by Nancy Mills

Photos by Frédéric Batier/X Filme, except as noted

Babylon Berlin, a period drama now filming its fourth season, brings 1931 Berlin to life. A home for those with talent and ambition, the German capital offers everything to anyone who has money. Nothing seems out of reach. But those who are poor and hungry will do anything to survive. Crime and political extremism are growing while those who can are eager to dance the night away. The Nazis are active, and Hitler’s rise to power is imminent.

Following is a Q&A with LM David Pieper/LMGI and KALM Mario Wittmann/LMGI.

What guidance did the three directors—Tom Tykwer, Achim von Borries, Henk Handloegten—provide? 

It was important for them to make sure everyone was on the same page and felt their value as being part of the team. They wanted us to appreciate the experience, which would make it easier to pay attention to the little things and help us create this world we would be creating on the screen.

“Please be nice to each other,” they told us. “You will spend more time on this project than with your family and friends. For most of you, it will be the most intense and longest time you have ever worked on a project. So be especially nice to each other.”

In principle, everyone stuck to it! Now, more than 300 days of shooting are behind us, with almost 100 percent shot on location. The current team of the fourth season is almost identical to the previous one, and everyone is looking forward to working together again. That is not a matter of course, with the mammoth tasks and problems that had to be mastered.

Bärensaal (Bear Hall) in the Altes Stadthaus (before)

The show is different, beautiful and evil at the same time and also up to date in a figurative sense. The fourth season will lift and expand this feeling to another level. We’re two years later in the passage of time and evil is gaining power. Could you explain further? 

The series is a great reflection of the turmoil at the end of the Weimar Republic: ups and downs, progress and decline, beauty and the ugly face of hatred and poverty. At this time, it was still not decided in which direction the predominant liberal society would go. In all the bad we see, there is still a hope, there is still beauty that can be found despite the evil.

The two main characters, police officer inspector Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) and police clerk and future homicide detective Charlotte (Liv Lisa Fries), capture this mood in a great way. As was customary at the time, drugs were used and celebrated with an impartial ease. In the previous seasons, we were able to shoot wild, beautiful party scenes at the Club Holländer and the Moka Efti that are in stark contrast to the violence and political dangers.

But even back then, the rush had its downsides: Charlotte sells her body, drugged in the basement of Moka. Rath is struggling hard with addiction. The lines between what is right and what is wrong disappear quickly at the beginning of the first episode.

This spiral down toward a violent end of the republic accelerates in the fourth season when several characters we think we know have their morals tested to the extreme. We will see people think they are doing the right thing when we know they are not, and we will be witness to the downfall of others who thought of themselves as invincible. You go on a journey with the series and throw your moral compass overboard. 

The Bärensaal Stock Exchange building (after)

Talk about the title and how it may have influenced your location choices.

This Berlin is a juggernaut. Sin, corruption and violence lurk around every corner, as in the myth of a biblical city. In fact, modern Berlin was often inspired by an ancient metropolis in the first decades of the 20th century. The influence ranged from the architecture and ornamentation of art nouveau to the naming of the Babylon Cinema, which opened in 1929. 

It was obvious that the locations for the series weren’t just locations. Berlin is one of the stars of the show. And it was clear if we didn’t get this sold properly so that the audience was visually captivated by what they see, it would be difficult to succeed. The locations had to personify the rush we feel when we enter Berlin’s nightlife and to amplify the disgust and horror when the light hits its dark corners.

Was the play/movie Cabaret an influence? 

Every Thursday in the weeks prior to shooting, the directors presented several movies, fictional and documentary, in a screening to the crew, sometimes with guest speakers. The directors and the production designer have a very profound knowledge of the history of film. While it is very probable that Cabaret had an influence, it was not part of the location brief we were given. There was not “the one” movie they wanted us to take as the best example. The intention was to let us learn more about the times our story takes place in—not only the mood they wanted to show on the screen, but also the mood of daily life back then.

