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Berlin's celebrated Zoo Palast cinema turns 100

Torsten Landsberg sb
September 18, 2019

When a vast movie theater near Berlin's central Zoo railway station was revamped and opened on September 18, 1919 with the premiere of Ernst Lubitch's "Madame Dubarry," a German cinematic institution was born.

Bildergalerie Berlin City West - Zoo Palast
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Kalaene

After its opening 100 years ago, the Ufa-Palast am Zoo (Ufa Palace at the Zoo), with its legendary interior lights and vast 1,700 seat capacity, quickly became the most famous cinema in the country, the venue where the Fritz Lang's expressionist masterpiece Metropolis premiered in all its uncut glory. 

The grand movie house was the crowning jewel of the film metropolis of Europe where well over 100 cinemas flourished. But the arts institution that rose up as a symbol of a free and decadent Weimar Republic would soon become a front for Nazi propaganda, premiering numerous anti-Semitic works. Towards the end of the war, it was badly bombed. Its doors shut for nearly 15 years.

Berlin: Film Capital

Risen from the ashes

But in 1957, the theater, now renamed the Zoo Palast, rose again into cinematic preeminence as global movie stars came to walk its red carpet. A symbol of a liberal and democratic West Berlin that had risen from the ashes to celebrate artistic expression, the Zoo Palast also became the main venue for the Berlinale

Since then, the house has gone through many ups and downs, including the loss of audience to TV and home movies, and the Berlinale's shift to the Potsdamer Platz multiplexes in 2000. But following its bold renovation in 2013, the Zoo Palast is thriving and is again arguably Berlin's premiere cinema. It hosts Berlinale screenings again, now in the Panorama section. 

To mark the anniversary of the opening of the original Ufa-Palast a century ago on September 18, the Zoo Palast is reshowing the film that kicked it all off, Ernst Lubitsch's Madame Dubarry. Meanwhile, click through the picture gallery above to discover more about Berlin's landmark movie theater.