319: Deutsche Kinemathek

Archival Spaces 319

Deutsche Kinemathek in Peril

Uploaded 14 April 2023

While in Berlin in February for the Berlinale, I heard the first disturbing reports that the Deutsche Kinemathek, one of Germany’s oldest film archives will lose its space in 2025 in the Sony Building, where it has maintained offices, archives, and the Museum for Film and Photography for the last 23 years. While the Arsenal Cinema, operated by the Friends of the Kinemathek, as well as the German Film and Television Academy (DFFB), both co-tenants in the building, have found new locations, there seems to be at present no other plans for the Kinemathek, other than boxing up the collections, maintaining a website, and organizing traveling exhibitions. Back in California, I started doing research to track down the veracity of the rumors and have learned the following.

Gerhard Lamprecht opening Kinemathek in 1963
Theodore Heuss Platz in 1960s
Berlinale Retrospective, 1998
Berlinale Retrospective, 2017

The Deutsche Kinemathek opened in February 1963, when the West Berlin State acquired the film, document, and equipment collections of German film director, Gerhard Lamprecht, whose multi-volume filmography of German silent cinema is a standard work. Organized as a non-profit public foundation with financing from West Berlin, the Archive became a member of FIAF two years later. Beginning in 1977, the Kinemathek organized the Retrospectives of the Berlinale, their catalogs consistently breaking new film historical ground, especially their focus on German exile filmmakers. Its collections house 26,000 films, 30,000 scripts, 16,000 posters, and 60,000 film programs, as well as numerous estates, including the Marlene Dietrich and Paul Kohner Archives. I first started doing research in the Kinemathek in 1974, when preparing my master’s thesis on Ernst Lubitsch. At the time, the Kinemathek was housed in a building on the Theodore-Heuss-Platz, where it shared a library and facilities with the DFFB. Throughout the 1980s, the Kinemathek’s director, Heinz Rathsack, attempted to build a new facility at the Esplanade on the south bank of the Landwehr Canal and just west of the Potsdamer Platz’s no man’s land, but his death in December 1989 and German Reunification put an end to those plans. Hans-Helmut Prinzler became his successor, and successfully directed the institution until April 2006.

Deutsche Kinemathek at Potsdamer Platz
Florian Bolenius, Rainer Rother

After Reunification in 1990, the Sony Corporation acquired a 320,000 sq. ft. site at the Potsdamer Platz from the city of Berlin city for US $61.6 million with the proviso that it offers space below market value to the Kinemathek, the DFFB, and the Arsenal cinema in their planned complex, designed by Helmut Jahn. In 1999, the three institutions opened their doors with a 25-year lease. The Museum of Film and Television opened in 2006 with the Kinemathek paying approximately 3 million Euros a year rent for all its spaces. At the same time, the German Federal government through the Ministry of Culture took over the Kinemathek’s financing, naming an artistic director, Dr. Rainer Rother, and a business director, Florian Bolenius, for the Kinemathek. In February 2008, Sony sold the complex to a German and American investor consortium, and in 2017 Oxford Properties and Madison International Realty purchased the complex for 1.1 billion Euros. As early as 2015, the Kinemathek attempted to negotiate an extension of their lease but failed because of costs.  

Gallery, Museum of Film and Television, Berlin

Then in February 2017, two Berlin newspapers, Berliner Morgenpost, and the Tagesspiegel, announced that the Kinemathek and the Berlinale would move into a to-be-constructed building on a parking lot next to the Martin Gropius Bau, an exhibition hall in the center of Berlin. The Minister of Culture, Monika Grütters, was quoted in a later Tagesspiegel article:  “A film center for Berlin, in which the Berlinale, the Deutsche Kinemathek, and maybe the DFFB finds a home is a good idea. The idea stands or falls with the right location, and of course financing.”(Tagesspiegel, 15 May 2017) The cost of the new building is estimated at 100 Million Euros. Dieter Kosslick, then head of the Berlinale, also strongly favored the Gropius site for the Berlinale’s new headquarters.

DFFB’s new home in Berlin-Moabit
Arsenal’s new home in a former crematorium in the Silent Green district

However, because of the pandemic, there seemed to be little further forward movement, until Der Tagesspiegel reported in November 2022 that both the Film and TV Academy and the Arsenal had found new homes in Berlin. The former will move to Berlin-Moabit into a former industrial park at the Friedrich-Krause-Ufer, a couple miles north of the Brandenburg Gate. Funded by the City of Berlin, the DFFB announced in the Summer of 2022 that it will become part of a new research and media campus. The Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art will relocate in 2025 to the working-class suburb of Wedding, in the new culture district “Silent Green,” where it will join other media institutions. Not only its archives but also a new 180-seat cinema will be built in a former crematorium. (Tagesspiegel, 4 November 2022) The article repeated unchanged the plans for the Kinemathek’s new home at the Gropius Bau from five years earlier.

Monika Grütters
Claudia Roth

However, a change in government from the Christian Democrats to the Social Democrats in 2021, lead to the succession of Claudia Roth (Green Party) to the Ministry of Culture. She has paid lip service to the government’s commitment to building a film center in Berlin, but so far the land has not even been purchased, much less construction begun. According to someone close to the Ministry of Culture, Roth sees any new construction of cultural buildings with suspicion, wishing instead to encourage the repurposing and reuse of older buildings that can be made energy efficient. Yet, Rainer Rother had as early as 2015 attempted without success to find a suitable building belonging to the government that could be renovated. When I asked Claudia Roth at the recent Oscar reception at the Villa Aurora about the Kinemathek construction, she mouthed her support for the Gropius site, then literally ran away before I could ask any follow-up questions. Emails to her office, requesting information about plans and financing have gone unanswered.

Having spent eight of my twelve years as Director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive planning and building a new archive in Santa Clarita, I understand that it could take as long as a decade to build a new Deutsche Kinemathek. One wonders how the film archive will survive, once it closes its doors in 2025. Who will take up its cause, if not the German federal government that is responsible for its survival?     

Martin Gropius Bau parking lot under trees

Published by Jan-Christopher Horak

Jan-Christopher Horak is former Director of UCLA Film & Television Archive and Professor, Critical Studies, former Director, Archives & Collections, Universal Studios; Director, Munich Filmmuseum; Senior Curator, George Eastman House; Professor, University of Rochester; Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen, Munich; University of Salzburg. PhD. Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, Germany. M.S. Boston University. Publications include: The L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema (2015), Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design (2014), Making Images Move: Photographers and Avant-Garde Cinema (1997), Lovers of Cinema. The First American Film Avant-Garde 1919-1945 (1995), The Dream Merchants: Making and Selling Films in Hollywood's Golden Age (1989). Over 250 articles and reviews in English, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Swedish, Japanese, Hebrew publications. He is the recipient of the Katherine Kovacs Singer Essay Award (2007), and the SCMS Best Edited Collection Award (2017).

3 thoughts on “319: Deutsche Kinemathek

  1. Vielen Dank, Chris. Ich muss immer wieder daran denken, wie Lamprecht für das Archiv gekämpft hat.
    Nur eine Anmerkung: Du hast vergessen, die wahrhaftig tolle Sammlung technischer Geräte zu erwähnen.
    Alles Gute- Eva.


  2. gerd conradt hat vorgeschlagen, vor einiger zeit, die kinemathek ins icc zu verlegen – es gsb wohl keine reaktionen auf diesen bedenkenswerten beitrag.


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