Berlin, the perfect city for taking a ‘movie-spotting’ tour

We finish at the brightly coloured remnants of the Berlin Wall, right next to the underground station at Potsdamer Platz, preparatory to our “crossing over” into the Berlinale venues.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Berlin | Published:February 18, 2016 1:48 am
Potente runs under the Oberbaum bridge in Berlin in a scene from Run Lola Run. Potente runs under the Oberbaum bridge in Berlin in a scene from Run Lola Run.

Remember how Lola ran? The girl with the flame red hair in the 1998 thriller Run Lola Run, has to run across Berlin in 20 minutes to save her boyfriend. He has left a bag full of money in the subway, and unless she can get it for him, in time, he will be shot.

Given the size of the city, it is impossible to make such a dash in such a short time, but “filmi” time, as we know, is a greatly compressible thing. Director Tom Twyker, a Berlin boy, gave us a girl who ran, and created a film that was pure adrenaline — it raced around the city and then the world, and gave us a window on a new young German cinema.

Nearly 20 years on, the city has changed enormously. And yet, some places are instantly recognisable: our video bus tour which takes us through some famous spots, stops at the intersection where Lola ran. Bobby Grampp, our guide, swings smoothly into his patter: look at that façade, that was the bank that Lola (played by Franka Potente) runs into, to ask her father for help, and that is the building she goes into.

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In monitors inside the bus, clips from the film play out, and we get a multi-sensory experience: our memories of the film, and the real-time travel through the same spot nearly two decades later.

Berlin is one of the most filmed cities, and in many of them the city plays a character. The 2006 The Lives Of Others created an “East Germany” in which we got to see just how ordinary people lived in the GDR (German Democratic Republic), who were spied upon by other residents whose sole job was to keep an eye on others.

We pass through the residential areas in the former East Germany, where the film was shot. The block of flats are now coloured brighter, and their neighbourhoods have been gentrified, but the Soviet-style architecture is still visible.

Classic spy films like The Spy Who Came In From The Cold lead you straight to the Berlin Wall, and “Checkpoint Charlie”. The Wall, which snaked through the city, not in a straight line, is now seen only in remnants, a line of stones marking where it used to be.

We get off at “Checkpoint Charlie” with make-believe “East German” soldiers stamp your palm, and stalls selling memorabilia, and one point you flash back to the Michael Caine-starrer Funeral In Berlin (1966) in which he plays a secret agent on a dangerous mission.

A much later spy, played by Matt Damon in the 2004 The Bourne Supremacy is seen going into “Café Moskau”: we stop on the Tiergartentunnel for a look at the café.

Berlin can also stand in for other famous cities: parts of the square where the two distinctive churches stand was used in the 2004 Jackie Chan version of Around The World In 80 Days to depict London. The square is magnificent: we admire the scenery and move on, to Potsdamer Platz, where Wim Wenders’ lovely, elegiac Wings Of Desire was shot.

Today it is a bustling spot full of theatres and eating places and the heart of the Berlin film festival: back then, Wenders captured the heartbreaking bleakness of a divided city.

We finish at the brightly coloured remnants of the Berlin Wall, right next to the underground station at Potsdamer Platz, preparatory to our “crossing over” into the Berlinale venues.

I stop, like many others, and take a photo.