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Berlinale: Diversity and Nazi past in spotlight at 70th Berlin film festival

Diversity, politics and revelations from the Nazi era will dominate the agenda when the Berlin film festival launches its 70th edition in the heart of the German capital this Thursday.

Berlinale: Diversity and Nazi past in spotlight at 70th Berlin film festival
Film lovers queuing for tickets for the Berlinale on Monday. Photo: DPA

One of Europe's biggest cinema events alongside Cannes and Venice, the Berlinale will this year showcase female directors and political films from across the globe while also confronting hard truths about its own murky history.

Following furious debate in Hollywood about the dominance of white and male nominees at recent award shows, the Berlinale's new directors have claimed the 11-day festival will represent the “diversity” of cinema.

“My goal is to ensure a platform for the films. We want to give room to diversity,” said co-director Carlo Chatrian.

“I don't say that we are presenting perfect films… but films that represent cinema in its diversity.”

New chiefs Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek take charge of the festival for the first time this year, after former boss Dieter Kosslick ended an 18-year spell at the helm in 2019.

Last year, Kosslick signed a “50/50” pledge to commit the festival to gender parity in future, calling for transparency in selection and an even gender ratio in top management.

At a recent press conference, Rissenbeek pointed out that the majority of section directors were now women after a reorganisation of the festival structure.

READ ALSO: Seven events you won't want to miss in Germany in February

Berlinale bosses Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. Photo: DPA

Yet only six of the 18 films in the running for this year's “Golden Bear” are directed by women, one fewer than in 2019.

They include British director Sally Potter's “The Roads Not Taken”, starring Javier Bardem and Salma Hayek, and “First Cow” by US indie director Kelly Reichardt.

A number of high-profile female figures are also set to grace the red carpet this year.

British Oscar winner Helen Mirren will receive a lifetime achievement award, while former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is set to appear for a five-part documentary on her life.

Nazi skeletons

Chatrian has warned against “stamping” the Berlinale as a political event, yet politics will be front and centre in the 70th edition.

The anniversary has already been overshadowed by revelations that Alfred Bauer, the Berlinale's founding director, was a high-ranking Nazi.

The prestigious Alfred Bauer prize, previously won by the likes of Baz Luhrmann, was suspended after an investigation by newspaper Die Zeit highlighted Bauer's standing in the Nazi party.

Alfred Bauer and actress Shirley Maclaine at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport in 1971. Photo: DPA

On Tuesday, festival organisers announced they had commissioned the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) to investigate Bauer's role in the Hitler regime.

Political films

The festival programme also includes a wealth of politically charged films.

Controversial Russian artistic project DAU will make its first appearance in Berlin since its 2018 plan to reconstruct the Berlin Wall in the heart of the German capital was thwarted by city authorities.

Two DAU films will be shown at the Berlinale with one, DAU Natasha, among those in competition.

READ ALSO: British actor Jeremy Irons to head 2020 Berlin Film Festival jury

Also in the running for the Golden Bear are “There Is No Evil” by Mohammad Rasoulof, an Iranian director currently unable to leave his home country, and Rithy Panh's “Irradiated”, a work on remembrance of the Cambodian genocide.

Brazilian director Caetano Gotardo's film about slavery “All the Dead Ones” is also up for the main prize, amid anger in Brazil over President Jair Bolsonaro's slashing of state support for the film industry.

Festival director Chatrian denied that the selection of Brazilian films was a rebuke to Bolsonaro, but said that “many filmmakers in Brazil are afraid of the cuts”.

This year's competition will be judged an international jury which is headed by British Oscar winner Jeremy Irons and also includes French-Argentine star Berenice Bejo.

The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on Saturday, February 29th.

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GERMANY EXPLAINED

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays – and will it ever change?

Germany's strict ban on shops opening on Sundays can be a shock to foreigners. We looked at the culture around it, and spoke to one of the country's largest trade unions to find out if things are ever likely to change.

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays - and will it ever change?

It’s Sunday. You’ve invited people for dinner, but you’ve forgotten the most important ingredient. Tough luck – you’ll either have to do without or wait until Monday because your local shops are shut. 

Most of us are familiar with this inconvenience, and perhaps you’ve even found yourself screaming: “Why?” in frustration in front of a locked-up supermarket. 

But it’s something us adopted Germans have had to get used to. We decided to take a look at the reasons behind Germany’s ban on Sunday shopping – and to find out if it might change in future. 

Where does the rule come from?

The Sonntagsruhe or ‘Sunday rest’ principle is an integral part of German culture, so much so that it is enshrined in the German constitution (Grundgesetz).

