GARY POWERS’ TRIAL: MESSE BERLIN
In the early hours of August 17, 1960, a young man known to the world as Francis Gary Powers, wearing a dark blue suit with a white collar, crossed the giant-like hall of the House of the Union in Moscow toward his seat. At age 31, he was the number one debated figure throughout the world, and today, August 17 and after three months of interrogation, he was accused of espionage against the Soviet Union before the Military Collegium. The whole staged trial was orchestrated in the spacious hall of the building, which had been a rostrum for the Communist state events of the last decades. The assigned judges, who were to try a case of Powers, the prosecutors in law, the accused, and his advocate: all were meant to sit within some kind of a rostrum, which dominated the auditorium and hundreds of spectators. The pompous look of the grandstand was complemented with a huge ‘Hammer and Sickle’ sign, tall red draperies, and chandeliers. The left side of this platform just behind the USSR Procurator-General was mounted with a kind of a museum showcase, full of ‘exhibit items’: the photographs and the remnants of the crashed U-2 aircraft, Powers’ personal belongings. In order to have a better perspective of the grand event, some of the ladies among the audience of the back rows used their opera glasses. Such preparedness and the TV cameras only intensified the feeling of a staged event.
Francis Gary Powers got on one’s feet and pleaded himself guilty with a desolated muted tone of voice, thus stealing the intrigue from dozens of journalists and meeting the eyes of his family, a wife and parents, who were also present at the trial. In the course of the upcoming few hours, the American pilot gave sophisticatedly detailed answers to all appeals of the court regarding Powers’ service in the army, his recruitment to the Central Intelligence Agency, the details of his flight over the Soviet Union within infamous U-2 aircraft. Powers sounded monotonous when he called himself a deluded man from Virginia. Two days after, on August 19, 1960, at 5.30 a.m. the accused was asked to get on his feet again to listen to the court verdict. Francis Gary Powers was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment, of which at least three years were to be in custody, starting from May 1, 1960. The personal possessions of the accused were to be turned ‘to the good of the Soviet state’. The sentence was now final and beyond discussion or appeal in accordance with the criminal codex of the regime.
Taking a closer look at the preserved photographs and the video footage of the ‘Francis Gary Powers trial’ and in parallel examining the final cinematic adaptation in ‘Bridge of spies’, the one has all means to admire the attention to detail. The filming crew of Steven Spielberg succeeded in recapturing the atmosphere of the space of the court hall, which dominated Powers, who were already under the scrutiny of hundreds of foreigners around him, who had come here to witness the conviction of the enemy of the state. The cinematic look included the replica of the ‘Hammer and Sickle’ sign, as well as red curtains, three judges of the Military Collegium, the accused, the prosecutors, and a lawyer in front of each other beyond waist-high wooden barriers. The final act of the scene painstakingly depicted the court verdict, cited word for word (only its conclusion), the splashes of the photo cameras, and the Soviet TV camera.
Surely, the movie has a number of differences if we scrutinize the court scene. Taking a closer look, the real Gary Powers and his advocate, as well as the Prosecutor General were placed within the grandstand platform on either side of the judges, as opposed to the position in front of them in the cinematic version. Spielberg’s variant also lacks the show-case with the physical evidence under the glass. The filming crew decided not to follow the deliberate pomposity of the Soviet location to the full extent and we do not see the chandeliers along the periphery of the hall. ‘Halle 19’ (Hall 19) of Messe Berlin, the well-known exposition center built as far back as 1936, was chosen to play the role of the Soviet House of the Union. The hall is particularly known for its impressive ceiling height of 31 meters and Hall 19 is considered the key pavilion within the whole Messe complex, with only some of them having been preserved since the 1930s. In wider means, thanks to the ‘Bridge of Spies’ movie the audience throughout the world was given a chance to see the famous pavilion from the inside as opposed to its numerous cinematic appearances from the exterior. In 2004 ‘Bourne Supremacy’ the front side of Hall 19 was depicted as ‘Stazione Marittima di Napoli’ (Naples Maritime Station) in Naples. In 2008 ‘Valkyrie’ with Tom Cruise the building was decorated with Nazi banners to depict the administrational building of 1944.
