Why Visiting the Festival of Lights Berlin Will Illuminate You
For more than ten years the Festival of Lights Berlin has illuminated a route through the city that this photo essay will leave you eager to visit

Truth be told, neither of us are incredibly fond of fireworks, Asian lantern launching or laser light shows. Call us boring if you will, but they’ve never really kindled any spark within us.

On occasion, when we do find ourselves in a location where these kinds of events are happening we’ll either avoid them and try something else, or just go with the flow and embrace the opportunity to see and do something outside of our ‘comfort zone‘. Sure, we might typically not enjoy doing whatever it might be, but who knows, this could be the time where something clicks and we begin to fall head-over-heels in love with whichever event it is.

One occasion in which this springs to mind is New Years Eve 2012. We’re in Kuala Lumpur, it’s the fifth day of our being in Malaysia and our second night in the company of our incredibly hospitable Couchsurfing host, K.E. He’s really excited by the idea of celebrating the night with some other Couchsurfers and a small gathering going on elsewhere in the city. We go along, meet some lovely people (who we’re still in contact with today) and as the clock strikes midnight we all stand on the balcony in awe of the unspoit city skyline view, with fireworks popping up and exploding left, right, and center, making for a sight that typically neither of us would enjoy – but thanks to the company – enjoyed each moment of.

It’s because of the expected enjoyment of an event such as that with the company we had that pushed us out the door and with our camera at hand to join the thousands of people filling up the squares and streets of Berlin during the past weeks Festival of Lights.

A camera on a tripod taking a shot during Festival of Lights Berlin 2014

From Day To Night

Walking towards the festival center point of Potsdamer Platz, both of us could already feel the excitement and anticipation of the opening show and switching on of the lights from the crowd commuting along each road, and as we were drawn into the crowd that was amassing on all four corners of the pavement that stands on the crossroads that go through the landmark, that feeling of excitement could be heard from the multilingual chatter coming from the people as they waited for the show to begin.

I can’t help but admit that I too felt drawn into that building anticipation to see what was to come. Though typically the projection of light images onto buildings isn’t something I’m fond of, the excitement of the children chattering away upon the shoulders of their parents was quite infectious. I was standing still, but my feet wished me further on, trying to push me forwards towards the edge of the road for an unspoilt view for myself and (the ever so slightly shorter) Franca.

Once the night became dark and the lights finally flashed on, cameras in hands and on tripods all around us began to sing that clicking song that was to soundtrack our entire walk around the city and along the Festival of Lights Berlin route.

Painting three of the major buildings that loom over Potsdamer Platz, the combination of colourful lights projected were bright, bold, and vibrant; a purposeful kaleidoscope of colour that draws you in as it changes with time, especially so on the Kollhoff Tower.

A building in Potsdamer Platz covered in lights for the Festival of Lights Berlin
A Kaleidoscope of colours projected on the Hollhoff Tower in Potsdamer Platz during the Festival of Lights Berlin

A Kaleidoscope Of The City

Whilst so many would be remaining there to take long exposures and entertaining videos from their tripod and DSLR setups, for us it was time to move onto one of the many other larger landmarks that would be painted in light during the festival.

Walking along the Ebertstraße past the Jewish Memorial and Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, we came across the US Embassy and its planned light work projection for the festival – a dedication to Dr. Martin Luther King.

A light projected dedication to Dr. Martin Luther King during the Berlin Festival of Lights

The Brandenburg Gate

In its tenth year, the Festival of Lights Berlin’s biggest canvas in terms of notoriety for their light projections is of course the Brandenburg Gate. The most iconic symbol of Berlin and a reunified Germany.

The square and road that terminates with the gate has possibly the largest audience of the night for both wandering observers and tripod-manoeuvring photographers, but whilst the dead center viewpoint of the gate is a competition between camera wielding members of the public waiting for their turn to take a timelapse video or long-exposure shot; there’s certainly room for plenty to watch the animated video that’s projected onto the gate, played at scheduled intervals throughout the night.

The Brandenburg Gate covered in lights during the Berlin Festival of Lights

The animation they have put together is very well done and wonderful to watch. It’s draws you in as the gate appears to move, collapse and be redesigned before your very eyes. Then, the sky appears across it before giving way to long red drapes frame a video scene of a lady dancing on the stage of a theatre, before closing to end both her show and the animated lights also.

