History in the making
On November 9, 1989, Moritz de Hadeln wrote a letter to Horst Pehnert, chairman of the East German Film Bureau, that began with the following words: “During a private conversation with you at the 1989 Berlin International Film Festival, I […] suggested showing the official programme of the festival in East Berlin concurrently – practically simultaneously – with the screenings in West Berlin. Your reaction gave me the impression that you were very taken with the idea, but you answered that you seriously doubted either of us would ever experience such a thing.”
Even that afternoon there would have been no reason for de Hadeln to take up the matter again. But that night, everything was different: Berlin, Germany, the whole world – and in the midst of it the Berlinale – found themselves in an entirely new situation. Günther Schabowski’s declaration that East Germans were “as of immediately” permitted to travel without visas, meant nothing other than the fall of the wall and with it the end of the GDR.
Of course Moritz de Hadeln could not see this far into the future on November 9, 1989. His long-term goal was a citywide festival and a conceptual collaboration with the East German film authorities. His more concrete offer to Pehnert this time included an East Berlin screening of “the entire official programme” of the Berlinale, with the festival carrying the costs and taking care of the arrangements with producers and rights holders. The Berlinale director requested that the East Germans ensure the availability of an appropriately large cinema. Furthermore, in a veiled reference to border crossing regulations, there had to be assurances that Berlinale employees and “persons connected with the various films” would be able to attend the screenings in an uncomplicated manner.
Rising to the occasion: The first Berlinale to be held in both parts of the city
As early as the end of November, de Hadeln and Pehnert were able to meet during the "Leipziger Dokumentarfilmwoche" and discuss future plans. The festival director came away from the meeting with the sense that a positive decision from the East German authorities would be forthcoming, and preparations for financing the events began. Moritz de Hadeln’s audacious venture found favour with everyone. All could see the enormous political symbolism of having the Berlinale take place in both parts of the divided city. Nevertheless, many letters and phone calls were necessary before a suitably augmented budget was approved.
Even more painstaking effort was required to work out the special conditions that would make it possible to manoeuvre people and materials as smoothly as possible across the border and past the legal requirements and travel restrictions still in place. Arrangements were made allowing the films, advertising material and printed matter to be transported duty-free across the border, as well as allowing Berlinale guests to use the “diplomat’s lane” at the Invalidenstraße border crossing.
The directors of the other Berlinale sections were involved in the project as well, so that besides the complete Competition programme and a selection of Panorama films, the entire Kinderfilmfest line-up and a large part of the Forum programme were also shown in East Berlin. The Berlinale was given use of the Kosmos, Colosseum and Kino International cinemas free of charge. In return, the income from the ticket sales remained with the East Berlin local film authority, which also took over the advertising in the Eastern part of the city.
Historically most significant, but cineastically modest
In his catalogue forward, Moritz de Hadeln wrote that he “look[ed] forward to the reactions of the East German audiences, who can complete and correct our view of cinema”. No one could continue thinking of himself “as an islander”, he continued, everything was changing and needed to be rethought. “The Festival is taking on a pioneering role” in this process “and indicating possible new directions”.
Many, however, considered this pioneering role to be limited to the symbolic fact that the festival was being held in both parts of the reunited city. As far as the films themselves were concerned, the historical events of the day seemed to have taken the festival by surprise. Films that, taken on their own, were explosive, now seemed harmless, while those that under other circumstances would have at least offered good entertainment value seemed tasteless. One of the historically most significant Berlinale years ended up coming across as rather average in cinematic terms.