THE AIRPORT: TEMPELHOF
The well-famed Berlin airport, which was open as far back in history as 1923 and departed its last flight as late as 2008, makes two appearances in ‘Bridge of Spies’, both related to the logistics of Tom Hanks’ character, James Donovan, to and from the city. A brief introduction in the 73rd minute shows us the icon-like front entrance to the passenger terminal. One could easily identify the authenticity of the location due to the ‘ZENTRALFLUGHAFEN’ (the central airport) electrified sign of blue color above the doorway. At different times throughout decades in the XX century, the sign shifted its exact position within the front face of the building, yet since the 2008 shutdown, the letters have frozen in their current position. In order to recapture the atmosphere of the 1960s, the open space in front of the terminal building was added with retro cars of the period, and the building was illuminated from the inside, thus creating an illusion of an active airport in the nighttime.
It is easy to guess that the second occasion for the Tempelhof airport to make its appearance in the ‘Bridge of Spies’ movie is related to Donovan’s departure from Berlin in the 128th minute, accompanied by now free Francis Gary Powers. This scene gives us a good perspective over the airstrip area of the airport, particularly the hangars which are easily recognizable due to the preserved photos of the 1940-1960s era. It was Tempelhof airport, which has made its way into history as the key location related to the history of ‘The Berlin Airlift’. For more than a year in 1948-1948 around 300 000 American, British and French planes delivered cargo to three Allied airports in Berlin and Tempelhof within the US sector witnessed the most intense episodes of this historical event. The filming crew made advantage of the authentic museum unit. The scene was filmed next to the well-recognized ‘164 feet field elevation sign’ and the authentic plane, one of the symbols of the ‘Berlin Airlift’. The plane with the board number 5557 and the ‘Troop Carrier’ inscription is the C 54-G Skymaster. The Tempelhof airport is still a desirable filming location years after its show-down. The most well-known ‘roles’ included ‘Equilibrium’ (2002), ‘Bourne Supremacy’ (2004), ‘Valkyrie’ (2008), ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2’ (2015).
THE SOVIET EMBASSY
Shortly after a flight from New York to Berlin Tempelhof airport and touching the ground at the main US air gate of the city since the end of WWII, the CIA agents take James Donovan to an unheated mansion. The coldness and darkness of the scene both advertise the secrecy practice of the Agency and the unwelcoming image of post-war Berlin. The exterior shots were taken at Schloss Marquardt (Marquardt Castle), an XVIII century mansion located to the North-West from Potsdam and particularly 10 km distance from ‘Glinicke Brucke’ bridge. The castle would make its other appearance in the movie as a set for the meeting between Donovan and Wolfgang Vogel later on. In the following short scene, the key character observes the Berlin wall and the so-called ‘shot-to-hit’ strip of land next to it on the Eastern side. Taking a closer look at the scene, it’s easy to identify that a panorama filmed in Wroclaw was later edited with CGI to comply with the infamous images of the site.
It is worth noting, that in the decades of divided Berlin, the only section of the S-Bahn, which used to cross above the Berlin wall from one sector (thus from West to East), was indeed the line segment between «Lehrter-Bahnhof» (at present: “Hauptbahnhof”) and “Friedrichstraße”. It is also worth mentioning, that the interior shots of the scene inside the German train, as well as the scene with Donovan back in New York, were staged not in the studio. These sequences were filmed within the rail car museum in the city of Erkner, 20 km South-East of Berlin. The old train depot now accommodates 20 rail cars from Berlin. The filming process here took only one day in November 2014, yet it was possible due to two-week preliminary work in preparation of the set.
In the following scene, Tom Hanks’ character gets off at the ‘Friedrichstraße’ stop and passes the passport check inspection on his way to Eastern Berlin. This transport depot (one can say a ‘hub’) of the Cold War-era indeed used to serve a kind of a distribution area or transportation gateway between two parts of shattered Germany. The citizens of the Eastern sector had to have an access permit, specific approval for changing the line for passing further to the Federal Republic of Germany. The actual ‘Friedrichstraße’ station is located in the very heart of Berlin on the bank of the river Spree and a short stroll to both Reichstag and Brandenburger gates. Along with that, the sequence for the ‘Bridge of Spies’ was staged next to the «Gleisdreieck» U-station. In 1961 on the heels of the erection of the ‘Berlin wall’’, the station was turned into the Eastern terminus of the U2 line at that time.
