Berlin October days filled with a festival of lights

by Aug 30, 2019Berlin

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As the luxurious dog days of summer wane, Berliners are dragged toward the dreaded winter of short, dark days. Just in time, a bright diversion appears in October: not one, but two light festivals that illuminate hundreds of buildings, parks, monuments and facades all across the city with dancing lights.

For two weeks in October, when nights can still be warm, but may also bring a harbinger of winter chill, the streets again fill, this time the bait is not the long summer sun, but the darkness – and the illuminations that dark skies allow.

Berlin Festival Of Lights Dom With People

The original light festival in Berlin called, intuitively enough, Festival of Lights, is perhaps a more glamorous, slick and (some might say) commercial endeavor. The other festival, Berlin Leuchtet (“Berlin Illuminated”) was launched by some of the creators of the Festival of Lights. Politics and competition? Probably. Do we care? No. Two festivals in Berlin make for more lights, brighter fall evenings, and double the fun.

Bike Clown Gendarmenmarket Berlin Light Festival

Warmth and sharing on cool fall nights

Germans tend to be cooler than in some countries. You don’t just chatter aimlessly with people you meet on the street. You shake hands; you don’t hug. But during the festivals of lights – maybe because of the cloak of darkness that adds a dash of an impersonal nature – things change. It’s like ooo’ing and aaah’ing over a fireworks show or a full moon; you want to point and gasp and share that awe with somebody else – even a complete stranger.

Bathed In Light Potsdamerplatz Berlin Festival Of Lights

Hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors roam the streets, fill the subways, congregate at key illuminations, and throng squares surrounded by light shows…until the festivals flip the switches off at about midnight (Remember, it is still Germany so one most follow SOME decorum, right?). Spectators of the light festivals are often bathed in ever-changing colors on all sides. Kids romp and reach out to touch rays of light that disappear as quickly as they appear.

Berlin Festival Gendarmenplatz Dancing In Lights

These festivals of lights in Berlin are also a travel photographer’s dream. It’s as if the call went out to everybody who loves to take photographs, especially at night. Packs of photographers, tripods slung over shoulders and gear bags on their backs roam the streets on a hunt for a magical moment caused by the intersection of the right shutter speed, at the right moment, with the right light effect. There are so many effects to capture — so many photographers on the streets. In some places, tripods are set up in a long row, but everybody shares, moves over to give room to the next, or discusses a favorite spot.

Block out your calendar

It may be easy to SAY, oh, I’ll just go check out a few spots illuminated for the Festival of Lights and Berlin Leuchtet on a couple of evenings. Ah, but the hunt becomes addictive. The adrenalin of tracking and capturing one illumination makes you want another and then another. One evening turns into two, and then into a nightly rush.

Bundesministerium Berlin Festival Of Lights

And with so many hundreds of illuminations across the city, you can spend every evening for two weeks and still not see them all. Of course, you want to see the biggest, but sometimes small, more static illuminations during the festival of lights in Berlin can be quite mesmerizing, like the simplicity of small floating boats on a pond slightly hidden behind a building.

Light Festival Berlin Pianosee Boats

The buildings, facades and monuments illuminated change most years. But one of several constants for the festival of lights in Berlin is the Berlin Cathedral. With such a magnificent and noble building fronted by a garden and fountain surrounded by other grand buildings, how can you miss? The current iteration of the Cathedral was finished in 1905 but its history dates back to the 1400s. It was heavily damaged in WWII with reconstruction starting in 1975. Certainly, the entire building and one or more sides is usually illuminated, but if you catch just the right angle, Berlin’s landmark TV Tower will peek between the spires. The large square in front is called the Lustgarten, and the feeling is magical indeed in the park created in 1646.

Dom Cathedral With TV Tower Berlin Light Festival

Compared to the peaceful surroundings in the Lustgarten at the Berlin Cathedral, you then have another huge magnet at the prestigious Bebelplatz. You are surrounded by majestic buildings all illuminated from top to bottom, leaving your head swiveling to catch it all as it twinkles and morphs. With so many illuminations in the surrounding area, both Bebelplatz and Gendarmenmarkt sees busloads of tourists, group festival of lights walks, and full-scale action. Less peaceful than the cathedral but nonetheless breathtaking.

Bebelplatz Berlin Leuchtet

The Bode Museum, situated on a much-photographed corner on Museum Island, begs you to sit and watch on a stroll along the Spree River — you and thousands of your best friends of course.

Bode Museum And TV Tower Light Festival Berlin

The must-see Brandenburg Gate, once a landmark when it sat in “No Man’s Land” between East and West Berlin, is now a gathering place for tourists and residents, alike. Its columns and horse-drawn chariot on top with the goddess of victory at the helm are invariably lit and accompanied by music. In 2018, the illuminations told a story of the history of the planet and its animals. Elephants galloped toward you then disappeared, the Berlin cityscape danced across the top then faded, and a giant panda was on the prowl between columns.