It was really a nice ritual and brought the whole team together and even further into the era of the 1920s and ’30s. 

Have you worked in this period of German history before? If yes, what? If no, why not?

As a location assistant, I had the privilege of working on Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie. Mario was a location set PA on both projects back then. Both are set a little bit later in history, but you are looking for similar architecture for Babylon. The city is changing at a fast pace, and there are several locations which are not available anymore. 

While making it a little bit more difficult to find a fit, this is what makes our job so interesting: You find out a location where you have filmed before is not available anymore, so you have to dig deeper in the more obscure parts of the city. Nothing is cookie-cutter, and neither we, nor production designer Uli Hanisch, nor the directors would want it to be. Sometimes, you have to be creative. The wildest idea might turn out to be the winner.

St. Hedwigs Domfriedhof, Berlin’s oldest catholic cemetery, established 1834

A lot of the locations you might have wanted were destroyed by the end of WW2. How did you handle that? Did you rebuild any of them?

Even a larger production by German standards like Babylon Berlin is limited in what can be built—especially if you are talking about places that will only be used for one or two shooting days. A stage build is usually very expensive. With a real location, you can help set the mood for the actors and the crew in a way that is not possible onstage. The city is still changing. Not only was a lot destroyed during WW2, but buildings are modernized or demolished or have changed owners. 

Some locations might be gone, but others become available. A place that was too dangerous to enter before might be renovated now, or an owner who was opposed to film shoots sold his property to the biggest fan of Babylon Berlin. We just have to keep our eyes open. Even though we know a lot of the city and its historic places after what will soon be four seasons of Babylon Berlin, there is always something new to be found!

Of course, you need great collaborators for that to work. The art department of Babylon Berlin is one of the most creative you can imagine. Production designer Uli Hanisch and his supervising art director Kai Karla Koch are extremely creative and fast. They are always looking outside the box and can transform a location in very different ways. While having very high standards, they are also willing to change their ideas of what location to use and how they can transform it into what tells the story if something we had initially set our eyes on doesn’t work out.

Tom Tykwer directing a scene

The foundation for this workflow are three location scouts: Nick Hertwig and Stefan Wöhleke in Berlin and Brandenburg and Frank Meter in North Rhine-Westphalia. Everything starts with this little task force. 

One example is the stock exchange from the opening scene of the third season. It does not exist anymore. It quickly became clear that we actually have nothing in town which fits the dimensions of the historical stock exchange. Everything that first came to mind and was of a size comparable to the original stock exchange was destroyed or renovated in such modern ways that it didn’t work for us. 

Moving to another city for a missing location is quite unpopular and not the idea of Babylon Berlin. But as so often happens, Uli had a great idea. He was thinking about presenting the “Bärensaal” (Bear Hall) in the Altes Stadthaus, an administrative building from the early 20th century, as a stock exchange. The dimensions are not correct, but the architecture is astonishing and fits the period. There is a massive bear on a pedestal on one side. His idea was to set up an identical sculpture with a bull on the other side of the room. Bear and bull, stock market, bang, brilliant! We had found the perfect location for this important opening scene. After all these years, it’s still amazing to work with creative people like Uli and Kai. These guys have incredible ideas and a clear view to find the best solutions for the show.

Often only Uli, Kai and I drive around to look at locations. That’s almost the nicest part of the job. Everything is still so calm and peaceful at that stage… Before the battle begins.

Any resistance from residents or government officials about reproducing this period of history?

No, actually. In general, I would say the opposite is true. There is great interest in the Weimar Republic and the time before the Nazi terror regime began. In proportion, there are not many films or series that illuminate this time. Babylon Berlin is fiction, but the background is historically correct.

