The world premiere of Wes Anderson's keenly awaited caper "The Grand Budapest Hotel" will open the Berlinale as it joins the race for the Golden Bear top prize.
The high-profile opening movie with an all-star cast including Bill Murray and led by British actor Ralph Fiennes marks a coup for the Berlinale, Europe's first major cinema showcase of the year.
The 11-day festival will screen more than 400 productions from around the world in its various sections before a jury led by US producer James Schamus ("Brokeback Mountain") hands out the main awards among 20 contenders.
Anderson's eighth feature follows his bittersweet first-love story "Moonrise Kingdom", which launched the Cannes film festival in 2012 to become a critical and box office hit.
It will be the third time in the Berlinale competition for Anderson, who has strived to maintain quirky indie sensibilities while filming with bigger and bigger budgets, following "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and "The Royal Tenenbaums".
Although set in an imaginary Central European country called Zubrowka, the action in "Grand Budapest" traces a familiarly tragic historical arc from the Belle Epoque to fascism and then communist dictatorship.
The film was based in part on the stories and memoirs of Austrian author Stefan Zweig mourning the lost world of his youth, Anderson said.
Festival director Dieter Kosslick told reporters last week that apart from being a major new work from a popular director, the movie was the right choice in a year in which Europe marks the 100th anniversary of World War I as well as 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell.
"There is a lot of German history in this movie, and that goes for many of the films to be shown here, regardless of where they are from," he said.
Bill Murray also stars in George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" about an elite unit of Allied soldiers fighting to rescue precious artworks from the Nazis, which will screen Saturday out of competition at the Berlinale.
Both pictures were shot in Germany with themes that resonate deeply in the country, Kosslick noted, pointing to the recent discovery of hundreds of priceless artworks stashed in a Munich flat, many of them believed to have been looted by the Germans during World War II.
Another hot ticket outside the race for the main prizes is the extended director's cut of Danish provocateur Lars von Trier's no-holds-barred study of sex addiction, "Nymphomaniac Volume I".