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  • Safy Abecasis

Berlin 2023

After months of gruelling planning, I got to spend some time in Berlin at the Berlinale film festival!


Planning:

At some point, I'll write a full blog detailing the trials and tribulations of planning this trip. Now that the trip itself is over, you'd assume that's it... right? But no, there's still around £7,000 that needs to be reimbursed... So I've still got a lot to do!


Day 1 - Wednesday:

The first day was a day of travel. I arrived at the university campus at around 1pm and touched base with the rest of the Film Society committee. Our society members arrived over the next hour and after a final headcount, we boarded the coach and set off for Gatwick Airport.


We got through the airport surprisingly smoothly for a group of 35 people.


At the airport, I was told that we received an email from the hostel we were going to be staying at, stating that we needed to check in before a certain time and if we checked in any later there might be a fine (despite having confirmed weeks prior that we would be ok to check in late). We were also told we'd need to provide a negative COVID test that had been taken at least 24 hours prior to check-in (which would have been impossible at this point as we were checking in within the next 7-9 hours).


I quickly discovered that this wasn't a new email we had received, but instead was part of the booking conditions that the committee member responsible for booking the hostel hadn't read! We decided there was nothing we could do and we'd just have to figure it out on the other end of the flight.


The flight went by quickly. I spent part of it listening to a Doctor Who audiobook called Scherzo, I'm not particularly into audiobooks, Scherzo literally being my first, I've not even been that big of a Doctor Who fan for the last 5 or so years. But one of my friends has been hounding me to listen to it and it was recently reduced from £2.99 to £1.49, so I had literally no excuse not to give it a try. I got through the first 2 chapters (out of 4) on the plane and while I can't exactly see myself getting into audiobooks, I'll definitely finish Scherzo at some point.


We landed safely and got out of the airport in Berlin relatively quickly. We took a train from the airport to the hostel. Dan (the societies event coordinator) and I went in first to try and sort out the late check-in/COVID test issues... But we were able to check in with no problems at all.


After assigning everyone their rooms, and just before going to bed ourselves, we grabbed a pint to celebrate that we had finally made it to Berlin!


Day 2 - Thursday:

We spent our first morning in Berlin stalking the Berlinale film festival tickets' page as the tickets for the Sunday screenings were released at 10am, and most tickets sold out within 2 minutes of them going live. Hardly anyone was able to buy any. I bought one for a documentary called 'The Eternal Memory' (2023), which I didn't even end up seeing.


After the tickets came and went, we set out for a bit of exploring. We walked from our hostel to the Brandenberg Gate via the victory column. We wanted to be at the Brandenburg Gate by 2pm as we were meeting one of our lecturers there, James. He was in Berlin himself for the festival and had offered to give us a tour of the festival. He told us what was going on in each of the buildings as without access, we'd never be exposed to that side of the festival.


After the tour with James, the group disbanded and everyone went off to explore Berlin some more. James had some free time and so a handful of us went to have a pint with him. I'm not the biggest beer drinker, but oh my goodness, 'Berliner Pilsner' is amazing (except out of a can, we made that mistake once... and never again).


Here are some photos from the day:


Day 3 - Friday:

Friday morning was an early one. Joe and I had made an agreement to be up and out early every day (partly because we wanted to explore Berlin as a smaller group, to avoid being stuck with a larger group and maybe not being able to do everything we wanted and partly because waiting for 10 people to wake up and get ready to go out would take a couple of hours and eat into the day). As Joe and I were getting up, Jude and Sam were getting up too, so we left as a group of four.


Our first stop of the day... Primark! I needed a new belt. While we were there, Sam found a jumper he liked, hid it at the back of the store, and decided he'd come back and buy it later (as you'd expect... he realised he forgot to buy it a couple of days after we got back.)


We stopped for breakfast at a German burger chain called 'Burgermeister' and OH MY GOD! That was by far the best burger I've ever had. That's all I need to say.


After that life-changing burger, we went and explored Berlin some more. We stopped off at a few small museums, visited a few churches, popped into the lego store, and spent a while just walking the city and appreciating its architecture. About 5 hours of walking later, we returned to the hostel. While there, a couple of tickets for a film called 'She came to me' (2023) went on sale and after frantically searching for them, Joe and I both got one! so even though we had just got to the hostel after being out all morning, we needed to be across town and at the screening within 30 minutes.