As in all cities where a lot of films are made, there are always some residents with a certain tiredness toward filming. Everyone likes to watch a crime thriller on Sunday evening, but if someone is planning to shoot in front of their homes, a lot of people are complaining. Mostly it’s because of parking and road closures. Often you can take away a lot of the heat by simply listening to the concerns of those people and working something out. The acceptance is higher for Babylon Berlin, and people often tell us that they are big fans of the show. That never fails to make us happy.

Charlottenburg Town Hall

Was the author of the eight books, Volker Kutscher, consulted or involved in any way? If yes, how? If no, why not?

Yes, but not on our working level. The three directors are in contact with him. He’s a nice person with obviously a lot of knowledge and as you can see from the details in his books, he wants everything to be perfect. 

His novels can be read like a city map. The buildings, street names and distances are correct. That impressed us very much and of course, also encouraged us to continue to work on this high level. Babylon Berlin is taking historical correctness very seriously. This is not always completely possible, but architecture, vehicles, props, everything usually fits very well into the time period.

Did the books help you in your location searches? 

The scripts are based on Volker Kutscher’s originals. The three directors are also the writers of the show. But we are only working with the scripts, which stay true to the spirit of the books. There are quite a lot of deviations. It would create confusion to use two different sources.

It’s a gift if the original and named locations from the books still exist and the writers adapt this into the scripts. For example, take the yellow train station Hermannplatz. It was clear that this location could still be used as the filming location for the original Hermannplatz, almost 100 years after it was built. The modern elements were manageable, and it seemed only natural to use this location.

Finding the location is only the first step of our job. The challenge was great: Here was this original location from the books. It is still there and from the visual point of view really good to use for our purpose. The ball was on our side. 

The Hermannplatz train station is one of the most highly frequented places in Berlin—not the best place to shoot a period drama. It was necessary to decorate the platforms and prep the set during ongoing public service. Shortly after midnight, we got full control of the station for two hours and the final prep could take place. 

The old historical trains had been stored during the day on a siding two minutes away and were now moved in. Time was short and ticking. No matter what, the tracks had to be clear for normal traffic in two hours. We spent two nights filming there, and everything went well. 

In the end, many complicated scenes usually look so simple on screen. But in this case, there was a lot of attention on these pictures and anyone who knows Hermannplatz was really amazed. Afterward, we had to explain how it was possible to do it. Basically, it was just the meticulous planning on our part that made it work, along with the joy of breaking new ground.

Another place which is worth mentioning is the Alexanderplatz in the middle of Berlin. This large square in front of the “Rote Burg,” the police headquarters, was quite a show. Historical trams were involved, along with a few hundred extras, picture vehicles and horse-drawn carriages—the whole thing with cranes and drones. 

It was the biggest setup of the first two seasons. We asked about the availability of this location very early on, knowing that this place is often blocked. Unfortunately, there is a limited contingent of days that the historical Alexanderplatz can be used for events. If this is already allocated, you don’t get the permit. First come, first served, very simple.

Hermannplatz train station. Photo courtesy of Uli Hanisch

We were unlucky and lucky at the same time. The Alexanderplatz was available, but only for exactly one day in our shooting period, matching with the constellation of actors’ availability—the last Sunday in September. This is a day that is circled in deep red in our calendar every year. The Berlin Marathon always takes place that day.

Nobody I know from the location world is filming anything in town on that Sunday. Of course, that was the reason why it was available. The entire city center is closed to traffic from around 6 a.m. The lockdown takes place in sequence and everything is closed by 8 a.m. The marathon starts at 8:15 a.m. This is a very serious thing for the city, the sports event of the year. 

When it was clear that this was our only possible day to film on Alexanderplatz, which is of course, also directly next to the marathon route, it was clear we had to prepare very diligently. At the end of a very extensive minute-by-minute planning, we actually made it. 

At 6 a.m. on a very sunny day, around 300 extras and 150 team members were working on Alexanderplatz. The logistics were in place. Everyone was so happy that it worked out and the rehearsals began. The last missing piece was the historical trams. It was only possible that the trams came in in the morning because the place was still used for local passenger transport overnight.

