The Sydney - Bangkok - London - Berlin flight is 25 hours in all. Not looking their best, the gang straggle out of the baggage claim area at Tegel (Berlin) airport. There are Mercedes waiting for them. Very glam. There are also autograph hunters. The film had its first screening for the public in Berlin a few days ago and already Matt is being recognised.
The Ps go to their hotel, Matt and Mark go to theirs. The festival is putting us up in the Intercontinental. We are putting Matt up in our room. Twin beds and a cot. Very unglam.
Another car is waiting for me when I arrive a couple of hours later. Thank God. At the hotel, Mark, Matt and I bounce around the room like children on red cordial. Rosie arrives. More bouncing. The Ps arrive. More bouncing and some duty free vodka.
The festival has vans that do the circuit between the hotels and the festival venues. We pour into one and head for the main venue, Potsdamer Platz, where the festival offices are based in the Hyatt Hotel. We have a meeting in a couple of hours with the director of the Panorama section of the festival. The plane grub has worn off and we're all hungry. Because we don't know where else to go, we stop at a bar/café under the Hyatt. The Germans there have some understanding of English. I have some understanding of German. We muddle through to an order of two club sandwiches, three Italian sandwiches, beers, Bloody Marys.
As we start to eat, the waiter comes over, looking at each meal carefully. "Is this what you ordered?" he asked.
"You ordered three club sandwiches and two Italian sandwiches?"
"No. We ordered two club, three Italian. Exactly what we've got."
In his place a customer appears, head over Susan's shoulder, his face centimetres from her food.
"Can I help you?" she asks.
"You have my sandwich," he says in a heavily accented English.
"The waiter has told him that we stole his Italian sandwich"
She explains that we have what we ordered and that the café must have mucked up his order. He strongly disagrees. The waiter has told him that we stole his Italian sandwich and so he has to eat the spare club sandwich. This guy actually wants Suzy to hand over her half-eaten Italian sandwich. If we weren't so tired, we would laugh. Instead we're aghast. We come from a land where service can be arrogant but rarely accusatory. We ask him to go away. He does but he sends his friends over. One by one they come and survey the crime scene. They glare and scowl at us. It makes for a very relaxing meal.
The bill for the stolen goods comes to 265 Deutschemark. About $A250. For a bunch of people with no expense account and another six days of eating out, this is scary news.
Our slightly devastated mood swings upwards when we meet the director of the festival, Wieland Speck, and our personal festival co-ordinator, Ella. Ella is Turkish, lives in London, travels the world orchestrating festivals, speaks five languages fluently and is the Felix Unger of organisation. Ella talks us through the events she has planned for us - including the Panorama opening party tonight, how the premiere will work, when the press screening and conference are on, how to get in touch with the press, how to get tickets to other movies that are screening.
She takes us to the box office and introduces us to the staff (who we come to know as Mr Village People and the-future-Mrs-Newton). Mr Village People, in leather and chains this day, explains that each day we have to come to the office with our accreditation badges to get tickets for the films we want to see. Tickets to premieres of mainstream movies, such as Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labours Lost, Denzel Washington's Hurricane and Jim Carey's Man on the Moon will be the hardest to get because the big stars will be there. If we want them, we'll have to get there early in the day. It is now the afternoon. We push pretty Matt forward to book in for Love's Labours Lost that night. Mr Village People thinks he looks like Leonardo Di Caprio. We get the tickets.
After leaving the Hyatt, Mark is asked for his autograph. This comes as a shock until he understands what the woman is actually saying:
"Mr Branagh. Autograph, please." The red hair was the thing.
We head to Susan and Phaedon's room to drink their duty free vodka and witness their pillows which have been given the hotel's signature karate chop in the middle so that each side folds upwards to nestle a pack of gummy bears. Obviously chocolate is passé. Laughing beyond the humour, the room spinning, we flop with exhaustion and alcohol and excitement on beds and chairs. Everyone wants to go to sleep but we force each other awake.
Taxis to the festival opening, masses of people, masses of food, masses of beer. We're thrilled to be here but too tired to eat, drink or work the room. In a clump we lean against a wall, watching and listening, energised occasionally by the glimpse of a famous face. Around 7pm, the 3Ps call it a night.
The rest of us go for a walk. Soup and a roll in a café and we head to the flicks for Branagh's Shakespearean musical. The cinema is impressive - all the cinemas for the festival complex have cosy seats and massive screens that semicircle the audience so they can see from any angle. The film is unusual. It's not one of Bill's greatest plays so he probably wouldn't have minded Ken's World War II setting. Whether or not he would have approved of the Gershwin and the dance numbers, who knows (though only a complete loser could fail to appreciate the synchronised swimming). And whether or not the audience at the festival like it, they love having Kenneth, Alicia Silverstone et al come out on stage afterwards.
