Brewing cinema culture: Berlin's Haus Zukunft revels in funky atmosphere
Welcome to Kino Zukunft & Freiluftkino Pompeji, near Ostkreuz, Berlin, Germany. Although it is flanked by two streets and car-repair shops on either side, there’s limited neighborhood parking. You can get there by tram as long as you cross long bridges across a multitude of train tracks. Intersecting at one of the busiest stations in the country with 140,000 daily travelers, Ostkreuz is going through a ten-year modernization process to boot.
“I wish people would just get over this. It’s not that far and not such a big deal,” sighs Haus Zukunft’s all-around guy-in-charge about the 300-meter trek across the tracks. He prefers to stay anonymous and was kind enough to open early for a tour of this truly unique venue. “When they finally make it here, they just love it!” (As did your traveling reporter.)
After showing our readers Cultureplexes in South Korea, and CineBowl & Grills and similarly Cinergy-stic Multi-tainment venues in North America, and highlighting their particular XSCAPE options, we now set our sights on a burned-out techno/rave club and former print depot for East German distributor Progress. While the place is plenty progressive, to be sure, our seventh entry in Film Journal International’s exclusive series about Cinema Entertainment Centers does not feature laser tag or rope climbing or bowling, not even arcade games. And it is not much of a restaurant either (more a place for barbeque). There are only two screens year-round with digital projection, but not (yet) of the DCI-compliant kind.
So you may wonder: What makes this Kino qualify as a Cinema Entertainment Center? Herr W. Gladow (*), who coordinates advertising and outreach as well as programming all the films at Zukunft and the 106-year-old Tilsiter Lichtspiele cinema and pub (http://tilsiter-lichtspiele.de, less than three miles, or 4.5 km, away), was mulling over that very point too.
The enterprising ownership collective of 15 to 30 people overall (“several permanent members and a large contingency of people who will hop in and help out when and where needed”) has proudly named their venue with the German word for “future.” And they think of the 2,500-square-meter (16,900 sq ft.) facility as the Haus and Ranch Zukunft. “There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on,” the website promises in English. At the risk of his claim “sounding a bit impudent,” Gladow nonetheless feels, “This is the last truly interesting and very ‘cool’ location in the entire city of Berlin. Our goal is nothing less.”
He provides the reasons: “We have the ‘Programmkino’ with two screens and our ‘Kino Bar’ with live music—jazz on Wednesdays and folk music on Sunday. We repurposed former office space for the gallery ‘Bildersaal,’ and in the basement our music club ‘Tiefgrund’ is hosting a lot of live concerts.” Also part of the Ranch is an open-air cinema and concert/event stage. It’s appropriately named “Pompeji,” not only for the “Mediterranean atmosphere”: Just imagine sitting in the “ruins” of an old warehouse for film prints without the roof. Projection there is still powered by 35mm, with Sony 4K coming soon to augment the core summer season. A vinyl truck cover has become its weatherproof screen. (Quite ingenious, if you ask me.) Another former warehouse is outfitted—with the same loose chairs that are outside at Pompeji—as “Theater Zukunft” for plays and other staged performances.
Just recently completed, the on-site brewery supplies the foamy goods fresh and homemade. There are two beer gardens now to enjoy them in, of course. “Finally, there will be enough beer,” Gladow enthuses. “We already sold home-brewed beer at both Tilsiter and Zukunft. But the supplier just couldn’t keep up with the demand,” he explains. “With the new facility, we hope to get the production—always in kegs, never in bottles—to a point where we can deliver to select other pubs as well. Using the proceeds to support our cultural efforts.” Looking further into the future, the Zukunft team plans to add a terrace to the brewery.
“Our Tilsiter Lichtspiele is the second-oldest Kino (**) in the city.” Gladow says, explaining the idea behind “Kino-Troika Friedrichshain,” as the venues are now operating together under a logo featuring the clipped Quadriga found on top of Brandenburg Gate. “Kino Zukunft is the youngest and Freiluftkino Pompeji the most unusual Kino in Berlin. So it fits well together, especially since all of them—and us—share a spirit of adventurous and independent programming.” Indeed, the jury of cinema programming honors that are awarded by the state of Berlin Brandenburg went so far as to call their choices “pretty radical.”
For the Zukunft collective, “Kino, Kunst, Kultur and whatever else goes well with that are very important,” Gladow says about combing cinema, the arts and culture. “We want to create something with our very own hands, with a budget of zero and plenty of passion, lots of diligence and good stamina. Even if that takes years...”
That kind of freewheeling experimentation simply cannot be done in the everyday operation of a Kino and pub like Tilsiter. Gladow calls that type of business not expandable. “Zukunft is exactly the opposite. It’s a big place that will keep us busy for years to come.” Since starting out two-and-a-half years ago by clearing away garbage and rubble from the fire-ravaged space, “there is always something to do,” Gladow assures. “We are always bringing another piece to the mosaic, with a new, important element added each year… That’s the principle behind our Zukunft, it never ends. We are offering people a place of change.”
In doing so, “we don’t need a million-euro budget that comes from banks or sponsorship that needs to be paid back. We also don’t need a big business plan. We just get going with the nail in one hand, the hammer in the other and the idea in our heads. You don’t need more than that.”
Readily admitting that this sounds a bit like ideology, Gladow reassures that there are legal business entities to make sure that all dealings are professional and according to the regulations. “We know that we have to function as a business, pay our employees and landlords, gas and electricity, making sure investments are recouped.” But, again, there are no hard-set rules of business. “As long as we don’t do anything wrong, the mix always works… Given the fact that we have been doing this for a while, we really can’t do much wrong. The number of our guests has catapulted up—we cannot complain about lack of acceptance for what we do.”
With the 66-seat Tilsiter number one in the Troika (since Feb. 18, 1994) and Open Air Pompeji launching in August 2011, this also explains why the Zukunft Kinos, in January and February 2012, rose to numbers three and four. Offering capacities of six and three rows, respectively, with 48 and 25 seats total, six different films are shown daily (€4.90, US$6.75). A special “Kinderkino” program for kids plays Friday to Sunday (€3.90) and screenings with curated shorts are also part of the mix. Similarly, during the first month of the 2014 open-air season, the 100-odd-seat Pompeji offered 14 different films, taking moviegoers from El Topo and Montana Sacra to Behind the Candelabra, with a Stranger by the Lake and Prince Avalanche stopping by for a visit. German films included comedy/coming-of-age dramas, Ich fühl mich Disco (I Feel Like Disco) and Scherbenpark, as well as the warmly touching and wonderfully entertaining Hanna’s Journey (watch the trailer here.) Announcing the new season in March, Pompeji insisted that “Springtime for Hitler and Germany” is here, quoting the indelible lyrics from Mel Brooks’ The Producers. “Unlike the U.K. and USA,” he reminds us, “there is no joking about Hitler in the public and cultural space in Germany. But for film freaks, it is always nice when a Kino site quotes from film history up and down.”
Speaking of up and down, the seasonal opening of Pompeji is April 30, or Walpurgisnacht, when German folklore has witches meeting on the highest peak in the Harz Mountains. Starting at 3 p.m. with “Braufest,” Zukunft celebrated completion of the brewery and inauguration of “Waldgarten,” the second beer garden on the property. Four music acts played 45-minute sets on the outdoor stage before Teresa Bergman took her music inside the Kinobar, where t-berg Basecamp took over entertaining the crowds later on. At 10 p.m. in the basement, “Maybe A Wretch” brought “psychedelic/desert rock” to the club Tiefgrund. With six films showing on the two cinema screens throughout the day, Pompeji presented Ich fühl mich Disco, with English subtitles and actor/producer Heiko Pinkowski joining the kickoff party.
The furnishings throughout Haus Zukunft are as casual as the programming mix—if not necessarily all that cozy. Pretty much everything in the decidedly retro-deutsch décor (I seem to remember a small mirror ball too) comes from somewhere else, the incognito man-about-Zukunft told FJI during the tour. The wallpaper used to hang in a power plant, the ceiling lights in a hospital. Tables, chairs and couches look like they were bought second-hand, if not third. It all goes well together and seems to have been there forever, just like the freight elevator that still sits in what is now Kino Bar and cinema lobby.
One set of cinema seats are from a Kino in Leipzig. Since there is no room for curtains in the two auditoriums, the video beamer projects a red-velvet image of the real one at Tilsiter Lichtspiele onto the screens. These digital projectors come from “Panasonic, Toshiba, Samsung and others and the servers are built up by the same guy who also works as the brew-meister.” The Pompeji’s 35mm is a Czech Meopta that, sitting on a wooden platform, is protected from the elements by a makeshift shed and covered in tarp when not in use. (Just wondering what the upcoming Sony 4K machine will think about being housed in a wood box with sides and front being removed for use.)
“There is a bit of nostalgia going on,” Gladow concurs with our summary observation. And this might very well be just the recipe behind this successful entertainment brew. “People are looking for more of that legendary ‘Berlin feeling’ that was so prevalent during the 1990s.” Gladow says, referring to the “Umbruchzeit,” that time of great change, especially in East Berlin, following the “Wende” after the Wall came down. “People are longing for places that still hold the potential for chaos and spaces where they can realize their ambitions. Or at least observe how others are doing this and share that kind of experience as a guest, where they can feel part of a whole.”
Originality and authenticity are certainly something that Haus and Ranch Zukunft exude in good measure. “We want to represent a little bit of that which has made Berlin as it is and carry the torch forward. With a good conscience and without it mutating into a cheap business trick,” Gladow assures. “Our venues offer a true feeling to people and not just hollow pants… Kino, Kultur and Kneipe [bars] all belong together for us. It is important to not just enter the cinema and leave immediately after the movie. We want people to meet here and hang out, talk about what they saw and what they have experienced... We are a gathering place, not one for getting traffic through quickly and efficiently.”
Remember, Haus Zukunft is not the Ostkreuz, just near it.
(*) “There are no names at Kino Troika.” Like everyone else in the collective, the team member who spoke to Film Journal International prefers to remain incognito. For the public and media, he has created the Kunstfigur [fictional character] of W. Gladow, also found listed as web designer. This name alludes to the infamous Werner Gladow, who was beheaded at age 19—in 1950, during the first execution in East Germany—for his crime sprees and homicides in the ruins of the not-yet-divided city. Gladow and his crew fashioned themselves after Hollywood’s gangster movies and he became known as “Al Capone of Berlin.”
(**) Though it opened in 1908, Tilsiter Lichtspiele is nonetheless only the second-oldest operating cinema in the city behind Moviemento in Berlin-Kreuzberg, which actually lays claim to being the oldest in Germany. Located on the second floor, Moviemento’s first operator in 1907 was Alfred Topp. (Marketing) Legend has it, that’s how the moniker “Kintopp” came about, which is the German equivalent of Nickelodeon, if you will. Holding its current name since 1984, director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The International, Cloud Atlas) was a projectionist and programmer there, admitting to having received his “filmic socialization with the triple-feature of Bambi, Gandhi and Zombie."