Quiet on the Set! Travel with Us Virtually to Berlin - See the Filming Locations of The Queen's Gambit and Unorthodox
Premium travel newsletter By Anne-Sophie Blin and Tricia Conover
Quiet on the Set! Filming in Berlin
Many films and TV shows are filmed every year in Berlin. 2020 was especially notable since two successful TV series--Unorthodox and The Queen’s Gambit--used Berlin’s emblematic architecture and landmarks as a background. Here are some of the most notable places highlighted in both shows. (Note: The dates on buildings reflect the building construction dates.)
The Queen’s Gambit
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) uses Berlin to picture many other locations including Kentucky, Cincinnati, Paris, Las Vegas, Mexico, and Moscow. Let’s travel the world with our lead character, Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy!)
Beth’s orphanage in Kentucky actually was the Berlin residence of the Israel family that owned one of the most imposing department stores in Germany, Kaufhof Nathan Israel, now better known as the Schloss Schulzendorf (Dorfstraße 15C, Schulzendorf, 1889). Beth and her mother buy clothes at Ben Snyder’s, which is in fact the thrift store at Frankfurter Tor 3 (also used by Esty Shapiro in the film Unorthodox).
Beth’s first chess tournament at Henry Clays High School in Kentucky was actually shot inside the gym of the Max-Taut-Schule (Fischerstraße 3, Rummelsburg, 1927-1932), a school built under the Weimar Republic. The beautiful hotel presented as being in Cincinnati is actually a mix of the Rathaus Spandau (Carl-Schurz-Straße 2–6, Spandau, 1910-1913) and the Meistersaal (Köthener Str. 38, Kreuzberg, 1910).
Berlin as Las Vegas, Paris, Moscow, and Mexico?
What about the Hotel Mariposa in Las Vegas? It’s the Palais am Funkturm (Hammarskjöldplatz, Charlottenburg, 1956-1957). The Aztec Palace in Mexico City is in reality the Friedrichstadt-Palast (Friedrichstraße 107, Mitte, 1919;) and the Mexico Zoo is the Berlin Zoologischer Garten. Beth Harmon plays chess in Paris. But is this Paris? No, it’s the Haus Cumberland (Kurfürstendamm 194, Charlottenburg, 1911) and the Bode-Museum (Am Kupfergraben, Mitte, 1898-1904).
Finally, in order to experience Moscow, old East-Berlin was chosen for filming. Beth plays against the best players in the world in the Bärensaal of the Altes Stadthaus (Klosterstraße 47, Mitte, 1902-1911). After her victory, she wanders in Karl-Marx-Allee, near her hotel set in the Kino International (movie theater, Karl-Marx-Allee 33, Mitte, 1961-1963) and the small rose garden (Karl-Marx-Allee 33, Friedrichshain) where she observes amateur chess players playing.
In Unorthodox (Netflix), we follow the main character, Esty Shapiro, in many neighborhoods of the German capital. In fact, the series is a beautiful homage to Berlin, its tragic history but also its capacity to always reinvent itself.
Esty lands at Berlin’s old airport, Tegel (now closed) and so do her husband and his cousin a few days later. Incidentally, I also landed here when I moved to Berlin a few years ago. Esty’s first stop is her mother’s apartment in Schöneberg. It is located in the most emblematic building on Winterfeldtplatz; it was designed by the famous Berlin architect Hinrich Baller. Baller’s constructions are all over Berlin and are easily recognizable with their greenish balustrades and their glass façades.
In another scene, Esty walks around Potsdamer Platz, takes the metro there and wanders under the aerial dome built by Helmut Jahn. She also leads us inside the Berliner Philharmoniker, a marvelous creation by Hans Scharoun. In fact, the interior scenes at the Conservatory were filmed in the neighboring Musikinstrumenten-Museum Berlin. For all these places, the producers chose to show a Berlin that is modern and appealing with its audacious architecture and bright colors.
However, Esty also goes into old East Berlin. We discover another image of Berlin, one that is older, quieter, and at times shabbier. When she shops for new clothes, she goes to a famous second-hand clothing store, at Frankfurter Tor. Later, she enters the Zionskirche in Prenzlauer Berg to listen to a choir. In an ulterior scene, her husband Yanky and his cousin visit the old Jewish cemetery in Weissensee, one of the largest in Europe. Finally, at the end of the series, Esty and Yanky walk along the Landwehrkanal, with the Castle of Berlin still under construction.
The Wannsee lake and its sandy beach present yet another image of Berlin. It is a key moment in Esty’s story. The young woman and her friends enjoy a perfect afternoon at the beach: the sun is shining and everyone is having fun. Yet one of her companions informs her that the Final Solution was planned in a villa across the lake. It is difficult to believe that such an idyllic location has been stained by fascism. Nonetheless, empowered by her new life, it is here that Esty decides to free herself from her cultural background and lets her wig float away in the current. Quite a symbol!
Berlin – A Mix of Architecture
Berlin has an interesting mixture of architecture. These two TV shows used buildings from the late 19th and the 20th centuries. While some of these buildings are iconic and easily recognizable, others were well disguised and transformed to fit the storyline. I am eagerly waiting for the next show or film featuring Berlin, to experience the city where I live through someone else’s eyes.
Introducing Anne-Sophie Blin
Join me in welcoming Anne-Sophie Blin. Anne-Sophie is a prolific travel writer and educator. She was born in Normandy, France and studied both in Texas and France. Anne-Sophie and her family moved from San Francisco to Berlin, Germany, several years ago where she teaches several languages online. Anne-Sophie has been a frequent freelance contributor to PrimeWomen Magazine. You can find her own writing at: https://asvblin.substack.com.Hopefully we can follow Anne-Sophie’s direction this Summer or Fall and travel to Germany to explore the paths of the film crew of Unorthodox and The Queen’s Gambit.
Photos by Anne-Sophie Blin - Frankfurter Tor, Potsdamer Platz, Funkturm
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