On the history of the Babelsberg studios

1911 - 1920 | 1920 - 1921 | 1921 - 1945 | 1946 - 1992 | 1992 - 1999 | 2000 - 2008 | 2009 - today

1911 - 1920: Bioscop

The fire department evicts the Bioscop film company from their loft studio in Berlin. Guido Seeber, cameraman and technical director, discovers a vacant factory building surrounded by a large area of waste land in Babelsberg. The firm moves to the suburban location. For the extremely successful productions with Danish actress Asta Nielsen, a light-flooded glass studio is built in late autumn.

The first production in the "Glashaus" (the "glass studio"), Urban Gad's film "Der Totentanz" ("The Dance of the Dead") starring Nielsen, is shot in February. This is the beginning of a Nielsen series that is successful throughout Europe.

Bioscop extends its capacities, building a second glass studio and a circus arena for 1,000 spectators. Asta Nielsen leaves the studio. Director Stellan Rye and actor Paul Wegener shoot the film "Der Student von Prag" ("The Student of Prague"). This "art film" with its spectular film tricks inspires experts and audiences.

In the summer, Bioscop is close to bankruptcy. With entertaining and patriotic kitsch, the long tradition of involvement with propaganda and cooperation with ruling systems begins. Most male skilled workers leave to fight in World War I, the female staff manages to keep the company going until 1918. Noticeable works of artistic value, such as Paul Wegener's "Der Golem", remain exceptions.

Otto Rippert directs the highly successful series "Homunculus", the story of an artificial "human"; six films are produced in only five months. This is the first time a series - a format known only in the USA so far - is shot in Germany. With the series and the trilogy "Ashaver", the studios in Babelsberg are the first in Germany to produce monumental and costume films.

The Bioscop management tries in vain to sell the studios to Ufa (Universum Film), which is in the course of formation. Instead, the leasing of the studio facilities becomes normal. Only three films and one series are made by Bioscop until 1919.

1920 - 1921: Decla-Bioscop

From the consolidation of Bioscop with the Decla (Deutsche Eclaire-Gesellschaft) company, the second-largest German film company after Ufa emerges. After the war, sensation-based films and exotic adventures fulfill audience desires. The production of "art films" is maintained. The well-known painter César Klein designs the expressionistic, distorted set for the thriller "Genuine" (DIR: Robert Wiene).

1921 - 1945: Ufa

Decla-Bioscop merges with Ufa, which is about to become the market-dominating film company. Fritz Lang's "Der müde Tod" ("The Weary Death") is one of the most successful Babelsberg productions of the year.

Ufa takes over the leadership in Neu-Babelsberg and makes the studio the most vital and innovative one in Germany. Decla producer Erich Pommer now works for Ufa and becomes its creative mastermind. Masterpieces of the silent film era are created, such as "Die Nibelungen" ("Nibelungen", 1922/24, DIR: Fritz Lang) and "Der letzte Mann" ("The Last Laugh", 1924, DIR: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau) with Emil Jannings. Hollywood sends trainees to examine Babelsberg's novel film trick inventions and astounding set decorations. In 1924, Alfred Hitchcock visits the studios as assistant director of a production.

As a result of inflation, mismanagement and megalomania, Ufa has to sign an adhesion contract with the American companies Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount. Famous actors such as Henny Porten have meanwhile become mass idols.

Hollywood succeeds in headhunting creative personnel from Babelsberg, among them Erich Pommer and Emil Jannings, the first and - up to the present day - only German actor to be honoured with the newly-created Oscar award. Europe's biggest studio, the "Große Halle" ("the large studio") is established.

Extensive production times and exorbitant demands of artists like Fritz Lang, whose science fiction film "Metropolis" is part of the World Cultural Heritage today, contribute to the miserable financial situation of the studios. Taken over by Alfred Hugenberg's right-wing press conglomerate Scherl, Ufa contracts out of the agreements with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount. This way, a powerful propaganda enterprise emerges. Besides entertainment for the masses, Ufa produces more and more reactionary films. The introduction of strict working schedules and cost regulations as weel as ideological pressure change the working atmosphere in Babelsberg.

Ufa and Babelsberg expand. The staff increases, the studio area is extended significantly by real estate acquisitions. Employees criticising Ufa manager Hugenberg or his party, the DNVP, are discarded. A group of Russian emigrants from Paris now produces in Babelsberg - among others, the highly successful film "Geheimnisse des Orients" ("Secrtes of the Orient", DIR: Aexander Wolkoff). Ufa decides to construct sound film studios.

The sound film comes from Babelsberg - a little too early at first, then almost too late. The first screenings of the sound film department in the mid 1920s do not convince the Ufa bosses, the department even has to leave the Babelsberg area as the noisy film shooting of "Metropolis" disturbs its experiments. Hollywood uses German patents, releasing its first sound film already in 1927. The "large studio" is split up. Next to the "Tonkreuz", a cross-shaped, sound-proof studio without windows made of red clinker brick, the famous "Mittelhalle" ("middle studio") is built, which is named "Marlene-Dietrich-Halle" in 1995. Already on 16 December, the first feature-length Ufa sound film "Melodie des Herzens" ("Melody of the Heart", DIR: Hanns Schwarz) premiers.

