Festival of Lights – Starting as a mission and leading to an international lightfestival

Once again Berlin becomes a big stage with a special dimension and shines in colourful lights. Artistic productions take place on buildings and squares. Stories are told through elaborate façade projections and spectacular video mappings and present topics that are close to our hearts. Behind the world famous Festival of Lights is the founder, producer and artistic director Birgit Zander. For more than 15 years the Berlin-born artist has been illuminating her home city in bright light.

Festival of Lights – Starting as a mission and leading to an international lightfestival

Comacon: Dear Ms. Zander. You have been director of the Festival of Lights for over 15 years. How did it come to be founded and what was the idea behind it?

Birgit Zander: Our mayor at the time, Klaus Wowereit, coined the phrase “Berlin is poor, but sexy”. Exactly these words were my personal guiding principle. At that time I had the incredible urge and desire to support my hometown. That was my mission. I thought about how I could reach my goal and initially took on several honorary posts. Some of these were in close cooperation with the tourism promotion agency visitBerlin. The aim was to do something for the capital and to promote the marketing of the city.

15 years ago we (then together with the Citystiftung Berlin) started to illuminate our capital and make it shine. At that time we didn’t have a big budget, but we had a lot of great ideas and unbelievable enthusiasm. Through the light festival I was able to combine my profession and my inner passion with business. My professional and private interest was awoken: I turned the city into a stage and the famous squares in Berlin, buildings and monuments into stars. The people were enthusiastic and enchanted from the very beginning. It was incredible for me and for my team. All over the world, pictures were taken during the light spectacles.


Comacon: That sounds like a perfect start into a dream business. What does light mean for you personally?

Birgit Zander: I think I can speak for everyone: Light is a magical medium for all of us. I have been using this magic in the event sector for many years. From year to year, the Festival of Lights developed more and more into what it is today: a gigantic spectacle of light, music and art. For the young and old. It is an event that attracts millions of people outside every year and fascinates them. Light is energy, connects and speaks all the languages of the world. Without light there would be no life. All this means light for me. And now one more thing: if you use light creatively to create images and thereby tell stories, you can cast a spell over people. Festival of Lights does just that: it combines light with art and images. In this way we tell stories that have a magical effect.


Comacon: What were the challenges on the road to success?

Birgit Zander: Gründerin, Produzentin und künstlerische Leitung des Festival of Lights

Birgit Zander: Funding has clearly been the biggest hurdle. Normally an event is given a budget and then you develop a production. For us it was the other way around. This is still the case today. Together with our partners we provide the entire financing. We can’t say it any other way: it’s simply a Berlin heart project! Every year we motivate new companies and institutions to support the Festival of Lights. We do not look for arbitrary partners, but for people who share our vision together with us. It is always a new challenge and requires enormous commitment. Meanwhile we can say with full enthusiasm that many partners and sponsors are continuously involved and together with us let the cities shine.

Comacon: How do you choose the locations for the vibrant and colourful events?

Birgit Zander: Usually I choose the places that I personally love and that give me inspiration. For example the Bebelplatz. It offers an unbelievably unique backdrop for a spectacular panorama production. The venerable buildings provide the perfect backdrop for a grandiose light festival. Potsdamer Platz offers a completely different architectural structure and is also perfectly suited for a breathtaking light show. For me and also for my team it is always a pleasure and also an honour at the same time to use these wonderful places for our light art.


Comacon: The motto this year is “together we shine”. What does it mean for you personally?

Birgit Zander: Especially now it is important for our art world to stick together and generate income so that art can live and continue to live from it. We want to promote cohesion between all the artists in this city. This year’s motto “together we shine” emphasizes exactly this idea and vision. Together with all of them, we want to set a shining example with our concept for this year: Cohesion, unity, confidence and most important: mindfulness! And, of course, the unbelievable variety and joie de vivre in our capital – this year’s concept is a special edition, by the way. With our current situation we want to avoid crowds of people where the minimum distance is difficult to keep. Therefore, this year we focus on the equalisation of the event and motivate people to stroll around. Fortunately, Berlin with its many different districts is big enough for this project. We also enchant and illuminate the districts and neighbourhoods and thus invite you to take evening walks. This year, for the first time, there is a very special highlight: our own Festival of Lights App. Created for all those who cannot travel, but still don’t want to miss their Festival of Lights.


Comacon: How are the ideas for the mottos born?

Birgit Zander: My life is full of light and joy! As artistic director, I have always come up with something new: as the Berliners like to say, we always have to put a new shovel to the wheel. With comprehensive creativity we try to show new highlights every year. It still works after 15 years! My big dream is to perform internationally in more cities and to bring Berlin’s light to all parts of the world, creating positive and exciting moments all over the world and inspire people’s dreams. The Festival of Lights family is very happy to continue to grow.


Comacon: Dear Ms Zander, thank you very much for this enlightening and radiant interview. Is there anything else you would like to say to readers, visitors, your team and partners?

Birgit Zander: This year again, I would like to thank all those involved for their active support. By this I mean above all our partners, all artists as well as technical and other service providers. And of course also a big thank you to all helping heads and hands. Without these people the special edition of this year’s Festival of Lights would not have been possible. Let us experience a harmonious and unforgettably beautiful 16th Festival of Lights in our capital. In order to achieve this, I appeal at this point to the discipline and sense of responsibility of each individual. Please keep your distance and wear mouth and nose protection if it is too crowded at some places. But apart from that: Explore the Berlin neighbourhood and enjoy what the whole Festival of Lights team has put together for you with love, passion and enthusiasm over the past months! 

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