Around 7:40 a.m., the trams finally arrived and everything seemed to be good just shortly before the complete lockdown would start. But then the problems began. For some reason, the trams went in the wrong direction. It was very, very clear that we would not be able to film this way. It was really a tense situation. There was not enough time to leave the square with the old trains and turn around, but filming that way was not possible either. We got a helping hand from the friendly Berlin police, and we managed to work everything out. Police in Germany do not do the lock-offs for film crews, so this was anything but guaranteed. A wonderful day of shooting began, surrounded by 80,000 marathon runners from all over the world!

How did the Berlin Brandenburg Film Commission help? Only 2½ people there—average of 1,200 searches/day—good locations database—did you use it—for what?

There were times when everything seemed to go wrong. That was December 2018. Every application would be rejected by the authorities—too much parking space, too long a period, too short-term. We are used to dealing with these problems. But an extreme increase of problems can simply bring the production to a stop. It was clear that we needed help and had to intensify our already very good relationship with the Berlin Brandenburg Film Commission. Thanks to Christiane Krone-Raab’s personal commitment, she skillfully negotiated for us with the authorities, and we were able to make it through. 

We look occasionally at the commission’s database and have already found filming locations there. It’s great and well maintained. Above all, Christiane is always there, and I mean always there to solve problems. Never in the last 10 years, have I heard that she has no time or anything. That is very impressive and extraordinary. For this reason alone, the nomination last year for the LMGI Film Commission Award was more than justified.

What locations were unable to be used because of non-cooperation?

There is a town hall in the west of the city. They just didn’t want to cooperate with us or any other film company. Unfortunately, this is a really good location and with the help of the film commission, we managed to shoot there for one day for Season 1. But the disbalance between commitment and benefit was so hard that we had originally decided not to go there ever again. But memory is short: We are currently trying to get in for Season 4. We’ll see how it turns out.

What did you already know about Berlin’s Golden Twenties? Is there anything left from that period? Lots of extremes—poverty versus immense wealth; far right/far left?

Thank God, there is not much left from the negative side. In particular, life in Berlin is relaxed and pleasant. But I do remember the time after the reunification of Germany in 1990. About eight years later, I moved to Berlin to study. There was a certain unusual freedom here in Berlin. Laws weren’t really strictly followed. Many buildings were empty, and it was not so clear who they belonged to. During this time, nightclubs emerged and quickly closed and opened again in one week. The police had other worries and were hardly to be seen. That time reminds me a bit of the period of Babylon Berlin.

Is Babylon Berlin your biggest project? 

It’s smaller in relation to large international productions. But for German standards, it is quite big. The normal shooting crew has around 60-80 members. 

Sometimes we also operate with split units. It’s hard to believe what kind of results these units can produce. One of the biggest surprises was the AGE Tunnel in Season 1. We were looking for a cellar for the dog fight scene on the director’s scout. The janitor of the property mentioned that there is a second cellar with a tunnel on the other side of the street. We were under time pressure and thanked him for his idea, thinking it would be good for the next time. We weren’t even looking for a tunnel. 

But the designer and the director wanted to take a look. Human curiosity is a good thing. Everyone was speechless. The tunnel was a 300m test tunnel for the Berlin subway system in a smaller form, built in 1895. We hadn’t seen anything like this before. The only problem was there was neither a scene with tunnel nor even an idea for this that could be shown in the schedule. 

But everybody wanted to bring the tunnel onto the screen. Since the main unit didn’t have time, our main actor went with Mario and a crew of maybe seven or eight people to the tunnel. This turned out to be a very memorable scene: The nightmarish world where Gereon Rath wanders around in search of himself. For the third season, we came back to the tunnel for a slightly longer scene. 

Did you use the backlot in Neue Berliner Strasse in Studio Babelsberg? 