The Brandenburg Gate covered in lights during the Berlin Festival of Lights
The Brandenburg Gate covered in lights during the Berlin Festival of Lights
The Brandenburg Gate covered in lights during the Berlin Festival of Lights

Elsewhere In The City

Turning around and heading away from Brandenburg Gate and along the boulevard of Unter den Linden, and another landmark building that set to be covered from top-to-bottom as light art pieces are some of the buildings of the Humbolt Universtat

Humbolt University covered in lights in Berlin during the Berlin Festival of Lights
Humbolt University covered in lights in Berlin during the Berlin Festival of Lights
Humbolt University covered in lights in Berlin during Berlin Festival of Lights

Across the road in the large Bebelplatz square is another building that makes up the large campus structure of the most central university of Berlin, covered entirely with yellow and blue light, painted as if it was a baroque masterpiece or elaborate-dedication to a Fabrege egg.

Humbolt University covered in lights during Berlin Festival of Lights

Also within the square there is another building enjoying it’s turn within the viewfinder of both amateur and professional photographers with either a phone or camera at hand. The Hotel de Rome inspires more standing and staring as its slideshow of images transports you around the world to Venice and New York, or vividly pictures the might and majestic beauty of some of nature’s greatest animals.

A colourful light picture covering the Hotel de Rome during Festival of Lights Berlin 2014
A light picture of grapes covering the Hotel de Rome during Berlin Festival of Lights 2014
"A light picture of a swimming elephant covering the Hotel de Rome during Berlin Festival of Lights 2014
A light picture of a Burano island in Venice covering the Hotel de Rome during Berlins Festival of Lights 2014
A colourful light picture covering the Hotel de Rome during Berlins Festival of Lights 2014
A light picture of a rhino covering the Hotel de Rome during Berlin Festival of Lights 2014

Bringing People Together

As we walked along the festival route towards where we’d be ending our night, we both talked about just how special it was to see everyone of the city, both tourist and local alike, enjoying the spectacles that were being performed with just something as simple as the manipulation of light upon old buildings that – whilst often photographed – don’t often get the length of observation that they receive on nights such as those that run during the ten or so of the decade-long lights festival.

Seeing people gather together like that to pass judgement over each slide or passage of the show, with their critics and their praise as if they were standing in front of a masterpiece in an art gallery was incredibly enjoyable to watch, especially when the crowd is a mixture of so many from so far and from all ages and walks of life. This does of course lead to several heads popping up and blurring within the bottom of so many photographs which are now working their way around the internet and inspiring others to visit, but its so worth it to hear the chatter and laughter coming from the crowd.

One particular moment and space where so many were gathering to not only stand, but to sit upon the grass and stare was the large open green space next to the Berlin Cathedral.

The Berlin Cathedral covered in bright lights during the Berlin Festival of Lights 2014
The Berlin Cathedral covered in bright lights during the Berlin Festival of Lights 2014
The Berlin Cathedral covered in bright lights during the Berlin Festival of Lights 2014
The Berlin Cathedral covered in bright lights during the Berlin Festival of Lights 2014
People taking photographs of the Berlin Cathedral covered in lights during the Berlin Festival of Lights 2014
Berlin Cathedral covered in words during the Berlin Festival of Lights 2014

With possibly the highest and most frequent amount of changes in its light show, the cathedral is remarkable to watch as the pictures, patterns and messages that shine across it keep everyone staring in one singular direction; and with the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) standing tall above and behind it, the sight is hard to forget.

A light covered TV Tower during the Berlin Festival of Lights 2014

Surprisingly Bright

We both freely admit that we did both enjoy ourselves during not only that opening night, but also on the second time we decided to retrace our steps before the Festival of Lights ends its nine day run. Though not every piece we saw during the walk was spectacular (in fact, I chose to leave one or two out), the overall selection and organisation of the festival is such great fun to not only watch, but to be a part of.

This years Festival of Lights has made us reconsider how we now feel about light festivals in general. Personally, the one exception to my general dislike of light festivals has always been the Hindu festival of Diwali – something I’ve experience only in the UK, but would love to see and appreciate in India itself one day – but perhaps with our current proximity to Prague and the fact that they too will be putting on their own Signal Light Festival during October, we might just be convinced that it’s worth being in town for, much like the Festivals of Lights in Berlin.

Would you like to see the Festival of Lights Berlin next year?