BERLIN AS A MOVIE SET FOR THE WORLD JOURNEY
The iconic-like author Jules Vernes, whose novels and stories have been pushing millions of people to take their own journeys in the course of the last one hundred and fifty years, lived enough to discover the very first movie adaptation of his work: ‘Le voyage dans la lune’ (1902). More than that, the legacy of the great master of words and fantasy moved on, and as early as 1919 the world witnessed the first among the many further adaptations of the ever-to-be-famous ‘Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours’ (Around the World in Eighty Days) novel, had been published as far back as 1873. Over these one hundred years since the day of the premier of that German silent movie with the first-ever movie appearance of the British gentleman Phileas Fogg, much cinematic water has passed under the bridges of our history since that time. Arguably the Oscar-winning movie adaptation of 1956 and the 1989 TV series with Pierce Brosnan have since been known as the two most memorable picturization of this story by Verne.
With the onset of the XXI century, the Disney media giant made a decision to dust off the fluff from the well-appraised classic in a new attempt to cinematize the former legendary and some new characters. The filming process of a new ‘Around the world in Eighty days’ was finally off and running in March 2003. The masterminded journey route of the millennial Phileas Fogg and Passepartout was now to include London, Paris, Constantinople, Agra (India), China, San Francisco, the desert of the US, New York, the Atlantic ocean, and again London. Although the initial agenda at least considered the possibility of filming the movie in Prague, Czech Republic, one of the movie capitals of Europe and the proven alternative to London and Paris, the final decision moved the process, apart from scenes in Thailand, to Berlin, Germany. Whereas a large share of the interior scenes was shot on the premises of Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam near Berlin, the very capital of Germany itself granted the movie with a number of locations. With the onset of the second half of April 2003, the filming crew traveled to Berlin to make the most of tonnes of foam polystyrene, stucco, and plywood, which had been previously put into the sets. In total, up to 6000 extras were hired to make the new picturization of Jules Verne possible, and the local ‘Berlin-Brandenburg’ and the ‘Mitteldeutsche MedienFörderung’ organizations took diligent efforts.
THE BANK OF ENGLAND
Followed by a zoom-in of the camera straight to the Earth and London, which may be regarded by Jules Verne himself, the movie takes us to its very first location, particularly the cinematic version of the BANK OF ENGLAND, accompanied by unmistakable lettering on screen. A large wine red sofa is being thrown from the second-floor window in order to become a landing means for one of the key characters. Back in May 2003, hundreds of animated Berliners and tourists had a chance to come close to a security perimeter to have a glimpse of Jackie Chan swinging on the piece of furniture ten meters above the ground. One would think that the Berliners are historically accustomed to seeing the filming on the streets of their city, yet on those May days they were to witness one among the few outdoor scenes of ‘Around the world in Eighty days’. The subject of their interest was located within the ‘Gendarmenmarkt’ square, which can be literally translated as the ‘Gendarme market’. This open square is open to the public in the very heart of Berlin, a mere ten minutes on foot from the Brandenburg gates and the Potsdamer square. It is generally appreciated as one of the most outstanding places in the city. Layed down back in the late years of the XVII century, since that it has changed its name for a number of occasions, particularly in the aftermath of WWII, and regained its current historical nomination as early as 1991.
‘Around the world in Eighty days’ would take us back to Gendarmenmarkt on a number of occasions, particularly as the filming set for the Academy of Science. Relatedly the very first scene is dominated by a particular building and a few camera angles. ‘Französische Friedrichstadtkirche’ or The French Church of Friedrichstadt in the Northern part of the square was chosen to depict the BANK OF ENGLAND. As can be easily noted, the left wing of the building was duplicated in a mirror-like manner with the power of CGI in order to add some symmetry. Apart from this, the post-production process left no space for the dome of the cathedral and accompanied the building with the BANK OF ENGLAND inscription above the entrance. The building is commonly known as ‘Französischer Dom’, meaning ‘French cathedral’, yet it’s not a cathedral in religious meaning, as well as the ‘Deutscher Dom’ in the same square. It was built in the early years of the XVIII century for the refugees from France, the Huguenots, who comprised 25% of the Berlin population at the time and as early as 1780 it (the cathedral) was added with a tower. As commonly cited, the idea of two symmetric buildings and towers within one square was inspired by Piazza del Popolo in Rome and the Greenwich Hospital in London. The Cathedral was largely damaged during the Allied bombardments of Berlin on May 7, 1944, and its renovation took another four decades to commemorate the opening to the 750-th anniversary of Berlin.
