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Thursday February 22nd 2024

The Grand Budapest Hotel | 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: Gorlitzer Warenhaus, Gorlitz, Germany
The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: the hotel’s grand lobby: Gorlitzer Warenhaus, Gorlitz, Germany | Photograph: wikimedia / Hans Peter Schaefer

Wes Anderson’s shaggy dog story, inspired by (and borrowing from) the writings of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, is a lo-tech delight – coming as a real relief after so much junk food CGI. It’s set, over several decades (neatly indicated by varying screen ratios), in the fictitious Eastern European country of ‘Zubrowka’, and was filmed in Germany, with sets built at the venerable Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam, on the outskirts of Berlin.

There’s much deliberate artifice, but also plenty of real locations, largely around the historic town of Görlitz in eastern Germany, about 60 miles east of Dresden, at the border with Poland and the Czech Republic.

The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: Gorlitzer Warenhaus, Gorlitz, Germany
The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: the exterior of the Gorlitzer Warenhaus, Gorlitz, Germany | Photograph: wikimedia / Manecke

The Hotel’s pink birthday-cake exterior, with its funicular railway, is unashamedly a model, but the main location, its expansive fin-de-siecle, lobby is real. It’s the Görlitzer Warenhaus, a 1913 department store in Görlitz, at the eastern end of Demianplatz alongside the Frauenkirche.

The store was closed and had come close to demolition when it was taken over for the production (its top floor served as the production office), so there was freedom to take over and re-dress the site for the different eras portrayed. Director Anderson came close to buying up the store to save it, but it has since been taken over and is in the process of restoration.

The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: Stadthalle, Gorlitz, Germany
The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: the hotel’s dining room: Stadthalle, Gorlitz, Germany | Photograph: wikimedia / Honza Groh (Jagro)

Also real are the hotel’s ‘Arabian baths’, where the young writer (Jude Law) first meets the older Zero Moustafa (F Murray Abraham), which was an old bathhouse in Görlitz. The hotel’s restaurant, in which Zero tells his story, is the performance space inside the Stadthalle, the old city hall on Reichenberger Straße near the city park. Built in 1910, the Stadthalle been closed and shuttered for several years when it was dramatically transformed with a huge alpine backdrop dominating the stage, painted for the film by artist Michael Lenz in the style of 19th-century landscape artist Caspar David Friedrich. The same building usefully provided a couple of other locations: the ‘Trophy Room’ in the home of Madame Desgoffe, in which Deputy Vilmos Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum) reads the much-disputed will to the remaining family members; and the hall of armour in the museum through which Kovacs is later stalked.

If you want to follow in the footsteps of the cast and production team in Görlitz, stay as they did at the Hotel Börse, Untermarkt 16. The owner and employees were rewarded with parts in the film.

This isn’t the first film to take advantage of the town’s unchanged appearance. Görlitz provided the backdrop for the propaganda film-within-a-film in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and stood in for 19th-century ‘Paris’ in the ill-fated 2004 update of Around the World in 80 Days, with Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan. Two WWII dramas were also recently filmed here – The Reader, with Kate Winslet, and, more recently, The Book Thief.

The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: Castle Hainewalde, Saxony, Germany
The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: ‘Schloss Lutz’, the home of Madame Desgoffe: Castle Hainewalde, Saxony, Germany | Photograph: wikimedia / Jwaller

The exterior of ‘Schloss Lutz’, the home of the elderly Madame Desgoffe-und-Taxis (an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton), where M Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and the young Zero (Tony Revolori) pay their respects after her death, is Castle Hainewalde on the River Mandau, in Saxony. The 18th Century castle was occupied in 1933 by Nazi stormtroopers, who used it as a provisional concentration camp for political prisoners. After the war, it became a residential house, but has stood empty since 1972. A private association founded in 2000 is currently working to preserve it.

The castle interiors were mostly filmed in Schloss Waldenburg, Peniger Straße 10, Waldenburg, a town in the district of Zwickau in Saxony. From 1948 to 1998, the castle was used as a medical facility but most of the original interior remains and is being restored. There are guided tours of the castle.

The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: Schloss Osterstein, Zwickaw, Germany
The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: M Gustave is imprisoned: Schloss Osterstein, Zwickaw, Germany | Photograph: wikimedia / Je-str

‘Checkpoint 19 Internment Camp’, in which M Gustave is incarcerated after being accused of the murder of Madame D, is Schloss Osterstein, in Zwickaw. The original 13th century fortification, destroyed by fire in 1403, was rebuilt as this magnificent Renaissance castle in 1590. From the 18th century until the end of WWII, it was in fact used as a prison. Among prominent prisoners held here were writer Karl May and revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg. It’s now a nursing home.

The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: Molkerei Pfund, Dresden, Germany
The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: Mendl’s, the confectioner: Molkerei Pfund, Dresden, Germany | Photograph: wikimedia / Gegeours

There’s a spin on the old file-hidden-in-the-cake cliché when help arrives in the form of specially-made pastries from the obliging confectioners, Mendl. The exterior of Mendl’s store is one of the picturesque streets of Görlitz old town, in the shadow of  the Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Trinity Church), but the overwhelmingly fussy interior is Molkerei Pfund, Bautzner Straße 79, Dresden, a 19th Century creamery, every surface decorated with handpainted tiles.

The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: Zwinger, Dresden, Germany
The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: the lawyer Kovac is tailed to the museum: Zwinger, Dresden, Germany | Photograph: wikimedia / Ralf Schulze, Koblenz

The ‘Kunstmuseum’, in which the lawyer Kovac is tailed by the lethal Jopling (Willem Dafoe) is the Zwinger, a Rococo palace, also in Dresden, which now does house a museum complex containing the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) and the Porzellansammlung (Dresden Porcelain Collection).

Apart from the actual filming locations, the miniatures and sets used in the film had their inspiration in various real places. The look of the ‘Grand Budapest’ was influenced by the Grandhotel Pupp, Mírové námesti 2 in Karlovy Vary, in the Czech Republic. The 228-room hotel, built in 1701, was – like the ‘Grand Budapest’ – nationalised by the communist government in 1951, gradually slipping into decline. In 1989, it was privatised again and restored, going on to become the glitzy ‘Hotel Splendide’ in 2006 James Bond reboot Casino Royale.

The ‘Budapest’s’ pink frontage is based on the Palace Bristol Hotel, also in Karlovy Vary, as is the original inspiration for the stag atop a vertiginous peak. It’s the Jelení skok (Deer Leap) Lookout, which you can access via a funicular railway from the Grandhotel Pupp.

Even the observatory on the summit of ‘Gabelmeister’s Peak’, where M Gustave has an assignation on the cable car, has a real-life counterpart. It’s based on the Sphinx Observatory, an astronomical observatory above the Jungfraujoch in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland. It is named after the Sphinx, the rocky peak on which it sits and, at 11,716 feet above sea level, is one the highest observatories in the world. You can reach it by elevator from Jungfraujoch train station (itself the highest rail station in Europe), served by the Jungfrau Railway. Alongside to the observatory, there’s a viewing deck (open to the public) which offers breathtaking views of the Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger peaks.