The bright lights of the Berlinale had always beckoned me from afar. I had been an accredited journalist for a few years attending numerous screenings in Hamburg and had also reported on Filmfest Hamburg and Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival, but I had shied away from the Berlinale.
The 68th Berlinale in 2018 was finally my chance to attend. My son’s animated film was premiering in the Generation Kplus section. That was the impetus to go, and he had complimentary tickets for me and my friends. The downside was trying to get tickets online for other films. Through pure persistence I was able to get a few tickets to obscure films in remote venues.
My focus on the 2019 Berlinale was on the Culinary Cinema. This beloved section where moviegoers viewed a film then attended a four-course meal cooked by a renowned chef and served in the Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum was spectacular. By 2019, my computer skills vis-à-vis the Berlinale were more finely tuned. I realized by then that tickets for any film/event were available three days in advance at precisely 10:00 in the morning. Quick reflexes, a fast finger, and rapid internet speed were vital. It worked! I got tickets for two films/dinners for myself and my fellow journalist Karen S. It was heartbreaking to read later that 2019 was the last year of the Culinary Cinema, but heartening to have been part of it at all.
Finally in 2020, I attended the Berlinale as a member of the press. As a badge-bearing journalist, I could skip nervously hovering over my computer precisely at 10:00 three days in advance to get a ticket. It was fascinating mingling with other journalists at the Press Centre at the Grand Hyatt. The Press WiFi-Lounge was a workspace crammed with industrious reporters facing deadlines churning out reviews on their laptops. While standing in the lobby I even saw Willem Dafoe pass by who I am convinced flashed me a smile. The atmosphere was low- key buzzing, intoxicating. On the last day there I saw two journalists wearing medical masks as they joined their colleagues in the WiFi-Lounge.
Then came the pandemic.
The 73rd Berlinale in 2023 was the first completely in-person Berlinale since the one I had last attended in 2020. Throngs of moviegoers, over 11,500, attended this year seemingly glad to “get back to normal.” International stars Kristen Stewart, Anne Hathaway, Peter Dinklage, Willem Dafoe, Matt Damon, Steven Spielberg, Helen Mirren, Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, John Malkovich, Geraldine Chaplin, Jesse Eisenberg, Joan Baez, Bono, and Nina Hoss all paraded on the red carpet during the festival. The Grand Hyatt was less of a meeting point for journalists since the Press WiFi-Lounge was now in the basement of the Berlinale Palast. Also, there were no longer crowds of journalists to chat to at the Hyatt Press Centre lining up to get tickets for the public screenings. ALL tickets were only available online this year. That was, I assume, one of the repercussions of the pandemic years. Journalists couldn’t just display their badges to get into the press showings anymore. So, this year two days in advance at precisely 7:00 in the morning there I was sitting at my computer, in the “Waiting Room” to get press tickets to be scanned at the door of each film.
Luckily, I already had mastered this skill set and was a veteran of the computerized ticket lottery, but not entirely convinced all progress is progress. But gee, I admit it, it was exhilarating to be back!