The backlot is Uli’s world, and our department is not really involved. But I am happy if we can make scenes work there. For the first season we had street-fighting scenes between the communists and the police—quite big, with burning cars, horses, etc. We thought about filming in the middle of Berlin, and there was even a place mentioned for this, the Kottbusser Tor. Unfortunately, this venture turned out to be impractical.

The Kottbusser Tor is a hotspot of problems. Drugs, crime and riots take place quite regularly even without Babylon Berlin, and it doesn’t look anything like the 1920s anymore. The police also didn’t like the idea of having to close the five streets leading toward it. In the end, it was clear that the backlot was the better place for this riot sequence.

But it doesn’t mean that we are not trying to bring action into the city. We don’t want to spoil too much, but the opening sequence of the fourth season will top everything we saw before, and it is shot entirely on location.

Hoppegarten Racecourse. Photo courtesy of Uli Hanisch

Did you repeat a lot of locations over three-plus seasons? 

Yes, that is the idea, but also a huge challenge. Of course, the town halls and other historical buildings still exist, and you can come back if you have behaved well before. But with the apartments, it is more difficult. In Berlin, there is a law that empty apartments are not allowed to stay empty indefinitely. We were really lucky that the apartment Rath and Behnke used was still available over the seasons. With Charlotte, it was different, and we have to make a decision. Either you have to change the story and the character has moved, or you have to try to recreate the original location.

For the important homicide squad of the “Rote Burg,” Rath’s and Charlotte’s working space, we preferred the first way. They are moving from season to season within the complex, and they made a story out of it. 

With the rise of White Supremacy & the Alt-Right here in the US now, Babylon Berlin is very topical 

Unfortunately, history seems to repeat itself over and over again. We can only hope that anti-Semitism and racism will never get the upper hand again. While the most important thing is the courage and idealism of people to oppose hatred, maybe we can do our part and do what culture can be so good at: show people what certain actions and circumstances can lead to. We can hold a mirror up in which they can see similarities to today’s society.

What can you say about Season 4?

Season 4 is based on the novel Goldstein, Volker Kutscher’s third book in this series. It starts 14 months after the end of Season 3. A lot happens in this book, and the energy and aggression is up quite a bit. The Brooklyn gangster Goldstein comes to Berlin and lets nothing stand in his way. We don’t want to give away too much, but it’s about the ascent of the Nazis, a Jewish gangster and a country on the edge of the greatest harm to humanity. And boxing.

Name three of your favorite locations and explain why they are favorites.

Hoppegarten Racecourse: It’s another world there with the racehorses. Whenever I get out of the bus, I feel good. The location owners are extremely friendly, and we had a great time there for all three seasons.

Bärensaal: The bear hall of the city of Berlin. We used this location for the Berlin stock exchange of the 1930s. Extremely challenging and labor-intensive filming location, but in the end, the right place and really one of my favorites in town. We don’t have that many properties in this category in the city.

Robert-Koch-Forum: We used this almost 10,000 square meter empty building right next to the German Reichstag for about 1½ years as a production office and for many filming locations in the third season. The building has such a special position in the city’s history that the authorities and owners usually don’t want to give it to a film company. 

Mr. Robert Koch studied microbiology here and Mr. Bunsen created the Bunsen burner. The Robert-Koch-Saal is one of the most valuable lecture halls in town. You see it quite often in the third season. It took a very long time to convince the city to give us the keys. It was a great privilege that we were able to spend so much time in such an extraordinary building. We also had our offices there. Unfortunately, it is currently under renovation, which takes time because of the strict limitations that are placed upon it for its historic value. It was no longer available for the fourth season.

AEG Tunnel. Photo courtesy of Mario Wittmann

Did any location cause horrendous or colorful problems that are worth mentioning?

With a smile, I am looking back to the Charlottenburg Town Hall. We had to fight to change a general film ban into a permit for filming. That was rather annoying because there were no objective reasons for the rejection, but it still dragged on for almost half a year. In the end, there was a compromise. We had restrictions. For example: Actors were not allowed to smoke in the scene and we should be particularly quiet and only stay in certain areas.