The authentic Bank of England in London, which sits the image for the cinematic version within Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, was itself established in 1694 as a private financial institution. Given that King William II and his wife Mary Henrietta of England were among the key beneficiaries of the bank, it was created as a means of financing the war effort against France. The bank was accommodated with its very first residency for only nineteen employers in the Mercers’ Hall in Cheapside, and as late as 1734 moved to Threadneedle Street where it still stands today. In the course of the first century of its operation within a new location, the Bank of England became a landowner of the land of 3.5 acres in the heart of London. The building of the XVIII century lasted until 1925 and the demolition of the old erections as well as later (ended in 1939 prior to another War, this time with Germany) construction of a new building. All while the previous building had merely three floors, the modern office takes advantage of seven floors above the ground and three more beneath the streets of London: all this to accommodate the ever-growing administrative staff. In the climax of the story, the trio of main characters lands their airship on the same location at Gendarmenmarkt.
PHILEAS FOGG’S MANSION
A few minutes after the successful expropriation of the Chinese relic from the Bank of England, the character of Jackie Chan finds himself within one of the London streets, still being chased by police. As the ‘Norville Troward Tailors’ carriage moves away, we now could have a glimpse of the English street from the XIX century, which in fact is no more than a Berlin street ‘Witzlebenplatz’ and were picturized in Spring 2003, one hundred and thirty years after the supposed events. Around 1820 (presumably в 1823) the Prussian State and War Minister General Job von Witzleben, the former warlord of the war against Napoleonic France, acquired a spacious spot of land around the ‘Lietzensee’ lake. On this spot of the Western bank of the natural lake, the elderly general laid down a mansion and created a park, which would be renamed ‘Park Witzleben’ as early as 1840, three years after the passing away of its patron. After the death of Job von Witzleben, the ownership over the area changed its hands a number of times, all while the park was still accessible to the Berliners as a public place and one of the coziest in the city. As early as 1940, the ‘Lietzensee’ lake was divided into two parts, the Northern and South with a small dam of a newly paved ‘New Kantstrasse’ street. In accordance with the decree of 1910, the Northern bank of the lake was forbidden for construction and the park area was thus preserved until present.
Once found himself on the tree, the fugitive sees an extraordinary invention, a piece of machinery within a small front garden beyond the fence. This cozy courtyard in fact accompanies the former Berliner Appeal Court, and the very tree is located in the intersection of WitzlebenPlatz and Witzlebenstraße. The ‘Reichsmilitärgericht’ or ‘RMG) was the supreme court of the German army at the times of the German Empire. During WWI the complex of buildings at ‘Witzlebenstraße’ witnessed the courts against both the military men and civilians and later the functioning of the courts-martial under the Weimar Republic. After the Nazi seizure of power, as early as 1936 the new regime established the so-called Reichskriegsgericht (RKG), the high military courts in the buildings to the North of the ‘Lietzensee’. In the course of the 1939-1945 war years, it was responsible for at least 1400 death penalties. After the war in 1951, the complex of buildings became a home for the Berlin appellate court, was abandoned in 1997 (and at the time of shooting in 2003) and since 2005 it has become private property.
THE ACADEMY OF SCIENCE
The ‘Gendarmenmarkt’ square in Berlin was highly appreciated during the filming process as a movie location to be limited to only one single appearance. As early as the eight-minute of narration, soon after the experiment with the speed record, Phileas Fogg makes his hurried way to the ROYAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCE to share his later finding with the colleges, as well as his challenging plans. The close-up view of the scene is dominated by one of the movie props, made of plywood, stucco, and polystyrene, particularly the bronze planet with an inscription. The movie prop was erected next to Schiller-Denkmal, a marble statue of Friedrich Schiller, an iconic German poet and philosopher at Gendarmenmarkt, which was not meant to take part in the scene. Being a composition of a figure of a poet, a semi-circle cups, and the lion heads with figures of women, the monument is not a fountain in fact. The representation of Friedrich Schiller was commemorated on this place back in 1872 and in the course of the next seven decades a little garden square would be regarded as ‘Schillerplatz’. After the taking-down in 1936, it took another half a century until 1988 to finally restore the poet to its authentic place, partially restored and partially remodeled.
The first historical meeting of the real ‘The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge’ took place in 1660 at Gresham College, the oldest educational institution in London. Relatedly, this ‘learned society’ was privileged with its official nomination as well as the Royal approval only three years from that day. The very first scene of ‘Around the world in eighty days’ next to the monumental building makes it clear that the movie image of the President (or a chairman) jeopardizes the Royal Society’s motto ‘Nullius in verba’, which means that its members should not put the authority above the fact, determined by experiment. As these learned scholars declare, every important invention has already been made and the ‘phantasies’ of Phileas Fogg raise a red flag. The real ‘Royal Society’ in London changed its residency for a number of times over the course of four and a half centuries and the filmmakers of the new Jule Verne’s adaptation opted for ‘Konzerthaus Berlin’. This very inscription above the entrance to the real building at Gendarmenmarkt was finally edited with CGI to fit the plot.
