“The Big Picture” in the Cologne City Museum
Mieke Jansen, Trainee at Cologne City Museum, and a fellow student visited for us the current exhibition of the museum. Here is an impression of what awaits you there:
Cinema history and cinema anecdotes
Until 6 November 2016, the Cologne City Museum is presenting an exhibition titled “The Big Picture! 120 Years of Cologne Cinema History”. Here’s something we didn’t know before: 120 years ago – on 20 April 1896, to be exact – the very first film screening in Germany took place right here in Cologne! This fascinating exhibition tells the story of how this screening proceeded and what happened after that. The exhibition includes many original exhibits, historical photos, films and interactive stations, making it very enjoyable for visitors from outside Cologne as well. The range of exhibits includes something for every taste, whether you’re a techie, a cineast, a lover of nostalgic, old cinemas, a Cologne patriot, or even someone who never goes to the cinema. As we walked through the exhibition, we found many reminders of our own cinema experiences, our first film, our first bag of cinema popcorn – and our first date.
“Action!” in Cologne
As you go in, you’ll see one of the absolute highlights of the exhibition: the first moving pictures made in Cologne. This historic footage takes us back to the year 1896 and the old “Muusfall” (a railway bridge across the Rhine River that was colloquially known as “The Mousetrap”), as well as people in horse-drawn carriages crossing the river on a pontoon bridge. These historical films were shot by employees of the French company Societé Lumière. They capture some fascinating images, and one can easily imagine the effect they had on the viewers back then. Incidentally, the student supervision team told us that the first remake in cinema history was also shot in Cologne! The film sequence “Arrival of a Train in Cologne’s Main Railway Station” is identical to the scene setup that had been shot in Paris a few months before.
Also available here in the cinema
An evening at the cinema without snacks and drinks? For many of us, that’s hard to imagine. The exhibition area “Catering at the cinema” shows how the export hits from the USA, popcorn and Coca-Cola, conquered German cinemas as well from the 1950s on. The exhibits include a historical hawker’s tray that was used to sell snacks, ice cream and drinks directly at the viewers’ seats before the film started. Another aspect that’s hard to fathom from our present-day viewpoint is the fact that cigarettes were also on offer! For quite a while, smoking in the cinema was expressly allowed. Smoking was not banned at all cinemas in Cologne until the 2000s.
Moving picture theatres
The huge neon signs of cinemas used to dominate entire streets in Cologne’s city centre. A number of striking examples can be seen in the exhibition. It’s hard to resist the retro charm of this monumental lettering. In fact, the Cologne City Museum saved one of these cinema signs from destruction shortly before the opening of the exhibition. It was the logo of the former “Theater am Rudolfplatz” from 1956. Plans call for the building to be torn down this year. The vintage charm of these signs is matched by the cinema seats from various decades, which document how cinemagoers’ expectations regarding comfort have changed since the early days of cinema.
During our visit we were also able to get a glimpse of the future of cinema. At the last station of the exhibition, visitors can settle back comfortably in a cinema seat and watch a short film through a pair of virtual reality glasses. Thanks to these glasses, you suddenly find yourself right in the midst of the moving pictures — at the centre of a different world!
On the way home, we had a long discussion. What will the cinema of tomorrow look like? What would we like to see in the cinema of the future?