Whilst the scenes of Donovan’s walking toward the Soviet Embassy were in fact filmed again in Wroclaw, particularly in the area of Miernicza street, the movie enthusiasts should consider one peculiar fact in regard to the topography of Berlin. Speaking in actual terms, the walking from a transport getaway at ‘Friedrichstraße’ to the embassy could hardly demand more than ten minutes of paced walking in 1962, whereby across the central part of the capital and not by means of some unwelcoming backyards. The real Soviet embassy was located on Under-den-Linden merely 300 meters from the Brandenburg Gates. The photos beneath show how the authentic Soviet embassy looked at that time. The building of the so-called socialistic classicism was completed as far back as 1953, the year of Stalin’s death.
Followed by the scenes shot in Poland, Tom Hanks’ character once again ‘comes back’ to authentic Berlin as the final stretch of his turbulent way came on the Berlin street Dorotheenstraße, which crosses the central part of the city from the Tiergarten to the Museum Island in parallel to Unter-den-Linden. The impressive front side of the building, which was chosen to depict the Soviet embassy, may be easily identified in the building at Dorotheenstraße 26. The house and particularly its baroque facade was built back in 1904 and at that time accommodated the Berlin Chamber of Commerce. The pompous sculptures above the balcony were added to form the central portal of the entrance. In the years following WWII and until present the building has been used by the local Humboldt-Universität and at present, it serves as a home for the Department of Library and Information Science.
It is worth mentioning, that the building of the library at Dorotheenstraße 26 was used for the ‘Bridge of Spies’ only for the exterior shots with Tom Hanks coming in and leaving it. All the interior sequences inside the embassy were recreated inside the so-called ‘Palais am Festungsgraben’ at Am Festungsgraben 1. Despite the severe damage during the battle for Berlin, the palace was later renovated by the occupational Soviet authorities and as early as 1947 it was renamed ‘House of Culture of the Soviet Union’ or more officially ‘House of German-Soviet Friendship’ and was used as such until the fall of the Berlin Wall. At present times, the building accommodates an art gallery and a theater, and considering the ‘soviet’ background it should be of no surprise why the filming crew of Steven Spielberg decided to make use of its interiors from the 1960s. Two years prior to the filming of ‘Bridge of spies’ some of the halls were also used as a filming set for ‘The Monuments Men’ with George Clooney and Matt Damon. Damon was not a new entry to Berlin since his extensive shooting of ‘Bourne supremacy’ in 2004.
On the heels of his first visit to the Soviet embassy and the loss of a warm winter coat, James Donovan was to visit some other sites in Berlin prior to the culmination of his mission to save Francis Gary Powers. In particular, the meeting with a German lawyer Wolfgang Vogel, as I have already stated above, was, in fact, filmed at Marquardt castle, the same location where the CIA hideout was depicted in the movie. The sequence of riding across Berlin was once again filmed in Poland and later on Tom Hanks found himself inside the metro carriage, thus indicating another usage of the transport museum depot in Erkner. The oncoming scene of an unfinished breakfast on the first floor of HILTON hotel was, in actual terms, filmed in the hall of the so-called ‘Funkhaus’ at Nalepastraße 18. Since the early 1950s, it had been accommodated by the State radio of DDR. In wider means, the building in the former Eastern Berlin played the role of one of the iconic-like safe havens of Western Berlin. The following scenes with the DDR prosecutor were also filmed inside ‘Funkhaus’.
In the 114th minute of ‘Bridge of Spies’, another Berlin movie location makes its appearance and it’s easy to miss it. The audience’s attention is captivated by the phone call of James Donovan to his wife in New York. Seconds later he and the CIA agent pass by the cinema in Western Berlin and one could witness the movie banners above the entrance.
‘Das Geheimnis der schwarzen Koffer’ (The secret of the black suitcase). The German black-and-white criminal drama premiered on February 23, 1962. We should keep in mind that ‘Bridge of Spies’ depicts the events prior to the February 10 exchange at Glienicker Brucke bridge. In this respect, ‘The secret of the black suitcase’ would premiere in Berlin only two weeks later.
