The days are shortening, the nights getting longer, tree leaves are changing colour and the temperature is … well, as it happens, the temperature is going up. It’s been well into the mid-20ºC for much of the past week which, in case anyone needed a refresher on climate science, is in mid-October in northern Europe. We should be dusting off winter coats and pulling on gloves, instead I’ve been wearing flip flops and applying sun block. I’ll probably live to regret saying this when winter finally arrives, but it’s like a recipe that’s missing the most important ingredient: the cold.
Thankfully, you only need darkness to have a festival that’s intended to chase away the winter blues, and Berlin’s Festival of Lights certainly does that. The warm weather has made for a party atmosphere as thousands of people have poured onto Berlin’s streets to wander the festival routes. Some of the city’s most iconic buildings like the Berliner Dom, Brandenburger Tor and Berliner Fernsehturm, amongst dozens of others, have been repurposed as canvasses for light projections.
It might sound like a bad pun, but having massive, building-sized projections really has illuminated the cityscape. There are around 150 different projections in various parts of town, representing artists from 25 countries. Many are clustered around Museum Island, Potsdammer Platz and Alexanderplatz, making it relatively easy to see quite a lot of them with minimal effort. The walking routes are several kilometres long and to see all the projections would require a few days.
The most impressive grouping was around Bebelplatz, where St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, the Hotel de Rome, Opera House and Law Faculty buildings link up with Humboldt University across the Unter den Linden. They are wonderfully lit and, in what I imagine is a symbolic gesture, they bring light to the place where in 1933 around 40,000 people watched as the Nazis burned more than 20,000 books. There’s an underground library with empty shelves and a glass roof that commemorates a very dark period in history.
We walked, or rather shuffled along with huge numbers of spectators, from Bebelplatz to the top of Museum Island where projections light up some of the museum buildings along the River Spree. In the distance the Berliner Dom and the Fernsehturm were brilliantly aglow. We joined throngs of people heading into James-Simon Park where a tree provided the canvas for an odd projection of Mickey Mouse, before passing the cathedral and heading into Alexanderplatz where St. Mary’s Church was also lit up.
In the other direction, the area around Potsdamer Platz is filled with projections, and hosted the World Championship of Projection Mapping, where artists compete by projecting their animations onto the Kollhoff Tower. It was pretty impressive, but not as stunning as the giant tiger projected onto the Potsdamer Platz 5 building, which was absolutely brilliant. There was a projection onto the ground near the S-Bahn station, but a demonstration earlier in the day meant there was a massive police presence and their vans were parked on it.
On our way there we passed the memorial site of the 1953 demonstrations against the Communist authorities, which proudly proclaimed European unity with the message ‘Europe is for Lovers’. This is what we’ll lose when the ridiculous Brexit finally proves to the world how stupid the British can be. The highlight for many is a short walk from Potsdamer Platz, the Brandenburger Tor, which draws massive crowds. To be honest, it’s hard to have favourites, the whole thing is spectacular.
Which explains why visitor numbers topped the 2 million mark last year. That number is likely to be higher this year thanks to the unseasonably hot weather, and that many people can’t be wrong.