Visiting The Grand Budapest Hotel or the Görlitzer Warenhaus in real life:
When we told friends and relatives that we were going to Görlitz, “where?” was the common reaction. The truth be known, we too hadn’t heard of Görlitz until we started noticing the name of the town cropping up in a number of film credits. The latest of these was Wes Anderson’s Oscar-winning Grand Budapest Hotel.
Görlitz has been used as film sets in over 100 movie productions. The town was not damaged during the wars and as such it has historical buildings which span architecture from over 500 years.
There are some 3,500 buildings from all architectural periods, including the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau. This has allowed producers to morph it into a Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Heidelberg, Paris, Strasbourg and New York. Films such as Around the World in 80 Days, The Reader, Inglorious Basterds, Goethe, Monuments Men, Grand Budapest Hotel, The Book Thief, and Alone in Berlin are just some of the famous films we know of, not to mention German language movies and documentaries. But it was the opening scene of the Grand Budapest Hotel that really stirred our curiosity. Remember the funicular going up to the mountain-top wedding cake pink hotel? Set in a spa town in the fictitious Republic of Zubrowka, we just had to find out more about this grand-looking mountain-side hotel (actually, that was a model!).
Grand Budapest Hotel
The design of the Grand Budapest Hotel and the ideas behind the Republic of Zubrowka were inspired by various buildings, cityscapes and landscapes in Germany, Switzerland and Prague. However, it was Görlitz where the main part of the movie was filmed. The director, production designer and actors all fell in love with this charming town and its people.
The Neues Rathaus (new town hall) in the centre of Görlitz had a pink facade attached to it to become the facade of the Grand Budapest Hotel. On the same square the Hotel Börse became the home of the entire crew during the making of the film. Altogether, the film was shot at 12 different locations in Görlitz. But it was the Görlitzer Warenhaus department store at Demianiplaltz that was the main set. It was used as the interior of the hotel and much of the filming was done here.
Visiting the Grand Budapest Hotel
The set of the Grand Budapest Hotel was what prompted our interest to come to Görlitz, and so the first place we visited on arrival in town was the Görlitzer Warenhaus. Built in 1913, this glamorous department store was the “Lafayette” of East Saxony. Unfortunately the department store fell under hard times and has been shut since 2009.
From the outside, it looked a little the worst for wear. We walked around the shut building, peering through the glass windows at whatever we could see. Needless to say, we were disappointed as all we managed to catch sight of was a partial view of the famous staircase.
Just as we were about to leave, Tony spotted the door to a small office with some glossy brochures in it. He went in and a young girl appeared from nowhere. We told her how disappointed we were that the building was closed as we had come all the way from Australia to see it. We were surprised when she asked “Do you want to see the inside?” Oh yes we certainly did!
Inside the Grand Budapest Hotel
Antonia let us in the building and once inside we could picture how grand the art nouveau department store must have been in its heyday. The art nouveau glass ceiling (restored in 1985) was magnificent.
If you look carefully, you can see the dates and in fact the names, of the people involved in the restoration that have been put into the glass. The special technique which was employed is characterised by the use of enamel colour which is baked into the material at a temperature of 600°C, causing an effect as in a graphic.
It was interesting to see the original building and compare it with the way they transformed it in the “Grand Budapest Hotel”.
Antonia allowed us take shots of the place and then her mobile phone rang. She was at at the department store then because a school group had booked a tour of the building. We were really fortunate to be there that day. She invited us to follow the tour if we wanted to. However, as it was conducted in German, it was better for me to go around taking snaps.
Tony in the meantime had already disappeared. When I looked up, he had already reached the top floor and was filming away. After enjoying our viewing of the building, we left when the school group had finished their tour.
Plans for the Kaufhaus Görlitz
On the 100th anniversary of the building, a new owner came forward. It must have been the publicity surrounding the movie that inspired the investment. There are plans to relaunch the department store as the Kaufhaus Görlitz . Although the brochure mentioned a planned opening in October 2015, this obviously didn’t happen. Antonia said that the planned opening was now sometime in 2017-18. Somehow I don’t think it will make the 2017 deadline. The intention is to have a department store with a balance of branded goods and affordable shops for locals.
We thanked Antonia profusely for allowing us in the building. She, on the other hand, was happy that people were interested in seeing it, especially the younger people of today. She had fond memories of shopping in the department store when she was a child. So thanks to the school group, our mission to visit the Grand Budapest Hotel was accomplished!
It would be nice to come back and see the new department store, but on the other hand we may prefer to keep our memories of it the way it was before.
An der Frauenkirche 5-7
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