‘Village of the Damned’ was a British film, which was shown in German cinemas back in February 1961 (one year prior to the main events) under the ‘Die Verdammten’ title.
Spartacus, a 1960 epic historical peplum with Kirk Douglas.
‘Eins, zwei, drei’ (One, Two, Three), an American comedy with Billy Wilder. The movie was filmed in Berlin in 1961 and the filming crew themselves witnessed the erection of the ‘Berlin Wall’.
Despite the banners of the movie premieres in West Berlin, the scene was recreated at Karl-Marx-Allee street in front of the KINO INTERNATIONAL, the cinema of the DDR era. In 2004 it made its previous Hollywood appearance in ‘Bourne Supremacy’ with the character of Yuri (Karl Urban): on that occasion, the location played a role of Moscow.
Frederic Pryor was a consultant of the ‘Bridge of Spies’ movie in all aspects regarding his own story and the atmosphere of the divided Berlin. In his interview prior to the movie premiere, he made a statement that back in 1962 he had to wait an hour inside the car next to ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ until the representatives of the DDR decided to leave him, thus demonstrating their made-up significance. Whilst the scene with the US checking point was recreated in the Polish city of Wroclaw, the key ‘exchange of spies’ in Berlin had been planned for filming on the site since the early stages of production. Glienicke Brucke has not only survived the Cold War, yet it looks pretty the same as half a century ago. Janusz Kamiński, a long-time cameraman of Steven Spielberg since the ‘Schindler’s list’ would later recall, that the climax scene at Glienicker Brucke was to become a visual metaphor of the whole story. In this respect, the metal bridge outside Berlin was to become an active participant in the movie.
Notwithstanding, that Steven Spielberg had never filmed in Berlin before, he, as always, reverently involved himself in the filming process. The making of the final sequence was indeed scheduled for the last days of shooting in Berlin and prior to shooting itself, the bridge was closed for one week for the erection of the set. The crew had to face long negotiations with the local authorities regarding the closure of the bridge, as Glienicker Brucke serves as a transport artery in the region. The Government of Germany, by all means, supported the production and a bulk of the time was, in fact, spent to do all the paperwork and to create alternative routes. Prior to the shooting itself, once all the red-tape work had been settled, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks were both invited to the office of the German chancellor Angela Merkel. On the heels of a one-hour pleasant encounter, she was welcomed to visit the filming set at the bridge for a few hours. The German chancellor spent a few hours next to the filming crew and the actors.
The process of preliminary work at the bridge included the erection of a sheltered trench, guard posts both on the ground and for snipers next to the historical bridge with elegant pillars. The preserved photographs of Glienicker Brucke reveal a more moderate image of the bridge in the times of the divided Berlin. It used to have driveway access barriers, guard posts, yet no barbed wire and anti-tank hedgehog, as it was depicted in ‘Bridge of Spies‘. It is worth mentioning, that the predecessors of Glienicker Brucke have been serving at this very site as far back as the XVII century and the modern bridge was erected in 1907. The days of filming here in the winter of 2014/2015 were very cold and some members of the filming crew were wrapped in foil to warm up.
The exchange of Rudolph Abel for Francis Gary Powers took place on February 10, 1962. While not a single photograph of the event was taken on that day (evidently due to the precautionary measures), we know that the operation took place at 8.50 a.m. thus in the daytime. The movie depicted the exchange in the dawn in the early hours of a cold February day. On the one hand, such a decision made the scene look more dramatic, yet the alternative argument states that the night shooting made it possible to hide the modern building next to the bridge. In actual terms, there are no such modern erections in the immediate proximity to the bridge and Janusz Kaminski later stated, that he was the initiator of the whole idea to shoot in the evening (while the story focuses on the morning hours) to take advantage of the lightning.
In the aftermath of the culmination scene on the bridge, the movie takes us once again to the Tempelhof airport in Berlin. This time, James Donovan is ready to leave the city in the direction of the United States, accompanied by Gary Powers. The background of the scene is once again dominated by the C 54-G Skymaster plane, the museum-memorial devoted to ‘Berliner Luftbrücke’ (Berlin airlift).