Tragically, it is kind of thrilling to be in their presence.
We go for a beer to wind the evening down. Rose is focussed on the dance routines. I admire Kenneth's devotion to Shakespeare. Matt is talking actors. Mark isn't specific, he just thinks the whole film was great. Gregor is interested in the attempt to make a dull play entertaining by setting it in a modern war.
"War," says Mark, "What war?" Turns out he slept through the whole thing - woke for the final number.
Home to the Intercontinental dorm. Mark takes pills and is snoring inside of a minute. Matt and I chat over the noise and eventually drift off.
It's still a little dark at 8am when we wake. We establish a bathroom routine based on who needs to do "a bad thing". They, naturally, get the shower and toilet last.
An hour later we're at the festival office to meet up with the 3Ps, sing Susan Happy Birthday (it's her 40th) and get tickets for Magnolia that night, dispensed to us by Mr Village People, today in dark brown velvet.
We find a bagel place in the mall opposite the office. We order. The waiter asks if we want the bagels toasted. Only Matt says yes. We've all finished eating by the time Matt's bagels arrive. It seems the toaster takes twenty minutes to heat up. Of course it would have been good to know this when we ordered.
"Oops. She glares at us without a word"
While Matt's eating, Susan and I head off to Deutsche Post to send postcards to our lieblings back home. We ask for postage to Australia and jump with fright as the caricature of German efficiency that serves us whacks the stamps onto the cards and then thumps the poor bastards to make damn sure they know their place. She asks us for fourteen DM. We have twelve between us. Oops. She glares at us and without a word, tears two of the stamps off, disabling them for life. I'm sure her English subtitles would have read: "Look what you've done. Are you happy now?" We are apologetic but secretly thrilled that she has resolved the situation so swiftly. We thank her, grab our despoiled postcards and run.
The others, except Matt, are now at the press office. Matt has departed on Other Business. The central press room has a long table amassed with pamphlets on the hundreds of features, documentaries and shorts entered in the festival. The walls are honeycombed with numbered boxes, each belonging to a journalist. We find an empty corner and plonk our butts on the floor so the 3Ps can write notes to each of the journalists they want to entice to a screening, mainly the Australians, British and Germans. They put press kits together, attach the notes and work the kits into the cubby holes that are already bursting with other film-makers' press kits and notes.
John departs on Other Business, leaving the four of us to do some touring of Berlin. Lunch is a bowl of very good Chinese noodles with a very chilli sauce from a street vendor. We only have a few hours so we join a two-hour bus tour of the city - a great way to get the big picture. We discover a city under construction. The new architecture is unique, intense and beautiful. Though the delineation between East and West is less apparent now, the history is manifest in the glorious Brandenburg Gates, the preserved remains of bombed-out buildings and the winterscape parklands that weave through the urban layout.
Afterwards we walk to the Intercontinental's Marlene Dietrich Bar for birthday cocktails. Granted there were free nuts and pretzels, but the bill for $A75 for four drinks was a little off-putting. Only a little - we had a second drink.
"Kenneth actually nodded to Matt"
Back to meet up with the gang at the festival office where Matt tells us of his Other Business. He spent the morning looking for Kenneth Branagh. His mission was to invite the Shakespearean one to a screening of Frank. He tracked down the hotel and managed to make contact with Kenneth's PR lady, who took a brochure and before Matt's very eyes, handed it to Kenneth who was doing an interview. Kenneth actually nodded to Matt as if to say, "Thank you so much for tracking me down. I am thrilled to be invited to a screening of your film and wouldn't miss it for the world." Alternatively, he could have been thinking, "Actually I'm leaving Berlin tomorrow morning you desperate, pathetic pimple and I wouldn't see your deplorable little film even if I was staying." Whatever, he never showed for a screening.
For Susan's birthday dinner, Ella the Festival Angel gets us a booking at a chic restaurant. The food is delicious but the timing, again, is out of whack. Gregor's entrée and main course arrive together. The main course Caesar salads come fifteen minutes after everyone's else's hot main meals have been served. No point having a spak attack, it's obviously the done thing.
"Bugger Magnolia after all"
Most of the gang decide they can't face three hours and twenty minutes of a film, even if it is Magnolia which is tipped to win the Golden Bear and score Tom Cruise an Academy Award. Some decide they can face it. We take separate taxis but somehow all end up at the bar in the 3Ps' hotel. Must have said the wrong thing in German. We decide to stay put. Bugger Magnolia after all.
A few hours later, Mark, Matt and I find ourselves wandering the streets, each following a different version of Susan's directions on the "five minute walk" to our hotel. It's minus two degrees. Matt takes the conch shell and hails a taxi. When asked, the driver says we are only five minutes from the hotel - in the direction Matt wanted to take. Matt is vindicated. Bully for him.
Berlin Diary Part Three of Five