We arrived at the venue, went through security and entered the screening room, It was huge! There must've been a couple of hundred people in there if not more.





We weren't sure what 'film festival etiquette' was and whether we were allowed to sit in the front few rows or not, but we did anyway.


I really enjoyed the film. It wasn't the deepest film I've ever seen, so coming out of it with a bunch of film students, most people weren't exactly singing its praises, but I thought it was fun.


We then went for dinner at a restaurant in a nearby student accommodation building. It was a really nice place. They had a ping-pong table and so we killed a couple of hours there. There was something so fun about watching students come and go from their accommodation on a Friday night in another country.


Again, Some pictures from the day:


Day 4 - Saturday:

Saturday was an interesting day. Once again Joe and I were up and out early and went to the video game museum, we were there for an hour or so. We met Jude for lunch and found a shop that sold a load of TV/film and video game-related stuff (I very nearly impulse-purchased a MonkeyBomb replica).


We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the other side of the city as we were meeting James that evening. A couple of us met up with James before everyone else to have a production meeting and run James through the progress being made on 'Quarter-Life Crisis'. It was a particularly good meeting as James provided some very valuable input and gave us a lot to think about.


The meeting was held at a small bar. James had put some money behind the bar for both us and the group arriving later, which we all appreciated. Whenever we finished a glass, we were brought another one over in seconds and it was just added to the tab. We were drinking the aforementioned 'Berliner Pilsner' so we were going through them pretty fast. By the end of the hour-long meeting, we had made our way through 3 glasses.


The end of our meeting timed perfectly with everyone else arriving at the bar. Once everyone was there, we basically took up the back half of the pub which made for a really nice environment. I drank about 10 glasses of beer before James' tab ran out and we had to start paying for our own drinks. I made my way through another 10 or so glasses after that (at €4 per glass, you couldn't go wrong).


You may have noticed that I've been saying glasses instead of pints, that's because we later learned that each glass was 2 pints, so 20 glasses was 40 pints!


Once everyone left the bar, 4 of us decided to get some food. We found a small place, ordered and ate outside. After narrowly avoiding being scammed (I think) and a quick stop at a corner store that one of us thought was mid-robbery (it wasn't), we called it a night.


Pictures from the day:


Day 5 - Sunday:

After a couple of hours of sleep, we were up by 8am as we needed to check out of the hostel by 10am... Despite our fight not being till 7am the next day!


We started off by taking our luggage to Alexanderplatz station, where there were lockups where we could leave our luggage in. We had told people to go off for the day, but to be back at the station by 9pm so we could head to the airport.


When we all went off, the group I was with explored the area near the station. There were some really nice buildings around that area. We also stumbled upon a small local market.


Sam knew an alley somewhere in the city covered in graffiti, so we set out to find it. When we did, wow! The art there was amazing and hidden so away from the public, sure it was accessible, but it felt like the type of place you needed to just stumble upon naturally or have prior knowledge of. At the end of the alley was a small door leading to several tight flights of stairs... all completely covered in art.


At the top of these stairs was a tiny shop, selling a collection of handcrafted art pieces. I bought two books, I was told more about each book as I was paying for them:


The first book was a collection of graces and blessings that one of the people who work at the shop had compiled over their time spent travelling. I'm not a religious person by any extent of the imagination but I thought that was such a powerful and interesting idea.


The second book was slightly different, I couldn't be told much about it as the point of the book itself was to take away your own meaning. It was a collection of old myths and poems that the author had found meaning in. The point is that connections between these otherwise unrelated texts were made by the author in such a uniquely personal way, that the book exists for each reader to derive an entirely different and individual meaning. My understanding is that the lack of connection between these texts stands as a permanent barrier in the path of the innately human instinct to find meaning and reason in everything. I don't mean that as simply as "the purpose of the book is to have no purpose", it's something so much more than that. I believe the book itself perfectly highlights why that sentence is so paradoxical. The most fascinating aspect of the book is that because the texts are unrelated, I can have my understanding of it without even having read a page as the idea of the book is more important than what's written on its pages. Of course, I welcome you to disagree with my perspective, as by doing so, you form your own perfectly valid understanding of the book... which is what drew me to it in the first place.


