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Scene in Berlin
Image: DW

On screen

August 20, 2010

Berliners no longer have to argue about whether to spend an evening at the movies or sit back and watch their favorite TV series; at the so-called Gernsehclub they can do both. And they are...in droves.


I've never been much of a fan of the cinema. The idea of sitting with a few hundred strangers in the dark, sharing a collective movie experience sounds nice in theory; in practice, however, it is quite different. I get bored, my rear end goes to sleep, I always end up getting stuck next to someone who either smells or won't stop talking and I grip the armrest of my seat wondering if they'll have an intermission so I can smoke. All rather unpleasant, really. Give me a DVD box set any day of the week.

Berliners, on the other hand, love going to the movies. The city is full of multiplexes and quirky indie cinemas and in summer, outdoor cinemas are all the rage, allowing the city's in-crowd to sit back and enjoy the latest crackly black-and-white experimental nonsense on a makeshift beach with a cocktail at hand.

Now, however, the delights of the small screen are being given an injection of cinema magic at the so-called Gernsehclub. It's a group of TV fanatics who meet on a regular basis at the Gotischer Saal, an event space near the city's former Tempelhof airport, to share a communal TV experience. The regular program features brand new series which have yet to make it to German TV and also a smattering of cult shows which haven't been broadcast for years. Think Little Britain meets The Avengers and you’re almost there.

Treat for science fiction fans

I was strong-armed into going along the other week with a mate of mine as the Gernsehclub - which, incidentally, is a play on the German words gern (gladly) and Fernsehen (TV) - was screening new episodes of Doctor Who, the cult BBC science-fiction series. The place was bustling when we arrived; the foyer boasting a bar and a buffet table. In among the crowd I managed to grab a word or two with actor and satirist Oliver Kalkofe. He is one of the Gernsehclub organizers and it was his decision to introduce Doctor Who to a German audience.

"We have a big problem with science fiction in Germany," he told me, "We didn’t have any kind of pop trash culture until the end of the 80's so if you come up with something wildly imaginative, the first response from Germans is usually 'What crap.' Superheroes and science fiction never had quite the same appeal in Germany as they did in the States or the UK."

Doctor Who couldn’t have been more successful in the UK. It was a staple of Saturday evening TV for almost 30 years, the first episode being transmitted just one day after the assassination of President Kennedy on November 23, 1963. The series, following the adventures of the time-traveling Doctor, his time machine, the TARDIS, and his ever-changing band of assistants, ran uninterrupted on BBC1 until it was pulled in 1989. After a hiatus of several years, it returned with a bang in a revamped format in 2005, being popular with both old fans and newbies alike.

Certainly, the crowd at the Gernsehclub tonight were rather wired about being able to sit down together and watch this classic slice of cult TV together. "It's a great opportunity to see series which aren't on TV anymore," said one viewer, while another enthused, "I couldn't believe it when I saw they were having a Doctor Who night. I just had to come!"

Black-and-white advertisement for a television set
In the "old days," watching TV required a pipe and two dolly birds for it to workImage: Deutsches Bundesarchiv

Continuing a TV tradition

The time-traveling Doctor would no doubt immediately spot the historical link with the Gernsehclub and the way TV was viewed in Berlin in its formative years. On March 22, 1935, broadcaster Fernsehsender Paul Nipkow went on air, arguably the world's first regular television service. In those days, television sets were too expensive to buy, so viewers gathered in converted shops - known as Fernsehstuben or TV rooms - to watch programs together.

But it's the future that Gernsehclub members care about, not the past. Joerg Strombach is another of the club's organizers. During a break between episodes he pointed out that, "We like cool entertainment and cool TV programs. The German channels don't show what we want to see. This way we have a nice evening with friends, some talks with experts and some snacks too."

The Doctor Who screening was completely sold out, a good sign for the future of the Gernsehclub's membership. As the chattering members gathered around the hot dog stand to discuss the TV adventure they had just seen, I thought it was a perfect time to slip quietly away. Not, unfortunately, in the TARDIS...merely on the subway.

Gavin Blackburn is a big fan of the Gernsehclub...or at least he would be if no one else went there.

Editor: Kate Bowen

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