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German Hollywood: the Grand Görlitz Hotel

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

When thinking of iconic film director Wes Anderson, certain things immediately spring to mind: art nouveau colours, gorgeous set design, recurring cast members, satisfying symmetrical compositions… Compact German towns don’t usually make the cut. Many aren’t aware that The Grand Budapest Hotel, recognised as one of the greatest films of the 21st century, came to life in Görlitz, the easternmost city of Germany.

The Grand Budapest Hotel. Photo: Wallpaperflare via Bing

In the first moments of the film, viewers are introduced to the “former Republic of Zubrowka, Once the Seat of an Empire”, illustrated as an alpine country situated in Central Europe. The Republic is, indeed, a fictional country, amusingly named after Żubrówka, a type of Polish bison grass vodka. Although The Grand Budapest Hotel was shot in a variety of locations in Germany, including Dresden and the Bastei rock formations in Sächsische Schweiz, principal photography took place in the picturesque town of Görlitz, home to only 55,000 inhabitants.

Wes Anderson, along with cast members Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Bill Murray and many more, got to know and love Görlitz in the winter of 2013. The actors were fascinated by the city, with Fiennes expressing his gratitude in Görlitz’s Golden Book: “Thank you, Görlitz, for being the best location ever – best possible place for us to make The Grand Budapest Hotel!”. Producer Jeremy Dawson appreciated the town’s character and architecture, while film star Saoirse Ronan admired the atmosphere of warmth and camaraderie.

Filming in the months of January to March gave ample opportunity for stunning shots of wintry forests and snow-covered cobbled streets, but working in the cold season had its drawbacks. The cast and crew were confronted with not only freezing weather but also reduced daylight hours, leading them to troubleshoot by filming night scenes at dusk and using more artificial lighting.

The Warenhaus Görlitz, which was empty and unused for years before The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Photo: Bing Images

Despite these setbacks, the team was able to capture Görlitz at its most beautiful. It will likely disappoint readers to find out that the memorable pink facade of the Grand Budapest Hotel itself was only a miniature model. That being said, scenes depicting the hotel’s grandiose interior were shot in Görlitz’s Warenhaus department store, which is open to visitors. Anderson was actually so captivated by its beauty that he considered purchasing the building himself when the store was at risk of being demolished. Thankfully, the Warenhaus was later saved by private investor Winfried Stocker.

Görlitz’s Old Town was no less important in contributing to the exceptional film. The Dreifaltigkeitskirche on Obermarkt was featured in the convent scenes, while the newspaper kiosk where lobby boy Zero reads about Madame D’s death can be found on Brüderstrasse. Visitors can also take a stroll down Fischmarktstrasse, home to the façade of Mendl’s Patisserie, where scenes of Agatha cycling were shot.

Brüderstrasse, named after the Franciscan Brothers whose monastery once stood on the Obermarkt. Photo: Jerzy Strzelecki via Wikimedia Commons

It was, however, Dresden’s Pfunds Molkerei that was chosen as the interior of Mendl’s. The creamery on Brautznerstrasse is known for its stunning hand-painted tiles and decorations, and was even given the title of “the most beautiful dairy shop in the world” in the Guinness Book of Records.

Pfunds Molkerei in Dresden. Photo: Jerzy Strzelecki via Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Budapest Hotel was certainly responsible for attracting more tourism and media attention in these cities over the years, but it’s likely you’ve seen Görlitz without realising it in other films, including Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Stephen Daldry’s The Reader, and Brian Percival’s The Book Thief. The unique spirit of Görlitz along with its well-preserved architecture even earned it the European Location Award in 2017, so it’s clear to see why the town has been nicknamed ‘Görliwood’. Görlitz will without a doubt continue to appear on the big screen – it’s worth keeping an eye out and paying a visit when safe travel is possible again.

Watch the cast discuss their impressions of filming in Görlitz while visiting the local Senfladen (2014):


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