Berlin Film Festival: Life is a Movie Script

Heike-Melba Fendel has recently published her love story Zehn Tage im Februar (Aufbau Verlag), large parts of which were written on and around Strausberger Platz.

We bump into each other when we’re both out grocery shopping. She’s on her way back to Strausberger Platz – her home base whenever she’s in Berlin – and is struggling with her bags. We have a quick neighbourly chat, which leads me to reminisce about the first time we met.
This was in Cologne in 1991, when Heike-Melba Fendel and two of her friends had just started an agency called “Barbarella Entertainment”, which was committed to opening doors for emerging actors and named after the eponymous 1968 science fiction film starring Jane Fonda as a super-sexy, super-confident and super-smart 41st-century astronaut – I wonder if she’s Fendel’s alter ego?
She has put her bags down on the pavement – somewhat incongruous props that seem ill suited to this beautiful blond woman who purses her full lips every time she pauses to think. Is it sexist to mention this? Would I have mentioned it if she was a man? Heike only laughs at my musings. She has no need to prove herself – after all, Die Zeit, one of Germany’s most important weekly newspapers, has labelled her “one of the most independent women in the German media industry.”

Apart from managing and advising actors, broadcasters and writers, she writes newspaper columns and has been instrumental in setting up the Hessen Film and Cinema Prize.

elke - photocase.de
Image courtesy of Elke – photocase.de

Then there are her books. The new one, Zehn Tage im Februar, is her second solo expedition, but she has contributed to many others. This is how the publisher’s blurb sums up the plot: “A man leaves his wife, and the wife goes to watch a movie. She’s always been far less interested in the carousel of love than in the latest cinema release. So how did her life turn into a tired melodrama? There’s only one person who can help her: the great cinema director Jane Campion.” Ten cold February days during the Berlin Film Festival, one of the largest in the world.

Many revelations happen in the dark intimacy of the cinema, others on the red carpet as the likes of Matt Damon, Martin Scorsese, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie file past. Heike-Melba Fendel has completely and compellingly mastered the art of straddling the divide between VIP reception, small talk and serious conversation with glorious wit. Her novel strikes a similar balance between depth and surface, great emotions and emotional emptiness.

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Her heavy bags unpacked, their contents consumed, Heike-Melba Fendel is already off to her next meeting. She divides her time between Strausberger Platz and Cologne. In her Berlin apartment, her dining room window overlooks Strausberger Platz – although if the large maple tree in front of the building grows any taller, she won’t be able to see much anymore. The windows at the back have a view of the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz. Every year between spring and autumn, I see her cycling past my office window towards Alexanderplatz. It’s always a joyous sight – she’ll often wear flowing dresses or push down the pedals of her bike in high heels. And she’s a woman who has made a conscious decision to live here – in one of the most unusual places in the capital. There’s nowhere that would suit her style better.

kallejipp-photocase
Image courtesy of kallejipp – photocase.de

In the summer of 2015, when Germany was confronted with the equally “unusual” situation of trying to house almost a million refugees, Heike-Melba Fendel phoned me from Bosnia, where she was on holidays. “My apartment is empty – my assistent will give you my keys if you want to use it to offer shelter to refugees.” She didn’t know Ali, Saleh, Mujahid and Kazeem, nor did she ever get to meet them. They stayed in her apartment for weeks until the city finally sorted out accommodation for them. Heike got in touch when she was back in her Cologne apartment. She was only worried about one thing: “Please make sure that nobody smokes in my apartment and that my velvet couch is covered with a sheet. It’s quite delicate.”

Her sofa may be delicate, but its owner is delighted by new experiences, people and environments. Zehn Tage im Februar captures some of that delight.