Because this location was so complicated and difficult, I went to the location myself in the morning and looked after it. At around 6 a.m., people with beer barrels passed me and went into the town hall—not in our shooting area, but also not far away either. Other people were carrying a music system with large speakers. Now I was really awake and had great ambitions an hour before crew call to find out what was going on at the “sensitive” place.

The management of the town hall, which gave us such a hard time, had simply not seen it as worth mentioning that a big carnival event takes place in the town hall parallel to our shooting. All Berlin “Karnevallsvereine” in full disguise and very drunk stormed into the town hall, danced to music in the main hall and were partying. This all happened in the morning and next to us, only separated by a door. There was real chaos in the front house. Completely drunk people in costumes staggered into the set on their way to the toilet. It was basically so blatant and without warning that I was speechless. We had previously warned our team to this sensitive location with all the restrictions, and we were in the middle of this situation … I still have to laugh about it.

How did you become a location manager?

David: I wouldn’t say it was by accident but also definitely not as a plan. I moved from this very small city to Berlin to study, and I financed my studies as a driver. Mostly, I worked on music videos and advertising projects. That was also quite exciting and challenging. I had no idea about Berlin, where which street or which building is located. Navigation systems did not yet exist—just the good old city map that I’ve learned to love. That was the time when cellphones were just starting to hit the market. 

Somehow I managed it and was called by Klaus Grosse Darrelmann/LMGI asking if I could help him with an advertisement. It was nothing less than Prada Perfume, directed by Jordan and Ridley Scott. This was the beginning of a great and long-lasting friendship that still exists with Klaus.

It was also my first contact with Studio Babelsberg and Markus Bensch/LMGI/AMPAS. 

That time was great as a location assistant, I was young, had ambitions and had the privilege to be part of projects like Valkyrie and Inglourious Basterds, followed by other projects like Ninja Assassin and Unfinished Business. The most defining one was Cloud Atlas, my first contact with director Tom Tykwer and production designer Uli Hanisch. 

A few years later, I got my first offer as a location manager for a feature film, Hologram for the King, directed by Tom Tykwer, production design by Uli Hanisch, line producer Marcus Loges. The leading actor was Tom Hanks. The collaboration with Tom, Uli and Marcus continues today.

Mario: I wanted to work in film and got lucky, even though I took a little detour. When I finished school and a year of social work (you had to choose at that time if you wanted to go to the military or do social work). I bought a ticket at an online auction for the 25th anniversary party tour of road movies, which was the production company of Wim Wenders. During that trip, I was offered an internship. I also met Klaus Grosse Darrelmann/LMGI. 

I did a couple of internships but decided to go to university and put the film career on hold. After my graduation, I came to Berlin just knowing that I wanted to work in film. Coincidentally, Klaus had placed an online offer looking for location set PAs for Valkyrie. I got the job and it was then that I first met David. We worked up the ranks and David was actually the first to offer me a job as assistant location manager when he became location manager. I’ve always been happy to work for him since.

The Babylon Berlin Location Team
David Pieper/LMGI LM (S1-S4)
Mario Wittmann/LMGI KALM (S1-S4)
Dimitri Serovatski KALM (S1-S4)
Steve Sauthoff/LMGI KALM (S1-S3)
Steve Wilks LC (S1-S3)
Anna Lisa Kunkel LC (S4)
Daniel Thomas ALM (S4)
Julian Feuerstacke ALM (S4)
Nick Hertwig Scout (S1-S4)
Stefan Wöhleke Scout (S2-S4)
Enzo Simon Set Manager (S1-S3)
Badr Zouhir Set Manager (S4)
Leo Hadrich Set Manager (S4)
Philip Gritzka LM NRW (S1-S4)
Frank Meter Scout NRW (S1-S4)

Line Producer Marcus Loges: Location Team are “Shining Knights” 

L-R: David Pieper & Mario Wittmann. Photo courtesy of Uli Hanisch

Babylon Berlin line producer Marcus Loges can’t imagine life without his location team. “We’re one of those shows that is basically shot entirely on location,” he says. “Without LM David Pieper/LMGI and KALM Mario Wittmann/LMGI, the process would not work.”