The Drama theatre in the heart of Berlin at the Gendarmenmarkt square, initially regarded as ‘Schauspielhaus Berlin’ welcomed its first visitors back in 1821. The building in the style of Neoclassical architecture is historically appreciated as one of the most post-card in Berlin. It was built on the site of the predecessor, which had been destroyed by fire at the beginning of the XIX century and decorated with the statues of German men of art. ‘Schauspielhaus Berlin’ was significantly damaged during the very May 7, 1944 air raid, which also devastated the ‘Französische Friedrichstadtkirche’ only a few dozens of meters away. The later reconstruction was carried on upon the 750-th anniversary of Berlin and after opening the ‘Konzerthaus Berlin’ has since become a home for Berliner Symphonic Orchestra.
Phileas Fogg asks Passepartout to prepare his ‘urban transport device’, by means of which he gets himself to the square in front of the ‘Academy’. In the very scene, we see the same ‘Gendarmenmarkt’ square, picturized from the North-East corner. Therefore, this camera angle misses the ‘French Cathedral’, which has previously depicted the Bank of England. Thuswise the far background includes its architectural twin: ‘German Cathedral’ (Deutscher Dom). The wonderwork of Computer Generated Images complimented the even more far perspective with the image of BIG BEN to convince the audience one more time, that the story takes place nowhere than in London, at least on this stage of the narration. The prop specialists put efforts into another erection in the left part of the location, accompanied by the statues of the lions. Nowadays, these very Lions can be seen on the sides of the main entrance to the Babelsberg movie studio in Potsdam near Berlin, which was a home for the great proportion of the scenes in ‘Around the world in Eighty days’.
THE PARIS STATION
While I myself failed to visit the ‘Charlottenburg’ palace in North Berlin, which had been used as a set for the Balloon scene in Paris, another German location was depicted as the one in the capital of France. We could see the steam-ship on his way as may be supposed to be the lengthwise Seine river in Paris. As a matter of fact, we see the famous Spree river in Berlin, which goes around the ‘Museumsinsel’ or ‘Museum island’ in this part of a city, a principal magnet of tourists enlisted to UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE LIST. Despite the propped inscription with the French ‘DEPART’, the building of the former armory, historically known as the ‘Zeughaus’, played a part in the Paris station.
Built in the style of Barocco, the building is regarded as the oldest preserved (notedly in regard of the WWII) building at Under Den Linden. Although the cornerstone was laid as far back in time as 1695, the construction ended as early as 1730 with a front side decorated with a number of stone figures. Particularly one could see the image of the Prussian King Friedrich I, the patron of the building: let’s say, that the German ruler is not the person you might expect to see in Paris. Already in 1806, the armory was devastated by the soldiers of Napoleon to be later repaired to witness another seizure in 1848, now by the revolutionaries. In the years after the Second World War, the building accommodated ‘Museum für Deutsche Geschichte’ (Museum of German History) and since the reunion of Germany in 1991 it has been a home for ‘Deutsches Historisches Museum’. In 2019 while I was on the site, the building was covered with building works and cloth under reconstruction.
In the next scene, two main characters make their way to a street lamp and the written announcement of the exhibition of Tomas Eddison. At this very moment, the camera perspective takes advantage of another Berliner landmark, which obviously could not be seen in Paris. The far background perspective is dominated by ‘Berliner Dom’ (Berlin Cathedral), the largest evangelical church in Germany, located on the ‘Museum Island’ on the other bank of Spree. The Cathedral was built on the threshold of the XIX and XX centuries in a Barocco style and peaked in the sky for 98 meters.
THE TURKISH PALACE
During their tenth day of the journey around the world since the leave of London, now the trio of key characters arrives in Istanbul. If historical truth be told, back in the 1870s and for the next six decades the city was known as Constantinople, particularly to the Europeans and the owners of the railway tickets of that time. The Prince Hapi residency is nothing else than one of the most beautiful palaces in the whole of Germany, the palm trees of which correlate properly with the image of the Mediterranean in a movie. ‘Orangerieschloss’ (Orangery Palace) in the style of the Italian Renaissance was built in the mid-XIX century on the authorization of Frederick William IV, King of Prussia. Historically regarded as ‘romanticist on the throne’, here in Potsdam the Prussian ruler had a desire to recreate a tropical landscape with palm trees in the temperate climate of Germany. Though the multiple interior halls and rooms of the palace are known as a home for art galleries and museums, they settled on as a scene for symphony concerts. Already in the XX century, particularly in the 1980s, the palace witnessed an ambitious reconstruction, which among other things expanded the collection of greenery to the extent the audience of ‘Around the world in Eighty days’ can see. The main building of the architectural complex, which welcomes the principal characters, stretches for over 300 meters on the top of a picturesque hill with a breathtaking perspective for the filmmakers, artists, and tourists.
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