Brandenburg Gate Projections Berlin Light Festival

And of course, there are performers, some official — some not so much. The Flow of Fire troupe performs most years on Gendarmenmarkt on weekends, drawing a huge crowd for a couple of fire shows each night.

Bjorn Flow Of Fire Berlin Lights

Of course even the streets and sidewalks are alive with lights. Pedicabs and bikes are decked out with LED strings, while kids (and a few adults) buy LED bracelets and balloons. These lights can add to the levity. Catch the lights just right on a camera with a longer exposure and there are playful smears, streaks and dabs.

Potsdamer Platz Light Trails Berlin Lights

In 2019, Berlin Festival of Lights will run Oct. 11-20, and Berlin Leuchtet from Oct. 9-20 (Leuchtet’s German website version is fuller than the English one, so check here for additional information and maps. And don’t miss the landmark Victory Column (Siegessäule) in the Tiergarten if it is illuminated as it was in 2018. As another illumination said, “Life is short, let’s make it sweet.” Not one, but two festivals of lights in Berlin are sweet indeed.

Victory Column Berlin Light Festival

Bode Museum Side Berlin Light Festival

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18 Comments

  1. So two years ago, by total accident, Darcee & I actually were in Berlin during the Festival of Lights. It was amazing to see all the different laser light shows happening all along the buildings. We set up chairs in several places and had snacks and just watched & listed to the music as the lights danced all over the historic buildings! What a great event to find!

    Reply
    • Serendipity is a wonderful thing. And you did it the right way … setting up chairs with snacks and just taking it all in.

      Reply
  2. Wow. A photographer’s dream is an understatement. I am drooling over these photos as colorful nighttime photography is my other top favorite (with wildlife). I think what made it so jaw dropping for me is that I’ve been to Berlin so I’ve seen a lot of these places but only during the day and in the summer. Seeing them literally come alive with all these colors…I might have found my October destination for 2020!

    Reply
    • let us know if you plan your Oct destination for 2020 … we might just have to join you. 😉

      Reply
      • Awesome, that’d be great!

        Reply
  3. Loved your writing, how evocative it is!! Both Festival of Lights and Berlin Leuchtet like very fun festivities to submerge oneself in. And loved your photographs, how alive they are with their splash of colours. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for the kind words. The light festivals in Berlin as indeed very fun festivities

      Reply
  4. I’ve never heard of the Festival of Lights. What a wonderful way to enjoy the nice weather before winter arrives. The variety of colours are beautiful. You’ve done an amazing job capturing them at night!

    Reply
    • Thank you … photographing the festival a night was so much fun.

      Reply
  5. How cool is this! I was just showing my husband your article on the Festival of Lights and it’s now been added to the Bucket List. I’m so intrigued that even after 2 weeks you still would not have found them all. It’s like a big treasure hunt.

    Reply
    • You hit it right on the head … you have a map and a plan for each night and it is rather like a great big treasure hunt with lights that dazzle the reward.

      Reply
  6. What a great treat for those dreary fall evenings in Berlin. Two festivals just makes for twice the fun! How great that the entire city gets involved with activities for all ages.

    Reply
    • It is amazing and fun and such a lesson in how no matter how crowded, everyone just seems to get along. It is a celebration in every way.

      Reply
  7. We’re gonna miss it, unfortunately, we’re arriving after 20 October. But it’s good to keep in mind for the future.

    Reply
    • Too bad … but in Berlin, there will always be something very cool going on regardless. How long will you be in Berlin?

      Reply
  8. This is such a cool way to transform the city and its landmarks. I love that it is at this time of year too, just as the blues of winter begin to set in this brings everything back into life again. I think more festivals throughout the year instead of just in summer and christmas would really help with dealing with those seasonal changes.

    Reply
  9. Das Festival of Lights ist jedes Jahr wunderschön. Auch wenn mir als Berlinerin es dann manchmal doch zu voll wird. In den letzten Jahren ist die Begeisterung der Besucher immer größer geworden. Leider ist dieses Jahr das Gebäude von Siemens bei uns in Spandau nicht mehr beleuchtet. Es waren zu wenig Besucher dort, die es bis nach Spandau gezogen hat. Mein Favourite ist immer das Brandenburger Tor.

    The Festival of Lights is beautiful every year. Even if, as a Berliner, it sometimes gets too crowded. In recent years, the enthusiasm of visitors has grown ever larger. Unfortunately, this year the Siemens building in Spandau is no longer illuminated. There were too few visitors there, who pulled it to Spandau. My favorite is always the Brandenburg Gate.

    Reply
  10. Wow, two weeks of the Festival of Lights do illuminate Berlin that puts Christmas lights to shame. Well, what else with this capital city of engineering wonders!

    Reply

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