Berlinale: Diversity and Nazi past in spotlight at 70th Berlin film festival

Diversity, politics and revelations from the Nazi era will dominate the agenda when the Berlin film festival launches its 70th edition in the heart of the German capital this Thursday.

Berlinale: Diversity and Nazi past in spotlight at 70th Berlin film festival
Film lovers queuing for tickets for the Berlinale on Monday. Photo: DPA

One of Europe's biggest cinema events alongside Cannes and Venice, the Berlinale will this year showcase female directors and political films from across the globe while also confronting hard truths about its own murky history.

Following furious debate in Hollywood about the dominance of white and male nominees at recent award shows, the Berlinale's new directors have claimed the 11-day festival will represent the “diversity” of cinema.

“My goal is to ensure a platform for the films. We want to give room to diversity,” said co-director Carlo Chatrian.

“I don't say that we are presenting perfect films… but films that represent cinema in its diversity.”

New chiefs Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek take charge of the festival for the first time this year, after former boss Dieter Kosslick ended an 18-year spell at the helm in 2019.

Last year, Kosslick signed a “50/50” pledge to commit the festival to gender parity in future, calling for transparency in selection and an even gender ratio in top management.

At a recent press conference, Rissenbeek pointed out that the majority of section directors were now women after a reorganisation of the festival structure.

READ ALSO: Seven events you won't want to miss in Germany in February

Berlinale bosses Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. Photo: DPA

Yet only six of the 18 films in the running for this year's “Golden Bear” are directed by women, one fewer than in 2019.

They include British director Sally Potter's “The Roads Not Taken”, starring Javier Bardem and Salma Hayek, and “First Cow” by US indie director Kelly Reichardt.

A number of high-profile female figures are also set to grace the red carpet this year.

British Oscar winner Helen Mirren will receive a lifetime achievement award, while former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is set to appear for a five-part documentary on her life.

Nazi skeletons

Chatrian has warned against “stamping” the Berlinale as a political event, yet politics will be front and centre in the 70th edition.

The anniversary has already been overshadowed by revelations that Alfred Bauer, the Berlinale's founding director, was a high-ranking Nazi.

The prestigious Alfred Bauer prize, previously won by the likes of Baz Luhrmann, was suspended after an investigation by newspaper Die Zeit highlighted Bauer's standing in the Nazi party.

Alfred Bauer and actress Shirley Maclaine at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport in 1971. Photo: DPA

On Tuesday, festival organisers announced they had commissioned the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) to investigate Bauer's role in the Hitler regime.

Political films

The festival programme also includes a wealth of politically charged films.

Controversial Russian artistic project DAU will make its first appearance in Berlin since its 2018 plan to reconstruct the Berlin Wall in the heart of the German capital was thwarted by city authorities.

Two DAU films will be shown at the Berlinale with one, DAU Natasha, among those in competition.

READ ALSO: British actor Jeremy Irons to head 2020 Berlin Film Festival jury

Also in the running for the Golden Bear are “There Is No Evil” by Mohammad Rasoulof, an Iranian director currently unable to leave his home country, and Rithy Panh's “Irradiated”, a work on remembrance of the Cambodian genocide.

Brazilian director Caetano Gotardo's film about slavery “All the Dead Ones” is also up for the main prize, amid anger in Brazil over President Jair Bolsonaro's slashing of state support for the film industry.

Festival director Chatrian denied that the selection of Brazilian films was a rebuke to Bolsonaro, but said that “many filmmakers in Brazil are afraid of the cuts”.

This year's competition will be judged an international jury which is headed by British Oscar winner Jeremy Irons and also includes French-Argentine star Berenice Bejo.

The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on Saturday, February 29th.

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Eight amazing German museums to explore this spring

With thousands of years of history in Germany to explore, you’re never going to run out of museums to scratch the itch to learn about and fully experience the world of the past.

Eight amazing German museums to explore this spring

Here are eight of our favourite museums across Germany’s 16 states for you to discover for yourself. 

Arche Nebra

Nebra, Saxony-Anhalt

One day, around 1600 BCE, local Bronze Age peoples buried one of their most precious objects – the Nebra Sky Disk, a copper, gold, and bronze disk that acted as a calendar to help them plant crops. This was a matter of life and death at the time. 

Over three thousand years later, in 1999, it was uncovered by black market treasure hunters, becoming Germany’s most significant archaeological find. 

While the Sky Disk itself is kept in the (really very good)  State Museum of Pre- and Early History in nearby Halle, the site of the discovery is marked by the Arche Nebra, a museum explaining prehistoric astronomy and the cultural practices of the people who made it. 

Kids will love the planetarium, explaining how the disk was used. 

