Thursday, June 19, 2014 9:48 am
by Celine Le Prioux
GOERLITZ- Under communism it fell into ruin but 25 years after the Berlin Wall disappeared, the small German town of Goerlitz now has big ambitions of giving Hollywood a run for its money.
Its name may not be set up in big mountainside letters, or well-known internationally, but the far-eastern town’s plethora of historic facades and venues has already featured in acclaimed movies such as “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Reader”.
The town now hopes to cash in on the lucrative film industry by promoting its evocative streets that run the gamut of styles, from Gothic and Renaissance to Baroque and Art Deco, to help revive its flagging economic fortunes.
To facilitate filming on location in the town of around 54,000 inhabitants, which sits on Germany’s border with Poland, it has nominated a point woman to coordinate matters related to the movie world.
“Under communist East Germany, the town centre buildings were all grey, dilapidated,” Kerstin Gosewisch, who currently holds the position, told AFP. “People preferred to live on the outskirts in new buildings, well heated and with toilets in the apartment and not on the landing.
“After the fall of the Wall, people from the West arrived and marvelled at the remnants of the town.”
– ‘The Reader’, ‘Inglourious Basterds’ –
Spared damage by Allied bombing during World War II, Goerlitz, which is Germany’s most eastern town, was spliced in two after the end of the Third Reich by the German-Polish border.
Then after Germany’s 1990 reunification, some 78,000 people lived in Goerlitz, but like many towns in the former East it has seen a mass exodus since, as people sought higher wages in western regions.
However its atmospheric courtyards, mouldings, historic arcades and archways have remained a constant.
The town, which has dubbed itself “Goerliwood”, has already been chosen to depict New York, Berlin, Paris and Heidelberg, among others, in movies, said tour guide Karina Thiemann.
Initially only known by German filmmakers, the town has gradually made a name for itself among international producers, bolstered by its proximity to the mythic Studio Babelsberg outside Berlin.
In 2003 it provided the backdrop for “Around the World in 80 Days” by Frank Coraci.
Other movies filmed there include “The Reader”, for which actress Kate Winslet scooped an Oscar in 2009, “Inglourious Basterds” by Quentin Tarantino and some of the scenes from this year’s George Clooney movie “The Monuments Men”.
For three months at the start of last year, Goerlitz was also the imaginary central European setting for Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel”.
“Wes Anderson was thinking of filming in a hotel in Marienbad in the Czech Republic but, in the end, he chose Goerlitz’s department store transformed for the occasion into the Grand Budapest Hotel,” Gosewisch said.
– Mystery donor –
Built in 1913, the Jugendstil or Art Nouveau building with a coloured glass roof and open floors was empty ahead of filming after its previous owner went bankrupt.
It’s currently being renovated with plans to re-open as a store towards the end of next year.
Goerlitz has known two golden periods in its history, the first at the end of the Middle Ages when it was home to many drapers and fabric merchants and was situated along a key East-West trade route.
Its second came at the beginning of the 20th century with the advent of the railway bringing many wealthy Berliners to retire in Goerlitz, which was popular for its clean air.
But the Iron Curtain led to Goerlitz becoming marginalised, on the far eastern flank of then divided Germany, with the German half of the town maintaining little contact with its Polish sister town, Zgorzelec.
Since the end of communism in Europe, Goerlitz has again attracted some wealthy western residents who have invested in preserving its architectural beauty.
But lack of employment has led to many of its youth leaving, with a jobless rate of around 13 percent, well above the national average in Germany of just over six percent.
Tourists, mainly from elsewhere in Germany, stream into the town during the summer months but are rare in winter.
So the town hopes its movie roles can be an even greater source of income.
Plans are afoot to film a Christmas tale in the “Grand Budapest Hotel” location this year and discussions are underway on a separate international production, possibly to be filmed next year, according to Gosewisch.
The town also has a real-life mystery of its own — for 20 years an anonymous donor has been granting some 500,000 euros ($676,700) a year towards its renovation.
“Nobody knows who it is,” said Thiemann, the tourist guide. “Everyone imagines their own story.”