Film Production Babelsberg's 'Berlin Street' Reborn

An impressive new outdoor set evoking the streets of Berlin is under construction at Babelsberg film studio, replacing a set that was used in more than 200 film and television productions over the years.
A scene from "Sonnenallee," a 1998 comedy that launced the old Berlin Street set.

Sometimes an unforeseen delay can be a good thing. Production of “Babylon Berlin,” a television series based on Volker Kutscher's bestseller about police commissioner Gereon Rath, was supposed to have started a while ago. It’s an ambitious project involving broadcasters ARD, Sky, Beta-Film and X-Filme along with producer Stefan Arndt and director Tom Tykwer.

But if the director had shouted “Action!” this year, the stories set in 1920s Berlin would not have been filmed on “Berlin Street,” an outdoor backdrop currently in development at the Babelsberg film studio near Berlin.

In mid-2014, the cornerstone for the new set was laid by Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's minister for economic affairs, after the original had been demolished six months earlier. Now construction on the €12 million ($13.1 million) set is well underway and expected to be complete by next spring. “Babylon Berlin” is in line to be the first production filmed there. Production designer Uli Hanisch, who collaborated with Mr. Twyker on “The International” at Babelsberg, will attempt to recreate the Berlin of the Weimar era.

But that doesn't mean the outdoor backdrop is suited only for scenes from the Roaring Twenties. The street is characterized by diversity and flexibility, said studio spokesman Eike Wolf, incorporating a modular system with easily alterable facade segments, complemented by greenscreen and bluescreen surfaces that can digitally fill in the desired backdrops.

The set is not simply a single street, but a small city district featuring four streets lined with various architectural styles, laid out on a tract of more than 15,000 square meters alongside the studio compound, more than three times larger than the old Berlin Street.

After 15 years of use, the former backdrop on leased land was leveled for the construction of student dormitories, boarding houses, offices, restaurants and other structures. The studio purchased the new land two years ago.

Carl L. Woebcken, executive chairman at Studio Babelsberg, vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and Brandenburg premier Dietmar Woidke at the ground breaking ceremony in 2014.

 

Old Berlin in Babelsberg launched as a film location in 1998 for Leander Haussmann's comedy “Sonnenallee,” followed by more than 200 productions in which the same street served as settings for Warsaw, London, Paris, New York or San Francisco. Directors including Roman Polanski, Quentin Tarantino and Mr. Tykwer used it while acting legends like Geoffrey Rush, Jackie Chan and Kevin Spacey walked along it.

Mr. Wolf said the old backdrop has been sorely missed. The studio has already announced to filmmakers around the world there soon will be a new Berlin Street. The response was described as enthusiastic and negotiations are already underway for two projects.

How did the studio advertise the new street? “Berlin does you good.”

 

This article originally appeared in the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]