What is the Kino International?
Modernist cinema built in the 1960s in the former East Germany amidst a period of architectural renewal and cultural vibrancy in East Berlin.
Roland Arhelger, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Kino International History
Resident of Berlin or just passing through, art house film enthusiasts will find nowhere better to glimpse the latest and boldest films than at Kino International. The cinema occupies a prime position among the East German landmarks of Karl-Marx-Allee and is enrobed in a dramatic history all of its own. The cinema, which retains much of its original splendour still today, opened its doors in November 1963, amidst a period of architectural renewal and cultural vibrancy in East Berlin.
East Germany was in the process of breaking with the Stalin-era Confectioner Style (dubbed as such for its exaggerated decoration) that still typifies much of this grand boulevard; its architects began to experiment with more sober prefabricated residential buildings. Along with an increased population came the need for a neighbourhood centre, which prompted the construction of a smattering of cultural and culinary institutions designed by architect Josef Kaiser. A former adherent to the Confectioner Style, Kaiser found himself inspired – and likely under some pressure – to pioneer a new style that would display the cultural nous of the East, revealing East Berlin to be just as modern as its western counterpart. This manifested in the iconic Café Moskau and Mokka-Milch-Eisbar, each with their own eye-catching forms, façades, and detailing.
Here, locals would gather to catch up over a morning coffee, or enjoy an afternoon pit stop with friends. And then, for evening entertainment and weekend culture, there was Kino International. In the case of the latter, Kaiser may have succeeded all too well in his ambition to match and supersede West Berlin architecture. The striking similarities between Kino International and two classic West Berlin buildings, the Zoo Palast cinema and the Deutsche Oper opera house, have not gone unnoticed.
Any such parallels aside, the cinema’s remarkable form undoubtedly held its own back then, as it continues to do today. Its periscopic first floor, on which the 550-seat screening room is situated, stretches nine metres out in front of the ground-floor façade, fronted by a wide window punctuated by a single panel featuring the current film on show; rotating posters are painted by hand even today. To stay financially afloat, the cinema was compelled in the 1970s to add Western productions to its programming, resulting in a relatively diverse line-up setting Cabaret and Dirty Dancing alongside award-winning East German films like Solo Sunny. If films were deemed too critical of the regime, however, the ruling totalitarian Socialist Unity Party would shut down the viewing schedule.
The building’s side and back replace windows with reliefs by the East German artists Waldemar Grzimek, Karl-Heinz Schamal and Hubert Schiefelbein. Depicted across 14 cast concrete plates, the utopian scenes of machinery liberating labourers from manual work bear a more futuristic slant than its title – From the Lives of Today’s People – lets on. After East Germany and its visions for the future deflated in 1989, the popular Berlin independent cinema chain Yorck Cinema Group took over the building; today one of the official and proud venues of the capital’s beloved annual Berlinale Film Festival, Kino International has rolled out the red carpet to many a star over the years since.
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