Babelsberg and The Blue Angel. Revisit the Classic German Film Studio Era at Media City Babelsberg. It is certainly no secret that Berlin is a well-established film city. Approximately 300 new movies are made here every year. It is home to hundreds of film and television production companies, film and dubbing studios – dubbing being a big industry in Germany – and Berlin’s center for the cinematic arts at the Filmhaus on Potsdamer Platz which brings together the Film Museum of the German Film Archive Foundation and the German Film and Television Academy. And, of course, the annual Berlin International Film Festival, also known as the “Berlinale”, is one of the most prestigious film festivals in Europe and the world. But whenever making reference to film and Berlin, the nearby Babelsberg film studio in Potsdam is the real gem in the crown of German film making industry, both then and now.
In the early days of film around the 1920s, Babelsberg was among the most technologically advanced film studios in the world. Actually founded in 1911, it was here on these massive 270,000 square foot grounds that Fritz Lang shot “Metropolis” and Marlene Dietrich made her famous leggy pose in “The Blue Angel”. And now, nearly a century later, with the international film industry choosing to shoot and produce films in and around Berlin more and more, Babelsberg is beginning to successfully reclaim its once unchallenged position as Europe’s film capital.
The UFA or Universal Film AG, practically synonymous with Babelsberg, was Germany’s most famous film production company, but it’s time in the spotlight ended with the rise of the Nazis. With their rise came the exodus of some of Germany’s most creative film-making talent, many of them like Billy Wilder and Fritz Lang finding their way to and making their way in Hollywood. After losing its pre-eminence during the Nazi period, in which it churned out propaganda material and escapist entertainment, the communist East German government took over control of UFA Babelsberg and began producing its own form of the same under the new name of DEFA. But then came the collapse of the East Block and German reunification and following a rather turbulent decade or so for the studio, Babelsberg is now once again quickly reestablishing its reputation.
The new wave of films being made in Berlin is creating a convergence of young talent and capital turning Babelsberg into a major player among Germany’s other well-established film centers in Munich, Cologne and Hamburg. Many well-known directors like Roman Polanski, István Szabó and Jean Jacques Annaud have filmed here, as was recently the Jules Verne classic “Around the World in 80 Days”.
Just a few of the studio’s many attractions include the huge Marlene Dietrich Halle, a 5000 square, 14 meter tall studio, one of Europe’s largest. The FX Center is a multi-soundstage center offering everything from water pumps and draining to blue screen shooting. The so-called Sound Cross is a collection of soundstages specially designed for television productions, sitcoms, game and talk shows. And the giant back lots themselves are all within close proximity to the soundstages and production offices, the famous “Berliner Street” included, a flexible back-lot set visible to the public at the studio’s northwest corner.
And speaking of the public, last but not least, so-to-speak, don’t miss the chance to also visit Filmpark Babelsberg when visiting Berlin. A very interesting attraction for all those wishing to get a closer look at German film and international film history, it is a large theme park located directly at the Babelsberg studio. Divided into six different themes, with some 20 attractions, visitors can do everything from taking a ride in a German U-Boot to watching a stunt show. Just a few miles to the southwest of Berlin, directly accessible using Berlin’s regional S-Bahn system, Filmpark Babelsberg is an excellent way to spend the afternoon and get hands-on contact with Germany’s rich film culture.