City of Cinephilia

Berlin is the city of cinephilia. One constantly encounters what Christian Keathley describes as the “cinephiliac moments” throughout Berlin’s topography.


Walking around the ruin of Anhalter Bahnhof (now a ruin of a former train station), one catches a glimpse of the old bunker (today used as Das Gruselkabinet – haunted house) and immediately sees the inscription: „Wer Bunker baut, wirft Bomben“ (those who build bunkers, throw bombs), and thinks of Peter Falk, walking across the vast void (now filled with a soccer field) in Wim Wenders’ Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire, 1987).

K. Sark

Keathley, quoting Paul Willemen, defines the cinephiliac moment as “something to do with what you perceive to be the privileged, pleasure-giving, fascinating moment of a relationship to what’s happening on the screen,” as, for example, the famous glove scene from On the Waterfront, in which Keathley admits to notice the number of times Eva Marie Saint tries to retrieve the glove and the things Brando does to delay this happening. (Keathley, Christian. Cinephilia and History or the Wind in the Trees , 2006, p.32)

K. Sark

It is impossible to think of the former West-Berlin branch of the STABI (Staatsbibliothek) as anything other than the place where Wenders’ angels lived, and the remains of the Esplanade Hotel Kaisersaal (which used to be one of the two remaining buildings in the no-man’s-land of Potsdamer Platz, now cleverly integrated into the Sony Center as a dining and banquet facility), as the place where Marion and Damiel met at a Nick Cave concert.

K. Sark

In locating cinephiliac moments, “that is, in selecting (or being selected by) certain image-moments over others, the cinephile mimics this filmmaking practice in particular, that one that is mobilized by discovery of what has been captured unexpectedly” (Keathley, 39). The graffiti inscription on the bunker, which served as a film-production site in Wings of Desire, is not mentioned by any of the characters, but it is constructed as an integral part of the mise-en-scene of the 1980s Berlin, captured by Wenders along with the images, sounds, and music of the city at the time, and is surprisingly still intact today. Similarly, the wall-paintings of the former Esplanade Hotel, which are visible during the Nick Cave concert in the film, are now en-glassed and illuminated by night, and serve as a backdrop for many red-carpeted film premieres in the Sony Center.

K. Sark

At the same time, as Keathley explains, many cinephiliac moments function also as “souvenirs because they reside in the memory of the cinephile. As an image-moment that is encounterable by any viewer, cinephiliac moments exist of course in their film of origin; but as part of a cinephile’s collection, they exist only in the memory of that particular film lover. Outside that context, these moments exist, but without the intensity and not as part of any collection. Furthermore, cinephiliac moments possess the souvenir’s power ‘to carry the past into the future.’ This sense of the collected item as a nodal point of interaction between past and present echoes Walter Benjamin’s claim that historical materialism ‘supplies a unique experience with the past’ – one mobilized by the desire of the collector in the present engaging with specifics (items, images) from the past” (Keathley, 129).

K. Sark

Much like Wenders’ film left its traces all over the city, it is hard to imagine Bahnhof Zoo, without its notorious children, more than 20 years later, or the Mercedes building on Ku’damm, in which Hanna Schygulla and Eddie Constantine had an office with a view of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Memorial Church in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Third Generation (1979) without its corporate terrorists, or the Karl-Marx-Bookstore without Georg Dreyman’s book (Die Sonate vom guten Menschen), dedicated to his STASI surveillance officer. Berlin is filled with imagined, cinematic memories, which exist, as if superimposed over the real spaces, in a collective archive of cinephiliac moments.

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One Response to City of Cinephilia

  1. Pingback: Berlin Freedom | Suites Culturelles

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