and picking out a schedule that works for you. Have some backup films in mind in case tickets are sold out for your first choice. And you can always show up and wait in the “standby” line if your show has already been taken.
3. Befriend the Berliner
Want to find the festival parties and stay up every night until the sun comes up? Start chatting with friendly Berliners. Find them on your morning bakery run (try the signature jelly donut , also called a Berliner, to get the conversation flowing) or at coffee shops and waiting areas in Martin Gropius-Bau (where all of the “film business” business takes place) or in a lecture hall at the Hebbel am Ufer (HAU). Meet film students at the WAU (Wirtshaus am Ufer), the HAU’s cafeteria-style lunchroom, to find hot tips and a hot meal at student-friendly prices.
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5. Build your cinema knowledge at the Talents program
Take advantage of all the lectures, filmmaking courses and special events that are open to the public during the Berlinale Talents series. The Talents program is a selective set of young filmmakers chosen to participate in unique mentoring and filmmaking opportunities, but often the lectures, information sessions and interviews with filmmakers are open to anyone with a festival pass. If tickets are required, you’ll find them in the early morning box office queues; for some events, tickets aren’t issued and you can slide into the HAU if there are extra seats.
5. See the stars at a Palast screening
The largest venues of the festival - Friedrichstadt Palast, Zoo Palast and Berlinale Palast - are where you’ll see stars. Films in competition, special screenings and premieres of films from high-profile actors and directors will screen at these grand cinemas. Even if you can’t get a ticket for the show, you’ll have a chance to see your favorite celebrities posing on the red carpet outside these venues. Show up early for a chance to get a photo, autograph, or maybe even a standby seat to these events.
If you’re just a star-tracker, you can show up every night at one of these venues for a big premiere and you’ll see some stars.
See Berlin at its best when you attend Berlinale
Ready to meet the Golden Bear and see all that Berlin has to offer for filmmakers and film lovers? Discover why Berlin is a great film festival city when you explore the neighborhoods, see the stars and build your own Berlin story.
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