A Year in Berlin

An Englishman abroad

Another Year at the Freiluftkino

I can imagine a group of stoners, hiding away in a disused, derelict factory, sitting in a circle , smoking some weed and getting carried away.

“This place would make a great club.”
“Yeah, and this bit could be a café.”
“That tower over there would make a great climbing wall.”
“Climbing wall? Shit, man. No way.”
“Yep, and you could have a skate park over there.”
“Shit, that would be so cool.”
“And you know what? Stick a load of chairs in that bit, project films on that wall and boof! That’s an open air cinema.”

Of course, I have no idea how the Cassiopeia complex (as I’ll call it) came about. I’m sure it wasn’t anything like the above but I hope you get the idea (other than realising that dialogue isn’t my strong point).

Walking round yesterday, I was struck by the audacity of the people who created it. It would get slated in the UK. It would be portrayed as an eye-sore and local residents would combine to shut it down. If it survived the NIMBYs (I’ve been a NIMBY too, by the way, it’s a long story), economic realities of extortionate rents and rates would nobble the idea. And even if it survived all this, the weather would come along and wash the optimism away.

There’s a sense  inthe UK that you can’t just have and idea and think you’ll get away with it. In Berlin, the ideas come, take root and there are enough appreciative people around to make them work. Of all the cities and towns I’ve visited, I can’t imagine the Cassiopeia complex happening anywhere else.

I watched a documentary about Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark the other day. It showed a clip of the video from their first single, Messages. It was filmed in a disused factory. For some reason, the inside of disused factories seemed very familiar to me at that time. Perhaps I’d gone exploring in some? There were loads around Oldham – along with disused railway lines and lots of old industrial sites. I’m talking about the pre-convert-everything-to-over-priced-apartments days – that early 80s thing of dereliction, unemployment and change.

Factories and warehouses are designed as functional spaces – they convert to other uses very well. And some uses only need an electricity supply for the conversion. Goodness knows how many bands have practiced in old factories. They’re like weeds growing between the cracks in a pavement. These spaces are crucial and there are loads in Berlin.

Amid concrete and clay
And general decay
Nature must still find a way
(Stretch Out and Wait, The Smiths)

Anyway, before I go off on my usual thing of how places like Manchester have failed to produce anything truly creative for a long, long time (except perhaps The Warehouse Project – currently a holding page), I’d better get on with my point. We went to the Cassiopeia complex to watch Mike Leigh’s Another Year at the Freiluftkino Insel.

We’re not the biggest cinema goers. We watch lots of films on DVD but only go to the pictures every now and again. Most film screenings in Germany are dubbed so we’ve done the usual Googling for English language screenings. We’re fortunate to have several options – including drive ins and a choice of open air cinemas.

We weren’t convinced we fancied sitting outside all night to watch a film – the weather is good here but, crikey, it is only May. The YouTube clip below shows people going to lots of effort to make the whole thing work and we decided we should take some layers and show our support.

I love Mike Leigh films. My favourite is probably High Hopes and funnily enough, Another Year is almost a reunion of the High Hopes cast. In many ways, it’s a reunion of Mike Leigh’s dominant narrative too. Good people, unfortunate people and an often unsympathetic world.

If you’ve enjoyed Mike Leigh films before you’ll like Another Year. I certainly did – some great performances and that pathos Leigh does so well.

Finally, there’s the open air element to describe. It’s a new one for me.

Every now and again, the leaves above us would rustle in the strongish breeze. I’d look up at the perfectly clear sky – I noticed The Plough, a little to the west. It was a wonderfully novel and absolutely viable cinematic experience. Sound and projection quality were great too.

As for temperature, we needed our layers, for sure. It did get chilly but they also provide warm blankets. So, there I was, snug as a bug in a rug (on a white plastic garden chair), watching a great film. Perfect.

Oh, and finally, we decided to drive there as we hadn’t driven the car for a while. We drove right through the city centre, through Wedding, Rosenthaler Platz, Alexanderplatz, down Karl Marx Allee, onto Warschauer Str. and found a free parking space on Simon Dach Str. – right outside the Cassiopeia entrance.

Try doing that in London, or Manchester, or Liverpool, or Leeds, or Sheffield, or…

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This entry was posted on 25/05/2011 by in film, Uncategorized.
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