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A jewel of East German modernism: Kino International turns 60

On its 60th anniversary, we take a look back at the history of the iconic DDR cinema Kino International.

Photo: Yorck Kinogruppe/ Daniel Horn

One of the city’s most iconic cinemas, Kino International opened its doors on 15th November 1963, immediately becoming an important this building was a symbol of East German modernism in Berlin.

Now, 60 years on, the cinema is celebrating its landmark anniversary by showing thirteen German classics, spanning the years 1966 to 2021. On November 19th there will also be an Open House Day with backstage tours, a special film program and an exhibition. Catch it while you can, though. Six decades have left their mark on this world-famous icon of cinema architecture and it will be closing for a period of refurbishment following the celebrations.

But let’s look back: how did things get started?

The beginning: Karl-Marx-Allee

Photo: Imago/frontalvision.com

Kino International sits on Karl-Marx-Allee, formerly Stalinallee, a street which tried to replicate the grand boulevards of Moscow, while bringing the 19th century classicism of Karl Friedrich Schinkel to housing for workers. The new buildings were intended to reflect the success of socialism, implying that soon everyone would be living luxuriously once socialism really got going. Kino International, built immediately after the completion of the Karl-Marx-Allee, was to become an essential part of this ideological project.

East vs West: Kino International vs Zoo Palast

Photo: Imago/Serienlicht

Even before the Wall was built, East and West Berlin had something of an architectural rivalry. In the West, the Hansaviertel was created for the International Building Competition, Interbau 1957, while in the East, Alexanderplatz was intended to become a model for the cities of the future. And so it is no surprise that Kino International also had a counterpart in the West: the elegant Zoo Palast, which opened in 1957. 

The opening of Kino International

Photo: Yorck Kinos

Until 1990, Kino International served as the premiere cinema of the DDR. With its wood-panelled walls, mighty chandeliers and large windows looking out onto Karl-Marx-Allee, Kino International was luxury socialism at its finest. 

From the lives of today’s people: The facade

Photo: Imago/Frank Sorge

The architect behind Kino International, Josef Kaiser, also designed the Café Moscow directly opposite. There’s a relief on the cinema’s outer facade comprised of 14 concrete cast plates which is intended to display the glorious successes of socialism: manual labourers studying, enjoying arts and leisure – this was the world the East believed it was moving towards. The relief is accompanied by the words “Aus dem Leben heutiger Menschen” or “From the lives of today’s people”.

Cinema in the DDR

Photo: Imago/Gerhard Leber

With its modern design and sleek fittings, Kino International was the premiere cinema in the DDR. Films premiered here in the presence of SED bigwigs. Konrad Wolf’s “Solo Sunny” (1980), was the most successful film in the history of Kino International, remaining sold-out for 15 weeks and around a hundred thousand people going to see it.

A Window to Hollywood

Photo: Imago/Dieter Bauer

Before reunification, Kino International’s progressive status was reinforced by the fact it served as a window to the world, presenting certain Western productions like “Cabaret” (1972) and “Out of Africa” (1985). In 1987, the legendary film “Dirty Dancing” was shown in six daily performances and was sold out for weeks.

Fall of the Berlin Wall and LGBT culture

Photo: Imago/Sven Simon

“Coming Out,” the DDR’s first queer film, was released on November 9, 1989. The film coincided with the fall of the wall and a time when Germany’s future was suddenly wide open. Kino International became an important place for the LGBT community and the regular cinema series “Mongay” has been showing queer films every Monday for more than 25 years.

Between East and West

Photo: Imago/Müller-Stauffenberg

The Yorck Cinema Group has been running the Kino International since 1992 and has positioned it as a sophisticated cinema with a largely European program. And when German cinema has reflected on the legacy of those years of division, those films were shown here, too, with the cinema screening movies like“The Lives of Others” and “Good Bye, Lenin!”.

60 years of Kino International: Panorama Bar

Photo: Yorck Kinogruppe/ Daniel Horn

In addition to the cinema hall, the impressive rooms include a foyer and bar area. On the upper floor, the welcoming foyer boasts panoramic windows with slim golden window frames, overlooking Karl-Marx-Allee. Four impressive crystal chandeliers hail from glass workshops in Czechoslovakia.

The foyer

Photo: Yorck Kinogruppe/ Daniel Horn

The grand entrance area features seating in the shape of a ring, upholstered in black leather. An eye-catching and essential part of the building’s elegant interior design.

60 years of Kino International: Looking towards the future

Photo: Imago/Jürgen Ritter

60 years after its opening, Kino International still stands proudly on Karl-Marx-Allee. Unlike some of the other masterpieces of DDR architecture, this one did not fall victim to the wrecking ball. While so much around it has changed, Kino International continues to shine as a cultural beacon in all its splendour.