Sunday, July 22, 2007




I love the word “Kino.” To me it suggests an engrossing foreign intrigue. It means “cinema,” not only here in Germany, but in other middle and eastern European countries – Poland, the Czech republic, and I don’t know where else. It’s an international word that’s not English.

I’m a firm believer in visiting the kino when traveling abroad. It’s interesting to see a familiar cultural experience twisted 60 degrees off kilter.

The differences can be a hoot. I particularly recommend seeing comedies, so you can hear what the native residents laugh at. I’ll never forget seeing Woody Allen’s “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)” in Britain. In a pretty full theatre, I was the only person who laughed during the Italian-movie parody sequence when Allen says (in Italian, with English subtitles), “when we have sex, my wife lies there like a lox!”

In Germany, most foreign films are dubbed, but a handful of theatres catering to hard-core film-buffs (and English-speaking tourists) offer an “Originalversion.” So B and I went to see “Ocean’s Thirteen” in the Englishe Originalversion at the Sony Center "Cine Star" multiplex at Potsdamer Platz.


On our first attempt, a Sunday matinee, we arrived just a minute or two before showtime, but we figured there would be several minutes of commercials and trailers, so that we wouldn’t miss the beginning. The ticket lines were long, but I estimated we’d have our ticket in five minutes – plenty of time.

But I was applying time-motion study experience from American movie theatres. Here, the tickets were sold at a counter that looked like one set up for serious, involved transactions. Twenty yards or so long, staffed with half a dozen or more seated ticket sellers with two head-setted managers moving fussily behind them, answering phones and trouble-shooting, the ticket counter looked like a bank or a busy inter-city train station.

How slowly did the line move? Slow enough that the customers being served crossed their legs and leaned on the counter, airport style. Ticket purchase took, on average, a minute. That may not seem long, but do these two mental operations: (1) look at your watch for a minute while imagining buying a movie ticket in the States. (That’s right, it normally takes us Americans about 10 seconds – 15 if you banter with the ticket seller.) (2) Multiply the minute by the 15 people in front of us.

I quipped to B, “Do you think they’ll ask for our passports? I didn’t bring mine!” B replied, “We’re going to miss the beginning. Let’s leave.”

On our second attempt, a Friday night, a crowd of people were lined up halfway across the Sony Center. It turned out, though, that they were lining the man-ropes along a red carpet (in Germany, more of a heavy white construction paper) to see some B-list American Celebrity who was to show up for some sort of premiere thing. Jessica Alba, we were later uncertainly told.

The ticket lines were short – there were twice as many ticket sellers as before – and we breezed in early, the first ones in the theatre. While B and I often dither about where to sit in an empty theatre, here would couldn’t, because this theatre sells assigned seats.

There were 15 minutes of ads and trailers, followed by a short break. (We may well have made it the last time!) German moviegoers know this, so they purposely arrive late: the theatre only started filling up as the ads and trailers were rolling.

Memo to Robert Redford and his new Sundance Cinema concept: it is extremely annoying and needlessly anxious-making to have assigned seats in movies. I counted at least half a dozen disputes over who was in the right seat in the semi-darkness of the flickering screen, and for the first five minutes of the film I kept expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder and claim my seat.

I’m glad we didn’t miss the ads. They’re well made and visually clever (I couldn’t understand the language, of course), and I particularly enjoyed one about AIDS prevention in which a 20-something couple is involved in tasteful R-rated foreplay while two individually-wrapped condoms – animated in the style of the Pixar film “Cars” – keep up a snide running commentary.

After an ad for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, featuring “Cherry Garcia,” the house lights came up and in walked a vendor with a box strapped to his shoulders, baseball-stadium fashion, full of – can you guess? – Ben & Jerry’s. He hawked his wares by calling out the American flavor names: “Cherry Garcia”, “New York Fudge Brownie.” I particularly liked his germanicized version of “Chunky Monkey” in which he rolled over the k’s with a quick, hard “g”– “Chungy-mungy,” like it was a single word with the accent on "chung." I wondered whether the Germans would get the great pun behind Cherry Garcia, especially since they tend to pronounce “Jerry” by saying “Cherry” anyway. As in “Ben & Cherry.” And do they know that we “Ami’s” used to call the Germans “Jerries?” My mind began spinning.

The house lights went off again, and the ads resumed with one for beer. I wondered whether they’d stop again after this one so that a beer vendor could enter the theatre. No such luck. Most people had gotten their beer already, at the refreshment stand.

The movie finally began. “Ocean’s Thirteen” is perfect light entertainment for an expat feeling the first tugs of homesickness. You get to see many of your favorite American movie stars as you admire the slick Soderburgh Ocean franchise that, improbably, still works in its third iteration.

DSCN9823 DSCN9821
Sony Center, Potsdamer Platz, Berlin.

Only about halfway through did I notice that the “Englishe Originalversion” did not even have German subtitles. The mostly-German spectators were so fluent in English that they followed the dialogue without language aids, laughing at most of the jokes to boot. Most, but not all. They missed a few, including (perhaps especially) Matt Damon’s lascivious line to Ellen Barkin, “perhaps you should ask Mr. Wang yourself.”

After the movie, it was a perfect summer night at the Sony Center, warm and breezy with festive lighting and plenty of seats by the fountain where you could people watch – and get free WiFi.


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