How thousands of people are trying to save Germany’s oldest cinema
A feature by Annette Nöstlinger
In the midst of Berlin’s – chaotic and diverse – Kreuzkölln neighbourhood, somewhere in between candle-lit shisha lounges and biergartens upholding the sacred Reinheitsgebot, lies Moviemento Kino. This cinema is Germany’s oldest, the place opened in 1907 and has been operating since. Now, 113 years later, its managers are fighting for the cinema’s existence as Germany’s largest private housing company – Deutsche Wohnen – has announced its plan to sell the property for a dazzling 2 Million Euros. However, a bunch of people have stood up to save the cinema and, quite surprisingly, they actually have a chance to do so.
Moviemento’s character has always been somewhat different. “It was a constructional curiosum. At that time, a cinema normally had one room, this one had two. One in front of the screen and one behind the screen. The people behind the screen thus saw the film the other way around. There was a mirror next to the screen so the public could read the subheadings. In 1907 there were silent movies only, so you could really do it like that. In terms of construction technology that, I think, was unique worldwide”, explains Wulf, who manages Moviemento with his partner since 2007.
“Apart from a very short time, around the end of the war, when there was nothing left in Berlin, the cinema has been continuously operating. The other side of the street was completely bombed away, but by chance nothing fell down here.”
The cinema’s building lies on the border of Berlin’s Kreuzberg and Neukölln neighbourhoods, a district known for its vast transformation, from a so-called ‘no-go zone’ in the first decade of this century, to the place-to-be over the past ten years. Here, one’s senses get sparked constantly; from freshly baked börek to sizzling currywurst, from Berliners arguing over bus delays to international hipsters ordering vegan dishes. The district’s rising popularity has led to ever rising property prices and the displacement of its original population.
A study conducted by GSG, has shown that the rents for commercial properties in Kreuzberg have risen by 15.2% every year since 2013. For Wulf, this doesn’t come as a surprise. “Basically, since we’ve been here, the building has been sold five times. Again and again – zack, zack, zack – always someone new”. Due to Moviemento’s rental contract which runs up until October 2020 the rent was never increased, but now the owners fear they will pay up to five times more if the property is sold for over 2 Million Euros.
“Last November we encountered a film worthy situation. Two real estate agents entered our foyer and told us they were selling the cinema rooms. We were like, what?! But yes, they were real and it was true”. The next day, after the first shock had sunk in, the owners decided to take action immediately. “In the end we realised that the only chance for places like this is to get them out of this completely crazy real estate market, otherwise they’re gone. And that’s when we thought: we just have to manage to buy this place.”
Up to this day, Wulf remains hopeful. “A lot of politicians wanted to talk to us, at the federal level, the Berlin level and the local level. There are politicians who have spread our call, there are those who support the crowdfunding campaign and those who called Deutsche Wohnen – obviously – because they complained about it.”
Gaby Gottwald, who represents Die Linke in Berlin’s parliament, is one of these politicians. “I have written to Deutsche Wohnen, to make it clear to them that they will be under constant observation if they choose to destroy the social infrastructure in our neighbourhoods.”
After being contacted by countless politicians and journalists, the real estate company called Wulf to explain that they are not planning to sell the cinema to someone else in the near future. “But I don’t know whether that’s true, I mean they’re real estate people, only the devil knows what they are really up to. But at least that’s what they said. Now there is a certain hope for us that we have time to collect the money.”
Deutsche Wohnen’s spokesman, Marko Rosteck, confirmed their willingness to cooperate with the owners. “Because of the media salience, Moviemento became a topic discussed by our board of directors. Now we are looking for a common solution. In the end, for us, the sale of the property is the most important, which can also be achieved by following an alternative path.”
Within Berlin’s public debate on gentrification, Deutsche Wohnen is often seen to represent the great evil. Moviemento, however, actually might have been lucky having to deal with this corporation. “Deutsche Wohnen won’t be able to break their promise, because of their image, that would just be another PR disaster. So it is actually helpful in these cases, to deal with big German corporations, instead of a nameless project company based in Luxembourg. If they break a promise, you won’t even find a natural person to hold accountable”, said Jochen Biedermann, Neukölln’s district councillor.
Over 130,000 Euros have been collected thanks to the support of over 2,300 people, who have donated online through a crowdfunding campaign. However, a discussion – on the crowdfunding platform – broke out, as people are raising questions about donating money to ensure private ownership. “I don’t understand the logic of this ‘rescue mission’. You want us to donate our money for private property? Can anyone explain this to me?”, Hannah comments.
Wulf admits that ownership will depend on the outcome of the crowdfunding campaign. “We have never done something like this before, we are still figuring out what forms of ownership could make sense. The idea will probably be that if we don’t collect enough money on time, we will say: okay, you can buy one square meter of our building for the official price, namely 3,300 Euros”.
The Berlinale 2019 – Berlin’s international film festival – had given Moviemento’s crowdfunding campaign a great push. Donation machines could be found all over the festival, where film lovers could spontaneously – and electronically – donate money to secure the cinema’s cause. At the start of the festival, a press conference on ‘the Future of Cinemas’ was held in Moviemento’s cinema rooms, where famous directors such as Tom Tykwer – who owned the cinema in the ’90s and is known from his productions Lola Run and Perfume – fully supported the crowdfunding campaign. “Operators of small cinemas enable a movie experience to be harmonious. In ‘film factories’, a totally different scenario takes place”. To which his colleague, Wim Wenders – known from Himmel über Berlin – added: “This cinema is one of the last cultural sites we have.”