Article 140 of the law, which has remained unchanged since 1919, says: “Sundays and state-recognised public holidays remain protected by law as days of rest from work and spiritual upliftment.” 

But the practice of not working on Sunday has been around for much longer. The idea that the seventh day of the week is a day of rest dates back to the old testament and was declared a general day of rest across the Roman Empire as early as 321, by Roman Emperor Constantine.

In the centuries since, however, most of Europe has gradually relaxed the strict ban on commercial activities on Sundays. 

But in Germany, the rules remain restrictive. It’s unlikely to change anytime soon partly because of religious reasons, and also in relation to the interests of workers.

Germany’s biggest trade union Verdi spelled out their view. “It’s not ‘modern’ to work seven days a week,” they told The Local. “That’s the Middle Ages.” 

What exactly does the law mean?

On the face of it, the German law forbids all forms of work on Sundays and public holidays, though numerous exceptions are laid out in the Working Time Act. 

As well as emergency and rescue services, hospitals, nursing and care facilities, exceptions include cultural and sporting activities, and the hospitality sector. 

Another notable exemption to the rule is bakeries, which are allowed to open for three hours on Sundays – which is why you may often find a long queue at your local baker if you want to get your freshly baked Brötchen on Sunday morning. 

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery.

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

Illustrating how seriously the rule can be taken in Germany, there have even been cases of bakeries being sued for selling bread for too long on Sundays.

Shops, however, aren’t exempt from the rule and, the only way they can legally open on a Sunday is on a so-called verkaufsoffener Sonntag – Sunday trading day.

In most federal states, shops are allowed to open on between four and eight Sundays per year, and the States can decide when these should be. The chosen days must, however, be linked to a relevant occasion – such as a local festival, a market, a trade fair, or a similar event. 

Sunday openings also have to be recognisable as an exception to the general rule and Sunday openings that have already been approved can often be later overturned by the courts.

How strictly is the rule enforced?

Retailers who break the rules and open for business on Sunday can face fines ranging between €500 and €2,500.

The strictness of enforcement can vary widely between different regions.

In Berlin, for example, you can still find lots of Spätis (late night shops) open on Sundays. Although this is technically illegal, the authorities in the capital seem to take more of a relaxed approach to enforcement than in other states. 

A "Späti" late-night shop in Berlin.

A “Späti” late-night shop in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Florian Schuh

In the traditionally Catholic state of Bavaria, for example, the law is much more strictly guarded and enforced.

READ ALSO: Why Germany has strict shop opening hours

Is the law likely to change?

A survey by Spiegel in 2017 showed that 61 percent of Germans wanted to be able to shop on a Sunday, and this desire is shared by the trade industry.

The German Trade Association, for example, which represents around 400,000 independent companies, has strongly criticised Germany’s refusal to budge on the issue of Sunday openings on several occasions and argued that Sunday opening is also popular with staff, with many shop assistants appreciating the work in a more relaxed atmosphere.

In its latest statement on the issue, the association stated that, especially after following the economic impact of the pandemic, many retailers would benefit greatly from being able to open on Sundays. 

READ ALSO:

“It is remarkable that in no other EU country Sunday opening is as restricted as in Germany,” the association said. “Even in strongly Catholic EU countries such as Italy and Poland, shoppers can generally shop on Sundays. The same applies to France, although they place great value on culture and socialising.”

However, even if there is a widespread desire in some quarters to allow Sunday trading, an amendment to the constitution would require the consent of two-thirds of the German parliament. Also, there remains strong opposition to changing the rule from many workers’ groups and trade unions.

Trade union Verdi, which regularly files complaints against states and organisations which seek to deviate from Sunday trading restrictions, said that Sunday rest is still very important for workers.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Arne Dedert

A spokesperson said: “We have just one day a week when employers can’t stop us from going to football together, meeting friends, attending cultural events, or spending free time with the whole family.

“And we want to keep it that way. There are six days a week when we can go shopping, take the car to the garage, do our banking, or get the package delivered from the online retailer. On Sunday, there has to be peace and quiet.”

The Verdi spokesperson added that it’s important to think about “work-life balance, and not about being available 24/7 for a company”.

We also asked the union if the law looks set to change in the near future.

The spokesperson said: “Sunday, which is a non-working day for most people, has so far been protected by the majority of political parties in Germany.

“Verdi, with its almost two million members, continues to work to ensure that working on Sunday does not become an everyday occurrence.”

So it appears that the culture shock for many non-Germans of shops being closed on Sundays won’t change anytime soon. 

READ ALSO: From nudity to sandwiches – the biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Germany

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