Weltspiegel, a theater in Cottbus, Germany, seems like a million miles away from the bright neon marquees of most modern multiplexes. After over a century of showing movies, it’s the second-oldest of its kind in the country—still standing after surviving World War II but, until recently, suffering serious neglect and disrepair. A revamp by Stuttgart-based interior designer Alexander Fehre restored the structure to its former glory and then some, seamlessly melding modern touches with the original details and adding two smaller screening rooms.
Fehre was a natural fit for the job, having previously done a project for his degree on the future of cinema; the client actually found that posted online and got in touch for advice, which Fehre cleverly managed to turn into a commission. “I saw my chance and grabbed it,” he tells Co.Design. Bringing the venue into the 21st century would require a deft touch and, more important, a design that would please the locals, all of whom were familiar with—and proud of—their historic landmark.
Unfortunately, very few pictures remained showing the place in its heyday, and the current state of affairs wasn’t much help in sussing out what it once was. “It was in very bad condition but still charming,” Fehre says. And thus began the three-year renovation process. For the main hall, preserving the dramatic ceiling was the first priority. Speakers were hidden to recall “the early days” before sound and talkies. Then, in a remarkably versatile move, all of the 520 seats on the ground floor were installed to be removable, and the underlying platform retractable, to make for a flat expanse suitable for soirees and special events.
Fehre approached the rest with an eye toward balance; he wanted to build what he calls a worthy “house for all the cinema’s history, from the early beginning to the near future. I never thought very rationally, like ‘show what’s new and keep the old.'” This was achieved with smart but subtle details—take a look at the fire extinguisher placed within a recess in the classic wooden paneling—and cool combos, like a concession stand surrounded by a café. A pair of adjacent theaters each embody different aspects of the film-going experience. The warm wood projector room has a lens-like oculus that recalls an aperture, while the futuristic “black box,” with white LED accents straight out of Tron, represents the more technical aspects of the craft.