Atomkeller Museum

Halgerloch, Baden-Württemberg

From the distant to the very recent past – in this case, the Nazi atomic weapons programme. Even as defeat loomed, Nazi scientists such as Werner Heisenberg were trying to develop a nuclear bomb. 

While this mainly took place in Berlin, an old beer cellar under the town of Halgerloch, south of Stuttgart, was commandeered as the site of a prototype fission reactor. 

A squad of American soldiers captured and dismantled the reactor as the war ended. Still, the site was later turned into a museum documenting German efforts to create a working reactor – one that they could use to develop a bomb.

It’s important to note that you don’t need to be a physicist to understand what they were trying to do here, as the explanatory materials describe the scientist’s efforts in a manner that is easy to understand. 

German National Museum

Nuremberg, Bavaria

Remember that scene at the end of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, where an unnamed government official wheels the Ark of the Covenant into an anonymous government warehouse? This could possibly be the German equivalent – albeit far better presented. 

The German National Museum was created in 1852 as a repository for the cultural history of the German nation – even before the country’s founding. In the intervening 170 years, it’s grown to swallow an entire city block of Nuremberg, covering 60,000 years of history and hundreds of thousands of objects. 

If it relates to the history of Germany since prehistoric times, you’re likely to find it here.

Highlights include several original paintings and etchings by Albrecht Dürer, the mysterious Bronze Age ‘Gold Hats’, one of Europe’s most significant collections of costuming and musical instruments, and a vast display of weapons, armour and firearms. 

European Hansemuseum

Lübeck, Schleswig-Holstein

In the late Middle Ages, the political and economic centre of the world was focused on the North Sea and the Baltic German coasts. 

This was the domain of the Hanseatic League, one of the most powerful trading alliances in human history. Centuries before the Dutch and British East India Companies, they made in-roads to far-flung corners.

The European Hansemuseum in the former Hanseatic city of Lübeck tells the story of the league’s rise and eventual fall, its day-to-day operations, and its enduring legacy.

This museum is fascinating for adults and kids. It uses original artefacts and high-tech interactive elements to tell tales of maritime adventure. Younger visitors will also be enchanted by the museum’s augmented reality phone app that asks them to help solve mysteries. 

Fugger & Welser Adventure Museum

Augsburg, Germany

The Hanseatic League was not the only economic power in the late Middle Ages. The Fugger and Welser families of Augsburg may have been the richest in the world until the 20th century.

From humble beginnings, both families grew to become incredibly powerful moneylenders, funding many of the wars of the 16th century and the conquest of the New World.

The Fugger & Welser Adventure Museum not only explains the rise of both patrician families but also the practices that led to their inconceivable wealth—including, sadly, the start of the Transatlantic slave trade. 

The museum also documents the short-lived Welser colony in Venezuela, which, if it had survived, could have resulted in a very different world history.

This museum has many high tech displays, making it a very exciting experience for moguls of any age.

Teutoburg Forest Museum

Kalkriese, Lower Saxony

Every German child learns this story at some point: One day at the end of summer 9 AD, three legions of the Roman army marched into the Teutoburg forest… and never came out. 

Soldiers sent after the vanished legions discovered that they had been slaughtered to a man.

Arminius, a German who had been raised as a Roman commander, had betrayed the three legions to local Germanic tribes, who ambushed them while marching through the forest. 

Today, the probable site of the battle – we can’t entirely be sure – is marked by a museum called the Varusschlacht Museum (Literally ‘Varus Battle Museum’, named after the loyal Roman commander). 

The highlights here are the finds – made all the more eerie by the knowledge that they were looted and discarded from the legionaries in the hours following the ambush. 

German Romanticism Museum

Frankfurt, Hesse

The Romantic era of art, music and literature is one of Germany’s greatest cultural gifts to the world, encompassing the work of poets such as Goethe and Schiller, composers like Beethoven and artists in the vein of Caspar David Friedrich.

Established in 2021 next to the house where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born, the German Romanticism Museum is the world’s largest collection of objects related to the Romantic movement. 

In addition to artefacts from some of the greatest names in German romanticism, in 2024, you’ll find a major exhibition exploring Goethe’s controversial 1774 novel, ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, and another on the forest as depicted as dark and dramatic in the art of the period. 

Gutenberg Castle

Haßmersheim, Baden-Württemberg

Sometimes being a smaller castle is a good thing. The relatively small size and location of Guttenburg Castle, above the River Neckar near Heilbronn, protected it from war and damage over eight hundred years – it’s now the best preserved Staufer-era castle in the country.

While the castle is still occupied by the Barons of Gemmingen-Guttenberg, the castle now also contains a museum, that uses the remarkably well-preserved castle interiors to explore centuries of its history – and the individuals that passed through it.

After you’ve explored the museum—and the current exhibition that uses Lego to document life in the Middle Ages —it’s also possible to eat at the castle’s tavern and stay overnight!