Berlin: How Wes Anderson Discovered His Grand Budapest Hotel
This story appears in the Day 1 Berlin daily.
"When I first saw the building, I thought: It's perfect. Just perfect," says Oscar-nominated production designer Adam Stockhausen (12 Years a Slave) about the 18th century department store that plays the title role in Wes Anderson's Berlin Film Festival opener The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The film's producer Jeremy Dawson says Anderson "just lit up" when he first saw the building — the Gorlitzer Warenhaus — in the small East German city of Gorlitz on the Czech/Polish border. "We saw right away it would work — the building had the height and scale, the grandness, we needed. It had beautiful bones."
But when Anderson first scouted the building — and fell in love with it — the owners of the Warenhaus were in the middle of messy bankruptcy proceedings, complicating the shoot. Dawson eventually tracked down the Dutch holding company acting as liquidator and worked out a deal. Then Stockhausen — and Anderson — got to work.
"The columns, the staircases, that really magnificent window and that huge chandelier, that was already there, that's all original," says Stockhausen. "We built everything else." Inspired by Photochrom postcards from the 1920s and '30s, the production team began cherry-picking objects and designs from period buildings across Europe — a 19th century hotel in Prague, a chair from a spa in Karlovy Vary, a bar front spotted in Paris. Anderson meticulously choreographs his shots and Stockhausen says the director typically requires only "tiny pieces of rooms, just the minimum set required to support the camera shot."
The lobby of the Grand Budapest Hotel was different.
"We ended up designing that entire, huge space," Stockhausen says. "When we tracked through all the shots, it turned out we saw everything. So we had full, 360-degree coverage."
In fact, Stockhausen built not one but two complete sets in the Grand Hotel lobby: a 1920s-30s look for the main portion of the film and then, for a sequence in the 1960s after the hotel is crudely remodeled post-WWII, a design Stockhausen describes as "GDR ugly," featuring lower ceilings with cheap wood panels and lit by harsh fluorescent lights.
Anderson was so enamored of the Gorlitzer Warenhaus he even considered buying the building himself, if only to save it from being demolished. He needn't have worried. A newspaper article about the Grand Budapest shoot caught the attention of a private investor — Winfried Stocker — who bought the building last summer. The grand Warenhaus currently is being renovated and is set to open its doors again next year.