Lights, Camera, UND BITTE!

Eastern Germany is a magnet for foreign film productions and, with them, foreign ­investors. From The Grand Budapest Hotel to Bollywood blockbuster Don 2, the German ­capital and other cities in the region are stealing the production limelight.

October, 2018

Berlin has long been a darling of the spy thriller genre, especially movies set in the era of cold war intrigue. The unique history of the city, its impressive and varied architecture from Neoclassical grandeur to Modernist functionalism, and the widely-varying climate are all conducive to a range of atmospheric settings and storylines. The Hunger Games, Bridge of Spies and popular TV series Homeland are just three of Berlin’s most recent backdrop appearances.

The number and prominence of films being shot on location throughout eastern Germany is rising. The Saxon city Görlitz is known in the film industry as Görliwood for the number of times it has been used in productions. It was voted “Film Location of the Decade” by the European Film Commissions Network for the scenery and architecture on show in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Potsdam’s Babelsberg studios have been instrumental in many other films where the locations were less accessible. Leipzig/Halle airport was the setting for many scenes in The First Avenger, while Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds was filmed all over Saxony, Berlin and Brandenburg.

Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson’s film The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was shot in a magnificent disused Art Nouveau department store called Görlitzer Warenhaus in Görlitz  © Sunset Box/Allpix/laif

“The eastern German states have become popular locations since the fall of the wall,” says Oliver Rittweger of the Central German Film Promotion Agency (MDM), which covers the states of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. “East Berlin was the center of the East German film industry but there was nothing else notable in the eastern states. But there’s a fountain of new locations now, backed up by a good infrastructure created by funding and investment from service providers. And these funds have given, and still give, a certain incentive to film here.”

One of the key attractions of eastern Germany is the range of funding options on offer to help foreign film companies shoot in the perfect location. Berlin-Brandenburg Medienboard’s (BBM) film funding department has an annual budget for films shot in the region of around €26m (MDM’s is similar), but funds obtained from here can be combined with other federal funds, such as the German Film Promotion Fund (Deutscher Filmförderfond or DFFF) or the German Motion Picture Fund (GMPF). Investors looking for bargain locations or well-funded support are unlikely to leave the region unsatisfied and empty-handed.

Five big international films shot in eastern Germany

Don 2

The First Hindi film shot in Berlin, the second in the blockbuster Bollywood crime thriller series.

Inglorious Basterds
Tarantino’s multiple award-winning story about concurrent Hitler assassination plots.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s film about a concierge proving his innocence won four Oscars.

The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski’s thriller was filmed in Berlin and Babelsberg’s studios, despite being set in London and Massachusetts.

Around the World in 80 Days
Despite the title, the only filming locations outside of Germany were New York, San Francisco, China and Thailand.

Film services hotspot Babelsberg

Meanwhile, German film studios, film industry service providers and studio specialists have a good and growing reputation on the international stage. A study by EY shows that it is the sheer diversity of eastern Germany’s locations, such as the Berlin Exhibition grounds, or the abandoned chemical factory in Rüdersdorf, which sets it apart, while an association with the world-class studios in Babelsberg can actually help to secure investment. Babelsberg-based special effects maestro Gerd Nefzer and his colleagues won an Oscar for their work on Blade Runner: 2049.

Berlin-Brandenburg (which includes Babelsberg) and Görlitz remain the two hotspots. Görlitz in particular has built a unique local town economy on its “cinetastic” credentials. The Saxony town was almost completely untouched by the Second World War and is home to some 4,000 historical buildings spanning 500 years of history – enough to cover most aspects of modern Western history. In 2008, Görlitz’s Landskron brewery and surrounding streets were even remodeled into the harbor area of New York. Local people have been able to cash-in on the town’s big screen fame by running movie-­themed hotels and day tours.

But it is Berlin-Brandenburg that remains the location of choice for film and series production. The list of reasons why is long: it has the big town factor and a cosmopolitan feel, it has a diversity of locations, competent studios; and of course it’s a magnet for creative filmmakers, well-known producers and home to some famous actors. Accessibility is also a factor: Babelsberg’s back-up services, studios and post-production houses are close by on the autobahn.

Facts and Figures

Berlin-Brandenburg’s Medienboard’s (BBM) annual film fund: €26m

The annual German production fund of the Deutscher Filmförderfond: €1.25bn

Source: BBM, DFFF