Up until March, most people did not have to give a second thought to going to a movie theatre in Germany. But that had all changed by mid-month, when Kinos across the country closed their doors due to the coronavirus epidemic.
Yet cinemas around the country are beginning to welcome guests again – albeit with strict hygiene and social distancing rules.
The first cinemas have already opened nationwide, including some in Hesse, Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Rhineland-Palatinate.
On Wednesday May 27th Hamburg will follow suit, as will Saxony-Anhalt on Thursday May 28th.
In the coming days re-openings have been announced for North Rhine-Westphalia on May 30th, Baden-Württemberg on June 1st, Brandenburg on June 6th and Bavaria on June 15th.
But what will cinema attendance look like in the future?
Can you still choose your seats?
Choosing freely where to sit will likely be a thing of the past. Instead, many cinemas are asking their customers to buy their tickets in advance online for specific seats. However, in order to maintain the prescribed distances, not all seats will be available.
Couples and friends may sit next to each other when booking together, but the current rules require a 1.5 metre distance to the next visitor.
Cultural institutions around Germany, which have also been closed since mid-March, are also planning staggered seating in order to maintain the distance.
— Berliner Ensemble (@blnensemble) May 26, 2020
The Berliner Ensemble tweeted a photo on Tuesday of how it's planning to re-welcome guests again.
Yet how exactly cinemas will enforce social distancing rules when booking is not yet clear everywhere
“Between the seats, which can be booked online as blocks of two, corresponding seats are blocked for the required distance and remain free,” said Cinemaxx managing director Frank Thomsen.
There will likely also be plexiglass between blocks of seats.
According to Christine Berg from the board of directors of HDF Kino, ticket systems could possibly also be modified so that the system automatically blocks the surrounding seats when a booking is made.
Low capacity of moviegoers
However, the cinemas hope that these distance rules will be loosened. According to the HDF Kino and AG Kino associations, if the distance remains at 1.5 metres, a theatre can only be filled to a maximum of 20 or 25 percent capacity, meaning that the majority of seats remain empty.
“If two seats are occupied, 12 must remain free,” said Berg.
According to Christian Bräuer of AG Kino, even a metre distance – as is the case Austria – would be an improvement, because then every row could be occupied.
“Then a chessboard system would be conceivable in which each row is occupied, but the seats are staggered and not occupied directly behind each other.”
An employee at Cineplex Alhambra demonstrating what the theatre and food counter will look like when they reopen. Photo: DPA
For many people, one of the traditions of going to the cinema is to eat: Some indulge in nachos, others munch on a huge bag of popcorn, while others toast with a beer or prosecco.
People won’t have to give up noshing in the theatre: at the bars and counters of the cinemas, drinks and snacks will be available as usual. But due to the hygiene regulations it will be a little different than before, similar to the case in supermarkets and other shops.
That means in most cases: queuing and ordering with distance and a mask. Employees will often stand behind a Plexiglas screen. Maybe in the future, nachos and co. will be handed out with a small cover.
Going to the toilet
“Entschuldigung, darf ich mal kurz vorbei?” (Excuse me, can I squeeze past?) was a common term heard at German movies.
Previously, if you wanted to go to the toilet, you had to push past the other moviegoers in your row, carefully avoiding stepping on toes in the dark.
Now there will be far fewer people in the same row, if any. The toilets can still be used, yet it is expected that guests will have to wear a mask whenever they leave their seats.
Behind the scenes
Cinema operators are now also organising differently than before. Particularly in larger theatres, films will be more staggered than before so that not as many guests are waiting in the same area at once.
There will also be more frequent cleaning, especially for door handles and surfaces. The doors to the halls will also likely remain open for the time of admission, so that not everyone has to touch the handles.
Have you been a newly reopened movie theatre in Germany yet? What was your experience?