The federal government has outlined a gradual easing of restrictions but the decisions are being made on a regional level, with the worst hit areas such as Bavaria unlikely to allow venues to re-open for a while.
Hessen (Hesse in English), a central German state which has a little over six million inhabitants and includes the cities of Wiesbaden and Frankfurt, has become the first region to allow cinemas to open their doors and welcome back members of the public as of today (May 15), albeit under coronavirus preventative conditions.
The region has 346 screens (as of 2019), but the majority of those are staying shut, with several operators saying it simply isn’t viable to re-open under the current conditions, particularly considering the max occupancy rate of 25%-30% (depending on the area).
At least two cinemas have, however, decided to give it a go.
The Astor Film Lounge in the MyZeil shopping center in Frankfurt has re-opened, allowing a maximum of 100 guests inside at any one time across its five screens. The films on offer are primarily successful releases from the last couple of years, such as Knives Out, Bohemian Rhapsody and Parasite, as well as more recent releases like The Gentlemen and German pics The Kangaroo Chronicles (Die Känguru-Chroniken) and System Crasher. There will also be classics on offer, beginning with Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
Entrance to the cinema is only permitted with a face mask, but it can be taken off once the guest has taken their seat. There is distancing between audience members in the screens, and the venue’s bar is currently closed, though visitors receive a free drink on arrival.
Also open today is the Kronberger Lichtspiele in Taunus, Hessen. The single-screen venue has a total of 181 seats and is limited at 60 max occupancy, and according to its website, is just showing the one film at present, The Kangaroo Chronicles.
However, the majority of cinemas are remaining closed, and the economic challenge of re-opening with such limited capacity is a concern across the wider exhibitor landscape. German chains such as Kinopolis and Metropolis do not appear to have opened any of their venues in the region. Alongside the limited seating issue, there are also worries about a lack of audience-enticing films available from distributors.
In German press this week, several significant German operators expressed concerns about a lack of a joined up approach to the re-openings. Cineplex, an association of independent German theaters, has said it is aiming for June 4, while the guild of German art house cinemas has indicated July 2 as its preferred date.
Christian Bräuer, CEO of AG Kino, described the current approach as a “patchwork quilt” that was “no use” in an article in Süddeutsche Zeitung. There is a growing feeling that exhibitors should set a date for re-opening that is four-six weeks in the future, giving everyone time to get on the same page and plan appropriately. This could be tricky for regions such as Bavaria, which could have an extended timeframe.
As Deadline reported recently, an initial 15% of venues in Norway re-opened last weekend, though the admission numbers were positive enough for local sources to forecast that there would be increased confidence this weekend and more would follow suit. Earlier this week, Deadline interviewed the owners of Norway’s top cinema chain to discuss how they approached the re-opening.
Previously, the CEO of HDF Kino, Germany’s largest theater organization, told Deadline that they expected July to be a realistic timeframe for a more widespread re-opening of cinemas in the country.