Abandoned no more, the Delphi silent film theater has finally found its voice again now that coronavirus restrictions have been lifted.
It was never so quiet, so still. Only the films were meant to be silent when this old cinema opened in Weißensee nearly 100 years ago. But the pandemic took the sound from everything, even silenced the 1920s’ roar.
It’s not the first time the Delphi had been forced to suffer such ignominy. The DDR years weren’t kind either. Brought into this world for entertainment and nothing more, the Delphi was reduced to other demeaning tasks after the cinema was closed in 1959. It served as a storage area for vegetables, helped a laundry company with its cleaning, sold stamps, and was even used for storage by the civil defense. The former cinema effectively became a warehouse for all kinds of crap. It did everything but entertain.
The Delphi was abandoned for years, ignored and abused by the DDR, then flogged off to a property development company in the wild cash-rush of the 1990s before local property magnate Andreas Jahn snapped it up through a forced sale in 2005. Jahn had dreams of restoring it.
Meanwhile he rented it for events, film and TV work. Harvey Weinstein’s buddy Quentin Tarantino came around when he was looking at locations for “Inglourious Basterds“ before opting for the comfort of filming at the Babelsberg studios.
The Delphi was finally roused from its slumber by the artists Brina Stinehelfer and Nikolaus Schneider through their Per Aspera theater group in 2012. No more vegetables, no more stamps, no more storing useless junk – entertainment baby! The general public got its first peak behind the Delphi’s dilapidated doors in decades.
When Jahn put the place up for sale four years later, Stinehelfer and Schneider, who first discovered the Delphi at a New Year’s Eve party in 2010, convinced the Edith Maryon Foundation from Switzerland to help them buy it. The theater was refurbished the following year. The interior was largely preserved as it originally was, and it was reopened again on Dec. 2. 2017.
The reborn Delphi hosted concerts, operas, dance performances, dramas – oh the drama, the glamor, the flair!
It gained international fame as Friedrichstraße’s legendary Moka Efti nightclub in the “Babylon Berlin” series, and when it wasn’t starring for the cameras, people were letting their hair down at retro parties. The golden twenties were back!
Then the coronavirus pandemic brought the curtain down in 2020. For two long years the Delphi was silent again.
But let’s turn back the clock to when the Delphi, designed by the architect Julius Krost and built by Julius Meckel, opened on Gustav-Adolf Straße in 1929 as the last of its kind.
Weißensee, just north of Prenzlauer Berg, was known at the time as “Little Hollywood” due to the prevalence of film production companies and cinemas. The bright lights of Gustav-Adolf Straße, which starts just outside the Delphi’s door, had 20 Kinos alone, and there were seven stuck together on Antonplatz.
Fritz Lang made his first film “Halbblut” on Franz-Joseph-Straße (now Liebermannstraße) in 1919. The horror film “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” from 1920 was filmed in Weißensee. It was banned by the Nazis in 1933. Young Marlene Dietrich made her debut in Weißensee in Joe May’s “Die Tragödie der Liebe” in 1923.
The Delphi silent film theater was formally opened with Johannes Meyers film “Hochverrat” (Treason) on Nov. 26, 1929 – just in time for the economic crisis of the Great Depression. It seems the Delphi has never had good timing.
But the 870-seat cinema survived, in contrast to most of Berlin’s Kinos at the time. It also miraculously survived the war with just minimal damage to the roof. It reopened in July 1945, giving hard-pressed Berliners at least some temporary relief from the ruins around them.
The damage to the Delphi was never properly fixed, however, and some pieces from the ceiling fell above visitors’ seats 14 years later. A survey found that water had been getting in and making it unsafe, so it was closed on Feb. 12, 1959. That’s when Berlin basically forgot about the Delphi silent cinema.
Thankfully now, after yet another break in service due to the pandemic – if it’s not one thing, it’s another – the Delphi is entertaining again, a silent theater no more.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: The Delphi silent film theater, the last of its kind built in Weißensee in 1929, reborn as the Moka Efti nightclub in the Babylon Berlin television series, now thankfully open again after its pandemic-induced closure.
- Where: Gustav-Adolf-Str. 2, 13086 Berlin
- How to get there: Tram. The M2 from Alexanderplatz, M1, M13 and 12 all stop at Prenzlauer Allee/Ostseestraße, from where you just cross the road to Caligiariplatz. Here it is on a map.
- Getting in: Check the Theater im Delphi’s program to see what performances are on when.
- Difficulty rating: 1/10. There’s no real challenge here.
- Who to bring: Bring your friends, girlfriend/boyfriend.
- What to bring: Bring your camera to take pictures of the beautiful interior.
- Dangers: None.
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The rollercoaster story of East Germany’s only full-time fun park, later called Spreepark, abandoned and left to rot with its dinosaurs in 2001.
Great article and fantastic pictures (as always)!
Thanks Patrick! Hope you can make it there some day soon.
Oh great! +1 place to meet!
Hello by the website “abandoned Berlin” please put the abandoned complex, not working museum.
Not sure I understand your comment. Can you please clarify?
I’m still happy with the website and I’m not complaining.
That’s what I want to say 🙂
That’s a real shame. I know Brina, who arranged for my documentary’s premiere there in February 11, 2018.
They’d had some bad luck being robbed by workmen who stole most of their equipment and then the Corona Pandemic hit.
Oh wow, I went to a really great party here in late 2014-early 2015 called Burning Bär. It was such a cool location. Sad to see that it isn’t currently in use. I hope something good happens with the space soon.