The 67th edition of the Berlinale Film Festival starts the next week, turning Berlin for ten days - 09-19.02 - into the European capital of movies. While all the lights and attention - well deserved - are focused on the many activities taking place in various locations in the capital city, there is another place in the close neighborhood which is equally famous for those familiar with the film industry.
Situated less than one hour by train from Potsdamer Platz - where the most important events related to Berlinale are scheduled - Potsdam, the capital city of Brandenburg, offers at least three reasons to visit to film lovers during or after the film festival.
Babelsberg Film Studios
Created at the beginning of the 20th century, Babelsberg Film Studios are a reference location for the European and world film industry, with more than 3,000 movies and TV series being filmed here, many of them famous international productions. In the recent years, it opened most of its studios to the public. As most of the locations are situated outdoors, the visiting schedule is between April and November. I visited Babelsberg - that can be reached easily by foot from the S-Bahn station with the same name - three years ago spending one full day watching spectacular movies in the 4D or XD movie theater or learning about popular movie series filmed here.
Famous movies like Blue Angel, Metropolis and more recently The Pianist, The Reader or Inglorious Basterds or Grand Budapest Hotel were filmed here. Movie stars like the iconic Marlene Dietrich or Ingrid Bergman started their careers here. Less known is the fact that the studios do have also an orchestra which created famous track sounds for international productions, such as The Physician. With over 100 years of activity in the film industry, Babelsberg is world's oldest large scale studio. It also has another record in its palmary: covering an area of 156,000 sqm., it is Europe's largest motion picture studio.
Especially for children, the studios offer the occasion to explore closer various movie settings, such as a country hall, a medieval little village where the water turns as red as blood or a submarine. In most cases, those settings were first created for movies. For instance, the submarine where the 1997 movie Hostile Waters was filmed. Starring Martin Sheen and Rutger Hauer, it features a typical confrontational episode from the time of the Cold War.
The make-up studios are available for public too, with unforgettable scary face painting sessions offered just in time for the Halloween party. During the opening months, birthday parties can also be organised.
After an intensive roller coaster visit, a stop at the thematic restaurant Prinz Eisenherz is the logical reward.
Film Museum Potsdam
During the time when the Babelsberg studios are closed, the Film Museum can offer an equal amount of information, although in a less spectacular way. The museum is hosted in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage building of the Marstall, initially the Royal Stables of the Prussian Kings. The building underwent various architectural stages, the current - following a very recent renovation - maintaining the shape given in the 18th century by the architect of the Sanssouci, Christoph von Knobelsdorff.
The museum can be reach by foot from Potsdam Hauptbahnhof - Central Station - station in around 10 minutes. With detailed English and German explanations, it offers an interesting overview of the film industry in this part of Germany: from movie stories until thematic features, such as women in cinema. Those curious about how a movie is made, have the chance to follow each stage of the production, from the starring until the final launch.
The presence of international stars such as Quentin Tarantino, who filmed here his Glorious Basterds, is intensively covered, amplifying the international relevance of the small Potsdam. If during the Cold War and division of Germany time, this place lost his charm being intensively used as part of the GDR and communist film industry propaganda - and losing its relevance compared to the newly movie centers from the free Germany from Munich or Hamburg, in the years after the reunification, its glamour and relevance returned.
The Cold War remains though a reference for the recent and current history of Potsdam. Glienicke Brücke, that in various architectural formulas connected the Wannsee district with Potsdam over the Havel river since the 17th century, was a famous element of many typical stories from the time of the division. Since the 1960s, it received also the name of the Bridge of Spies, for its role played in the exchange of people associated - rightly or not - with undercover activities in both political blocks - Soviets vs. the Free World. Officially, such exchanges took place only three times - one of them being, on 11 February 1986, the famous refusenik dissident from the Soviet Union Anatol - Nathan - Sharansky who made on this bridge his first steps towards freedom after years of confinement in the Communist prisons.
The historical realities didn't stop the cinematographic imagination to expand. The enormous metal frame was featured in various books and movies dealing with the Cold War. For instance, the BBC miniseries Smiley's People, after a book by the spymaster writer John Le Carre. Or the 1966 movie Funeral in Berlin, by Harry Palmer.
The latest production associated with the movie is by Steven Spielberg: Bridge of Spies, launched in Berlin in November 2015, in the presence of star actor Tom Hanks. It features the case of the exchange of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel against the American spy pilot Francis Gary Powers. Cold War stories remain an interesting topic for both movies and literature and therefore, the famous bridge - where I slowly walked on both sides yesterday on a foggy day, trying to imagine how was it to move one step further to freedom - will remain for sure a reference both for historians and movie lovers.