Even in a fabulous big city like Berlin, you still need many fabulous ideas to make the city's one big shortcoming - weather - bearable for its citizens. The Festival of Lights is up to the challenge.
When Berliners came up with the idea of organizing the first Festival of Lights in October 2004, I bet they were longing for a way out of the long, dark and rainy season ahead of them.
You see, after you've had a fairly short summer, you need to find some things to cheer you up a bit with the endless cold season in sight. Hence, a bunch of organizations and private companies in Berlin decided to start decorating the city with light installations - so that we Berliners have something to stare at in the absence of sun. Since 2004, we've been looking forward to the Festival of Lights every year in October.
Not only does the Festival of Lights save us from winter depression, but it has also developed into a prominent artistic event and a magnet for tourists. Besides, the festival has evolved from a quite static show of colors to breathtaking video mappings, 3D laser projections and video shows created by international artists. It is now one of the largest illumination festivals in the world, organized under the patronage of Berlin's social-democratic mayor, Klaus Wowereit.
This year's two-week festival lights up the German capital until October 20. About 70 projections are being beamed onto Berlin's landmarks, historical places, streets and trendy quarters. I must say the city is really drowning in a sea of spectacular lighting, so I just couldn't help but joining the crowds.
'Berlin Festival of Lights greets the world'
For the first time in my life, I hopped on a sightseeing bus tour in Berlin. This is where I live, so you can imagine that such a thing had never crossed my mind before. I took the "Lightner" at 7 p.m. for a 45-minute night ride, starting at Kudamm Boulevard, going past the famous shopping street, along Tiergarten Park and the Victory Column, then up to the eastern parts of the city, where the famous TV Tower and the Berlin Cathedral are located. And I must say, the 14-Euro ticket was worth every cent. It's hard to believe, but during the Festival of Lights, Berlin gets even cooler than it usually is. And apart from tour tickets or entrance fees at featured art events, this huge show is for free.
After my sightseeing tour, I stopped in front of Brandenburg Gate for a few minutes to watch the fabulous 3D video mapping called "City Life - City Lights". The light show, a production of Zander & Partner Event Marketing, reproduces Berlin's vibrant atmosphere, the night life, its art and culture. This is a must see: unbelievable visual effects make the six pillars of the gate rotate and bend, even filling them up with water. And everything looks so real! Call me pathetic, but the final message projected under the chariot atop the gate that read "Berlin Festival of Lights greets the world" almost made me cry.
In that moment, I actually had the same feeling I experience at every big event in Berlin: It's as if, besides the obvious economic gains of such a happening, people are doing all this as a tribute to Berlin. In order to emphasize again and again, "We are open to the world. Here lies the future."
Light into dark
In any event, the attraction has an important economic dimension, since Berlin's Festival of Lights attracts about 600,000 extra overnight bookings at the city's hotels, and more than 1.5 million guests come to see it each year. "The Festival turns Berlin into a piece of art, and impresses people from all over the world," said Burkhard Kieker, manager of Visit Berlin, a tourist company supported by the city. "It brings light into the dark season", he added, confirming my theory that the show makes Berlin's cold season bearable.
So should you ever think of visiting Berlin in October, don't let the bad weather scare you off. Go see the Festival of Lights. Actually, you couldn't possibly miss it, because it's all over the place. Just make sure to take an umbrella along.