Now shooting its fourth season, the popular Netflix series has found a successful formula. “Filming is not that popular in Berlin anymore, so it needs a lot of support,” Loges says. There’s a lot of construction, and many places are not that accessible. When you compare Babylon Berlin to a lot of other period shows, you’ll find those productions go east to Prague or Romania. Nobody apart from us is shooting in Berlin or in Germany, for that matter. It’s expensive, but we do find the places. What’s special about Babylon Berlin is that it’s a great portrait of the times. It’s not a boy and a girl and a crime. We go to 150 places, and you can tell.

“The popularity of the series enables us to reach out to very special locations, but sometimes location owners ask for a lot of money and we don’t want to be held hostage. We also have to protect the budget of the show, as well as the style and the value. If a location is asking for an unreasonable price, the LMs will discuss with the director, producer and designer that we will need an alternative.”

Loges’ location team know each other well. They recently worked on the much praised Queen’s Gambit for Netflix. “You need people who know the rules and can do the paperwork properly,” Loges says. “But also, they need to be convincing because we can’t force people to get permits.

“It’s a very human thing. You need to convince not only the location owner but also the public and the authorities that it’s actually a good thing to give away a street for a week so Babylon Berlin can shoot there for a night.

“David and Mario are calm, quiet and careful people. They know their stuff. You can’t surprise them with a new rule. They won’t always get the answer we want right away, so they need to do things in a friendly manner to be able to revisit the place. They’ve proven that sometimes kindness helps. 

“Because they’re asking for so many things, they need to be the good guys. If you don’t, you can lose the opportunity to have a place to get back to and restart. 

“So many things today are not allowed. You can’t shoot in the park. You can’t bring horses. You can’t have a car. But you still need to ask: ‘What are the conditions where we’d be favored to get a permit? Do we need to be extra careful?’

“You need shining knights as LMs. I’ve known David and Mario for a long, long time. They are our shining knights.”

Production Designer Uli Hanisch  

Photo courtesy of Uli Hanisch

“Locations are the heart and soul of almost any film show,” Babylon Berlin production designer Uli Hanisch says. “There’s no production without locations. We depend on them. We did build a huge backlot set where we did a lot of street scenes. Also, we had one small apartment onstage, but everything else was locations.”

Babylon Berlin shot mostly in Berlin. “On one hand, we know that about 90 percent of the city was destroyed after World War 2,” Hanisch says. “But it’s amazing how much period architecture Berlin still has, especially town halls and public places. We have an enormous amount of those representing the history of Berlin, although it’s very hard to use them. It’s a city, and they’re already in use, so we have to deal with that. I’ve lived and worked here for over 20 years, and I’m always discovering something new. I usually know many of these public places, but I´m not considering them for a particular concept before I have a specific request for a show.”

Hanisch has worked with LM David Pieper/LMGI and KALM Mario Wittman/LMGI for nearly a decade. “I feel they are part of the art department,” he says. “I hope they feel the same. I feel super-connected to them. It’s thrilling how we always come up with something great together. When they reach out, they don’t take NO for an answer. 

“They really think about everything and deal with all the problems. If you’re working in this field, you cannot succeed unless you are polite, kind, honest and truthful. Many times you’re dependent on other people’s good will. During the first two seasons of Babylon Berlin, we shot at 250 locations. The sheer amount was overwhelming. 

“Because our crew has a good reputation, we sometimes get access to locations others don’t. Whenever I have to work with someone else, I miss David and his crew. I’m addicted to their work. I can’t praise them highly enough.”