Behind the Shade: Berlin’s Secret Cinema


When my roommate told me that there’s a secret cinema in our neighborhood which you have to crawl through a window to enter, my heart swooned.

A regular movie theater is romantic enough. The collective ceremony of sitting in the hushed darkness as we exchange our day’s drama for someone else’s. Journeying to an exotic place for a couple of hours, visiting, perhaps, the desert at dawn, 1920’s Paris, or a parallel universe. Time traveling the past, the future, or to a new present for a momentary break from our existential crises.

More than a respite, the movie theater has always been a sacred, magical place for me. As a child it was the only entertainment available in our small town aside from the adjacent bowling alley, Monday’s Blues, and yet it was always an exciting event. My father would stop off at Hook’s drugstore on the way and my brother, sister, and I would carefully select one candy item each to smuggle into the theater. Later, it became the site of momentous rites of passage: holding hands, French kissing, and other new thrills. In my early twenties, I remember sharing a smuggled beer with a boy I loved in the balcony of a recreated 1930’s movie palace, while a golden curtain opened to reveal a massive screen onto which a 70 mm film was projected.

Last Tuesday, I waited outside the window of the former squat which houses the secret Kino along with a few others. Around 9pm there was a THRROOOOOOM-THROOOM of the window shade being rolled up, the window opened, and we started to climb inside.

I chatted in my hideous German with the good spirited, older man standing behind the counter who resembled an aged DJ with his bright pink and black printed shirt, a black hat, a hooded jacket, and worn face, before handing him 3 Euros. He gave me a beer and consent to walk back through to the cinema.

Behind a thick, velvety curtain, the 35 or so seat theater was packed and the pungent smell of cheap tobacco filled the air. The film was one in a series of documentations shown this month on gentrification. After the movie, I returned to the front lounge and sat for a bit while Massive Attack’s Splitting the Atom played from the speakers.

Cult, classic and camp

Secret cinema

Inside the secret cinema

I asked the other man running the cinema that evening, a man with handsome eyes and shoulder-length hair in a leopard-print vest and black leather pants, what the deal is with the Star Trek (every Monday is Star Trek night, there’s a Star Trek pinball machine, a poster in the theater, and some homemade U.S.S. enterprise regalia hanging behind the ticket counter). He told me that the Star Trek night finances the theater. I was later told by someone else that many years ago, when the cinema first started, you could buy a pre-rolled joint for about 5 Deutschmarks before the Star Trek screenings, and then boldly go where people who know where to go have gone before!

Aside from Monday’s, the cinema’s program is an impressive mixture of cult, classic, camp, and various other genres, often in original language with subtitles. “The diversity of the film program is not possible in a regular theater,” the tall bespeckled man behind the ticket counter explained to me when I returned on Saturday night. Jim Jarmush, Mike Nichols, Yasujirō Ozu, and Malik Bendjelloul are a few filmmakers featured this month.

Warm and fuzzy feeling

That Saturday the Kino had a warm and fuzzy feeling, like being let into someone else’s living room. A friendly girl with long dark hair gave me a cup of hot borscht as we sat around the candle-lit lounge before the movie (American Hustle) started. A woman sitting beside me was shocked that she had lived in the neighborhood for 14 years and that night was the first time she’d learned of it.

On the walk back to my apartment, the last time I crawled back out of the window and left the cinema, I started to wonder about all the other secrets the city has yet to be discovered. I looked out in the lamp lit street, beneath the full moon, inspecting the ordinary-seeming windows for signs of something more. I thought about how magical it was the night I took my favourite person to the covert cinema, telling him nothing about it before hand and that feeling I had when he took my hand in the dark theater and whisper-screamed into my ear, “This is AMAZING! Thank you, babe.” And my heart swooned.

Monday, December 8, marks the 24-year anniversary of the clandestine cinema.

Open every day from 9pm. 2€.

Go out and find it, but don’t tell anyone!


By Mary Katharine Tramontana