• Germany's news in English

Action! Babelsberg film studio fêtes 100 years

The Local · 8 Feb 2012, 10:05

Published: 08 Feb 2012 10:05 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

It survived the Nazis and the communists and is now capitalising on its legendary status among cinema history buffs like Quentin Tarantino to beat back tough competition from the likes of London, Prague and Budapest.

Marlene Dietrich smouldered on its sound stages, science-fiction trailblazer "Metropolis" took off from Babelsberg in 1926 and Alfred Hitchcock learned the ropes here as a fresh-faced assistant director.

"All the Hollywood people say 'What a history, it's an honour to work here', whether it's Tom Hanks or Tarantino, who of course knew every film that was ever made here," Eike Wolf, Babelsberg's head of publicity, said on a tour of the sprawling site ahead of the centennial jubilee on February 12.

Hanks just wrapped up filming "Cloud Atlas", which, with a budget of around $100 million (€76 million), its producers have called the most expensive German-produced film of all time.

Tarantino, for his part, lovingly constructed a replica of an old-time Paris cinema here only to blow it to smithereens at the end of "Inglourious Basterds", with Hitler inside.

And Clive Owen made Swiss cheese of a nearly life-size replica of New York's Guggenheim Museum that was built here, in a shoot-out in "The International."

"Berlin is very attractive for creative types - it's a great location and it is much more affordable than London, for example," studio chief executive Charlie Woebcken said.

A string of all-star parties, exhibitions and books are planned for the anniversary of the day in 1912 when work began on "Totentanz" (The Dance of the Dead), starring Danish superstar of the era Asta Nielsen.

The Berlin film festival running from February 9-19 will show a retrospective of Babelsberg's greatest hits, with events also planned in Cannes, Los Angeles, New York and London.

On a walk across the lot, a visitor can struggle to picture Dietrich as just another blonde in the crowd of young actresses who turned out for the casting call of "The Blue Angel" which would rocket her to immortality.

"In today's Marlene Dietrich Studio, there are corridors with wooden floors that Marlene actually walked on," Woebcken said. "We left them as-is to maintain that historical flair."

The golden age promptly ended as Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels took the reins under the Third Reich.

Babelsberg became a movie factory, churning out light entertainment and vile anti-Semitic propaganda such as the notorious "Jud Süss".

Need a Nazi stormtrooper uniform?

After the war, the communists also recognised the power of cinema to influence the masses, and the then-DEFA Studios were dubbed "Honnywood" for longtime East German leader Erich Honecker.

"We are of course always being confronted with our history because film is the medium that you can best use to come to terms with the past and this is always a major issue in Germany," Woebcken said.

After the Berlin Wall fell, Babelsberg went through another few incarnations before mounting a spectacular comeback in 2004 under Woebcken and his partner Christoph Fisser.

Babelsberg's facilities stretch across 25,000 square metres (270,000 square feet). More than 3,000 films have been made here, in recent years thanks in part to German state subsidies.

The costume department, whose Lisy Christl was just nominated for an Oscar for her work on Roland Emmerich's Shakespeare drama "Anonymous", is a vast treasure trove of period get-up.

Row upon row of replica Nazi stormtrooper uniforms, suits of armour, glittering evening gowns, hoop skirts and neckties clustered by decade and colour await the next production.

Story continues below…

"About half the bigger films made here are linked to German history so that makes Berlin a natural place to make them, whether it's 'The Reader', 'Inglourious Basterds' or 'The Pianist'," Woebcken said.

A remarkably authentic-looking Mark Rothko painting hangs in his office courtesy of the art department, where virtually any work can be forged for use in a film.

Robert Krueger, chief set painter who has worked at Babelsberg since 1986, showed off vintage-looking Persian ceramic tiles that he made for Iranian-born director Marjane Satrapi on her latest feature, "Chicken with Plums".

"That's the kind of thing we discuss here - Marjane was making a very quiet, tender film with gorgeous decorations that should add to the mood," he said. "That doesn't work if it looks like a theatre or television set."

Woebcken said that if Babelsberg maintains its reputation for craftsmanship along with its venerable history, it could keep going for decades to come.

"I just hope we'll be spared the upheaval of the last 100 years during the next century," he said.


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
German hospital uses therapy to 'treat' paedophiles
A poster from the campaigne "Don't offend", which offers therapy to paedophiles. The sign reads "Do you love kids more than you'd prefer? There's help." Photo: DB Scholz & Friends / DPA.

A unique German initiative is offering therapy to paedophiles to control their urges, with the aim of getting them help before they offend.

Minister: 'no tolerance' for clowns after chainsaw attack
Photo: DPA

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has called for a zero-tolerance approach to 'killer clowns' after a series of attacks culminating in two teenagers being chased by a clown wielding a chainsaw.

Baby who was auctioned on eBay taken away from father
Photo: DPA.

A German court ruled on Thursday that a man who put his one-month-old baby up for sale on the online auction platform eBay should only be allowed contact with the child under supervision.

Portugal's ruling party calls German minister 'pyromaniac'
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Photo: DPA.

The head of Portugal's ruling Socialists called German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble a "pyromaniac" on Thursday after he criticized Lisbon for reversing course on austerity.

These are Germany's top ten universities
The new library of Freiburg University. Photo: Jörgens.mi / Wikimedia Commons

These are the best universities in all of Germany - at least according to one ranking.

Introducing Swabians - 'the Scots of Germany'
Photo: DPA

These Southern Germans have quite a reputation in the rest of the country.

Woman sues dentist over job rejection for headscarf
Photo: DPA

A dentist in Stuttgart is being taken to court by a woman whom he rejected for a job as his assistant on the basis that she wears a Muslim headscarf.

Isis suspect charged with scouting Berlin attack sites
Photo: DPA

German federal prosecutors said Thursday they had brought charges against a 19-year-old Syrian man accused of having scouted targets in Berlin for a potential attack by the Isis terror group.

Berlin Holocaust memorial could not be built now: creator
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

The architect of the Berlin Holocaust memorial has said that, if he tried to build the monument again today, it would not be possible due to rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Germany and the United States.

'Liberal' Germany stopping Europe's 'slide into barbarism'
Ian Kershaw. Photo: DPA

Europe is not slipping into the same dark tunnel of hate and nationalism that it did in the 1930s - mainly thanks to Germany - one of the continent's leading historians has said.

10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd