Berlinale: Berlin Festival to award first ‘gender-neutral’ acting award on final day

The 71st Berlin Film Festival wraps up on Friday after a pandemic-era edition unlike any before, with the awarding of its Golden Bear best picture prize and its first "gender neutral" acting gongs.

Berlinale: Berlin Festival to award first 'gender-neutral' acting award on final day
A sign to buy tickets for the Berlinale. In June, the festival will take place live. Photo: DPA

The later, shorter, all-online Berlinale which started Monday replaced the usual 11-day star-studded extravaganza normally held in February.

Critics watching the movies on their laptops said that for all the lack of red-carpet glamour, it was a vintage year for the main selection of 15 films, with few duds and a clutch of gems.

“Petite Maman”, a moving coming-of-age drama by France’s Celine Sciamma, and “Mr Bachmann and His Class”, an ambitious German school documentary, were lavished with praise.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called Sciamma’s latest “a spellbinding jewel” and a “beautiful fairytale reverie”, while New York-based critic David Ehrlich compared it to the Japanese classic “Spirited Away” for blurring the “soft borders between real and invented worlds”.

Outdated sex distinctions

Weighing in at nearly four hours, Maria Speth’s “Mr Bachmann and His Class” portrays an iconoclast teacher on the cusp of retirement who takes his secondary school pupils from a range of immigrant backgrounds under his wing.

Indiewire said it was “one of the year’s most hopeful movies” while Britain’s ScreenDaily said the affable Bachmann seemed like “Bill Murray’s German cousin” with a knack for boosting his pupils’ self-esteem in the face of poverty and discrimination.

Germany turned in two light crowdpleasers — albeit without the crowds — with actor Daniel Brühl’s directorial debut “Next Door” and “Unorthodox” director Maria Schrader’s sci-fi romance “I’m Your Man”.

READ ALSO: Berlin gentrification takes spotlight in new film by actor Daniel Brühl

In the latter movie, British star Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) uses his fluent German to play a custom-made humanoid robot designed to win the heart of a flinty Berlin museum researcher.

Variety called him a “wry revelation, progressing from rigid, unworldly physical comedy to near-living, breathing emotional turmoil”.

The enthusiasm raised speculation Stevens could walk away with the Berlinale’s first “best performance” Silver Bear, after the festival did away with its best actor and actress trophies. A supporting performance will also be rewarded.

Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton have both welcomed Berlin’s bid to set aside outdated sex distinctions, a move the festival’s director Mariette Rissenbeek told AFP was aimed at “spurring the discussion about gender justice” in the entertainment industry.

‘Gripping and impressive’

Reviewers also swooned over the first Georgian picture in competition in almost 30 years, “What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?”, about two lovers who don’t recognise each other when a curse changes their appearance.

Variety reviewer Jessica Kiang called the “witty, warm, surprising modern folktale” her favourite of the race.

Mexico’s Alonso Ruizpalacios premiered the Netflix feature “A Cop Movie” which mixes documentary and narrative techniques to look at the struggles of police work in the country’s capital.

The Hollywood Reporter hailed it as a “an intriguing, completely deconstructed look at what it takes to both be a cop and to play one, especially in a place where cops are often regarded as criminals themselves”.

Meanwhile German drama “Fabian: Going to the Dogs”, a Weimar-era tragedy about the descent into fascism, drew favourable comparisons to the hit series “Babylon Berlin”, with Der Spiegel magazine calling it “gripping” and “impressive”.

The Berlinale jury is made up of six previous Golden Bear winners including last year’s laureate, dissident Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, who claimed the prize for “There Is No Evil”, about capital punishment.

Five of the members saw the films in person in the German capital in a specially reserved cinema, while Rasoulof watched from Tehran under house arrest.

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8 easy and fun ways to learn more about Germany

One of the most difficult things about moving to a new country is immersing yourself in the culture and history. Here are eight effortless ways to deepen your knowledge of Germany.

8 easy and fun ways to learn more about Germany

Whether you’ve been in the country 10 days or 10 years, there are bound to be some parts of Germany you don’t know as well as others, or gaps in your knowledge about its history and culture. 

From the rich maritime history of northern cities like Hamburg to the vibrant folk traditions in the south, Germany is a diverse and fascinating country, and finding out more about it can be hugely rewarding.

Of course, not everyone has time to pore over endless history books or study the complete works of Goethe – and the good news is, you don’t have to.

Getting to know Germany better can be as easy as strolling through a new city, binge-watching German TV or visiting a fun museum with family and friends.

To get you started, here are eight easy ways to learn more about Germany’s history and culture.

Visit a folk festival 

Regardless of the season, there are endless folk festivals to enjoy all around Germany, and they’re far more than just opportunities to drink beer and eat sausages (although you can definitely do that too). 

From finding out about Riesling wine in the Mosel Valley to Spargel (asparagus) in Beelitz, folk festivals are a great way to dip your toes into regional customs, cuisine and culture and soak up the feelings of local pride. 

Whether it’s a large-scale event like Munich’s Oktoberfest or the Weimar Zwiebelmarkt, or a more intimate gathering like Lübeck Hansafest, most folk festivals are a great way to get a feel for specific regions in Germany. What’s more, you’ll often see local artists on the line-up and local craftspeople selling their wares, most of whom will be happy to chat with you about what they do. 

READ ALSO: 10 unmissable events taking place in Germany in 2024

Take a crash-course in German history

If talk of the Holy Roman Empire or Hanseatic League leaves you scratching your head, you may want to find a fun way to brush up your knowledge of German history.

For those who are short on time, there are few better options for doing so than the Deutschlandmuseum in Berlin. This new addition to the capital’s museum scene is located just a stone’s throw from Potsdamer Platz and the Mall of Berlin and promises to take visitors on a whirlwind tour through 2,000 years of German history.

Deutschlandmuseum Berlin

Visitors learn about the Ancient period deep in the midst of the forest at the Deutschlandmuseum in Berlin. Photo: David Weyand CC BY-ND 4.0

Starting in the ancient world and ending in the present day, the Deutschlandmuseum covers 12 major epochs, including the Reformation, Englightenment, Hilter’s Third Reich and the post-war division of Germany.

Along the way, you can test your knowledge with pop quizzes, but the sights and sounds of each fascinating era are what truly makes the experience memorable. 

The whole thing can be done in a single hour, though the atmospheric scenery and interactive exhibits that transport you back in time may inspire you to linger a little longer. 

Make a German music playlist

For a little hit of German culture on the go, why not make a playlist full of Germany’s top artists and listen to it while travelling or doing chores at home?

If you’re stuck for inspiration, music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube have some ready made playlists you can nick ideas from, or even just listen to in their entirety to discover your new favourite German artists. 

This extensive playlist on Spotify, made by user Loki, covers hundreds of tracks and organises German music into different genres, so whether you’re into electro-pop, techno or hip hop, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for. 

READ ALSO: Why are people in German-speaking countries so obsessed with Schlager music?

Go on a walking tour 

It may sound like something only tourists do, but taking a walking tour either in your own city or elsewhere can open your eyes to new aspects of German culture and history you may not have known about before.

Prince Albert in Coburg, Bavaria

Tourists look at a statue of Prince Albert in Coburg, Bavaria, as part of a walking tour. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Pia Bayer

Though history tours are often the most popular, you can find endless options to suit your interests, from vineyard and local restaurant tours to vintage clothing stores, graffiti and street art.

Websites like GetYourGuide and Airbnb are good places to start looking for tours in your area, but if there’s something specific you’re interested in, you can always Google it and see what comes up. 

Join a weekly Stammtisch 

This one will depend a lot on where you live, but if you’re in a city, joining a regular Stammtisch can be a great way to meet new people, improve your German skills and generally get an insight into life in Germany.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a Stammtisch is an informal gathering, usually at a bar or restaurant, with a group of people who meet up on a regular basis. The name itself refers to the table people sit at, with ‘Stamm’ referring to the regular guests at the establishment. In other words, the Stammtisch is the regular table reserved for this group (traditionally at least!). 

READ ALSO: What you should know about Austria and Germany’s ‘Stammtisch’ tradition

There are many different types of Stammtisch, with some dealing with specific topics like politics or sport, and others simply acting as an opportunity to meet people. Whichever one you decide to go to, what easier way could there be to learn about German culture than gathering in a warm Kneipe and enjoying a cold beer? 

Binge-watch German cinema 

From cult classics like Metropolis and Good Bye Lenin to international breakthroughs like Toni Erdmann, Germany has produced some brilliant films over the years.

So whether your goal is to learn more about German history or simply enjoy some high-quality cinema, enjoying a movie night at home is a fun and effortless way to get to know Germany better. Most popular films have English subtitles or dubbing, so language should be no barrier. 

Good Bye Lenin props

Authentic GDR-era props are prepared on the set of the cult film Good Bye Lenin in Berlin Friedrichshain. Photo: picture alliance / Jens Kalaene/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Of course, there are also plenty of film festivals that run around the country, most famously the Berlinale, which runs for around two weeks in February. Though Berlin’s film fest is a celebration of international cinema, there are always a few German films in the programme, so keep an eye out for those if you want extra brownie points. 

If you’re looking for something to binge watch, there are plenty of entertaining German TV shows you can find on streaming services like Netflix or on broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

It doesn’t have to be high-brow, either: you can learn plenty about German society and life by finding your new fave reality TV show, and we’ve got the ultimate list here:

The five weirdest and best reality TV shows for improving your German

Sample local food and drinks

This one’s fairly obvious, but going to a nice local restaurant while travelling in Germany, or a local farmers’ market or food festival, can teach you a lot about Germany.

Whether it’s sipping an Apfelwein while eating potatoes in green sauce in Frankfurt or tucking into a Störtebecker beer and Labskaus in Hamburg, there’s huge variety in Germany’s regional cuisine – and often a fascinating tale behind every dish. 

A sign for Spargel in Schleswig-Holstein

A sign for German white asparagus (Spargal) on an old farmers’ cart in Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

Alternatively, finding out more about local dishes online and even trying your hand at preparing a few is a great hack for feeling well integrated.

READ ALSO: The foods you have to try while visiting Hamburg

Immerse yourself in German literature 

This is one for the bookworms (or Leseratten – reading rats – as the case may be): tucking into a German novel can teach you loads about the German way of life, the country’s complex history and the thoughts and ideas that have shaped Germany today. 

Admittedly, not all of the classics are light bedroom reading – The Tin Drum by Günther Grass is notoriously lengthy – but there are plenty of shorter novels that are a perfect jumping off point.

Thomas Mann’s novella, Death in Venice, is one of them, and The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is another, but you can always check out our top 10 recommendations for more inspiration:

10 German books you have to read before you die

Have you got any tips for an easy way to learn more about Germany’s culture, language and history? Get in touch and let us know.