Once I paid for the books, they were put into a bag. Each bag in the store was painted and had an intention to it. The bag I was given seemingly just had splodges of paint on it, but I was told that it was supposed to be a river, and by being so abstract, is not any river in particular but can also be almost any river.


For lunch, we stopped in a food court and I had the best Sushi I've had in years! After sitting in the court for a while and doing some people-watching, a couple of us headed over to the Berlin Film Museum. It was an interesting museum, to say the least. Beginning with an exhibit about the controversial German filmmaker, Werner Herzog, the other exhibits ranged from art and dioramas from 'Metropolis' (1927) a brilliant piece of early 20th century German expressionism (or so I've been told, I'm admittedly unfamiliar with the film), to documentation and artefacts detailing some of the goings on in the industry just before the second world war began.


We stopped past the museum's shop on the way out, it wasn't your typical gift shop. Sure, there were sections of trinkets and branded mugs etc. but for the most part, there were books and DVDs... I'm not particularly into collecting physical media, but I did buy 'Spencer' (2021) as it was one of my favourite films of the last few years. I also picked up 'Schindler's List' (1993) as I liked the symbolism of physically purchasing that film in Germany.


It was around 6pm by this point. We sat in a coffee shop for a while to rest. While we were there, a couple of tickets for a screening of 'The Adults' (2023) became available... and we got them! It was one of the films we were a bit gutted to be missing so we were so pleased to have been able to get tickets. We made our way to the venue, got front-row seats again and watched the film. I really enjoyed it, I thought the characters were great.


After the screening, we went to the station to regroup and head to the airport. Once we got there, we discovered that a couple of people had decided to go to a 9:45pm film screening, despite being told to be at the station before then. (Ironically, the film they saw was 'The Eternal Memory'... the exact screening I had booked a couple of days earlier). So we decided to send the bulk of the group off to the airport while Joe, Jude and I waited at the station for the final 3 people - we were titled Airport Group 2.


We were missing one person. He had been seen less than 5 minutes earlier with the group but was now gone! He had been specifically told, "don't move!" after making a habit of wandering off over the trip. When we finally got in contact with him, he had taken two trains and was on the other side of town! We told him to come back and meet Airport Group 2 at the station. (He didn't, he went straight to the airport... he was in his own little world I guess.)


Everyone else left for the airport, so it was just us in the station. We found a place to grab dinner and made that our spot for the next few hours. At around 11:30pm, the final 3 people arrived and we got on the train to the airport.


Some pictures from the day:


Day 6 - Monday:

We got to the airport at around 12:30am, where we met up with Airport Group 1. It turned out that the airport was closed between midnight and 04:00am so we had to wait by the gates for three and a half hours! Thankfully, the train station is below the airport so when we came up to the airport, we were indoors and could wait inside. Most people slept during this time, and the rest of us took it as a time to catch up with what other society members did during their time in Berlin. Eventually the airport opened up a bit more and we could check-in. We passed through customs and picked up some breakfast before our flight.


The flight was smooth and we got to watch the sunrise from the plane, which was nice. I was sat on a window seat which I tend to dislike, but I slept for most of the flight so it was fine. We landed on time.


Once we got to baggage collection, one of our society members realised they left their passport on the plane... because something just had to go wrong! We sent Jude off with them to see if they could sort it out and retrieve the passport from the plane while the rest of the committee moved everyone to the exit of the airport. About an hour and a half later, Jude and the society member returned, empty-handed. They said absolutely no one in the airport was able to help them and the only way to get the passport back was to write a letter to lost property and hope it gets turned in... obviously, we weren't happy about that. The committee decided that the best person to get the passport back would be me. I went off with the owner of the lost passport and within 10 minutes we managed to have someone on the plane bringing us the passport.


We returned to the rest of the group, proudly carrying the passport before boarding the coach and heading back to Bournemouth. Upon arrival back at campus everyone took their bags, and with that... the trip was over.


I went home at midday, I had a lecture in two hours... I did not attend that lecture... instead, I slept for 14 hours.


Some pictures from the day:


Reflecting on the trip:

This trip was an unforgettable experience. I loved every second of it. As complicated and stressful as it was to put together, I'm so pleased and proud it all came to fruition!

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