Meanwhile, Ufa actors are well-known to each and everyone, the company's name has become a quality label. The sound film "Der blaue Engel" ("The Blue Angel", DIR: Josef von Sternberg) becomes a triumph for main actress Marlene Dietrich. She travels to Hollywood for the premiere and becomes a superstar during the following years. On the outdoor studio area, a small-scale version of Sanssouci Castle's facade is built for "Das Flötenkonzert von Sanssouci" ("The Flute Concert of Sanssouci", DIR: Gustav von Ucicky). Most of the Ufa members of the supervisory board already get involved with the NSDAP.

Only two more silent films are shot. Most sound films have several soundtracks - German, English and French actors consecutively play the same parts on the same sets. The small glass studio in which the Babelsberg film history began in 1912 gives way to a modern glass studio for rear projections.

With the films "Morgenrot" ("Dawn", 1932, DIR: Gustav von Ucicky) and "Hitlerjunge Quex" ("Hitler Youth Quex", DIR: Hans Steinhoff - here, Hitler himself attends the premiere), Ufa demonstrates its sympathy for the regime. Jews and political dissidents are discarded with anticipatory obedience. Among the first emigrants are actor Peter Lorre, director Fritz Lang and producer Erich Pommer. A new school of officials, directors and stars takes in the positions of those persecuted because of their race or political attitude. Among the most prominent representatives of national socialist cinema are directors Veit Harlan and Karl Ritter.

Adolf Hitler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels visit the studios, acclaimed by the staff. Their tour through the studio also passes the location where the subversive comedy "Amphitryon" (DIR: Reinhold Schünzel) was shot. The Ministry for Propaganda controls film production, all studios are nationalised until 1937. Entertainment films, sometimes with national socialist implications, dominate the studios' production.

Swedish actress Zarah Leander is made a star by Ufa and even competes with Hans Albers, the idol of the public, in terms of growing salary demands. Colour film becomes a "national task".

The German Film Academy starts producing in Babelsberg. The studios that are located between the exclusive residential area Neu-Babelsberg and the former village Nowawes are integrated into the municipal district of Potsdam by a territorial reform. The studio discusses measures to be taken in case of mobilisation or air raid.

An air-raid shelter for 418 persons is built. The last German-French coproduction before the war is made with French comedian Fernandel. With the beginning of World War II in 1939, high spirits become strategically important. The NS leadership and successful Ufa actors and directors pay court to each other - up to the bitter end of the Nazi regime in 1945.

The anti-semitic film "Jud Süß" ("Jew Süß", DIR: Veit Harlan) with Ferdinand Marian in the main role premiers.

The Ufa becomes a part of the state company Ufa Film GmbH (Ufi). On Hitler's instructions, films made in the Babelsberg studios are still allowed to use the Ufa label. Material and personnel constraints increase due to the war.

Ufa celebrates its 25th anniversary with "Münchhausen" (DIR: Joseph von Baky); the film is a dazzling display of design, costumes, stars and esprit. Proscribed author Erich Kästner has written the script using a pseudonym, Hans Albers plays the main role. In the summer, the bulletin "What to do if my workplace got destroyed?" is handed out to all Ufa employees.

"Die Feuerzangenbowle" (DIR: Helmut Weiß) premiers. More and more employees have to work in armament factories or are drafted into the military. Prisoners from a nearby forced labour camp work at the film productions. Due to material constraints, slow censorship decisions and closing cinemas, the studios incur losses.

At gigantic expenses, the film "Kolberg" (1943/1945, DIR: Veit Harlan) - the most expensive film of the Nazi era with Heinrich George in the main role - is made for the purpose of agitation. Babelsberg continues to produce until springtime, also in order to save employees from being drafted into the Wehrmacht or the Volkssturm. At the end of April, the Soviet Army reaches Potsdam and Babelsberg. In July, the Allied Forces of World War II use the studio to establish an intelligence department for the Potsdam Conference.

1946 - 1992: DEFA

Germany's first post-war film "Die Mörder sind unter uns" ("Murderers Among Us", DIR: Wolfgang Staudte) is shot in the Althoff studios in Babelsberg with Hildegard Knef in the main role. Here, the DEFA (Deutsche Film AG) is founded on 17 May. From the very beginning, anti-fascist films define the new company's pofile. In the former Ufa studio, Soviet film companies work, e.g., on the synchronisation of Soviet films for the German market.
The Soviet occupying power allows DEFA employees to start the cleanup of the studio area.

In January, DEFA starts shooting the circus film "1-2-3-Corona" (DIR: Hans Müller) in Babelsberg and Berlin. In the following decades, children's films are produced on a regular basis - all in all 160 films. This is unique in Germany. In the first half of the year, the number of employees increases from 14 to more than 100. During the years to follow, former Ufa employees work hand in hand with anti-fascists and the new DEFA staff, accomplishing an enormous amount of rebuilding work.

From the foundation of the state in October until its decline 40 years later, the political leadership of the GDR controls film production. The first DEFA cinema is opened in Berlin. The DEFA house journal "DEFA-Blende" is published for the first time. The opera film "Figaros Hochzeit" ("The Marriage of Figaro", DIR: Georg Wildhagen) becomes the popular success of the year.

The SED, the state party of the GDR, tightens film censorship. During Christmas time, the DEFA colour film "Das kalte Herz" ("Heart of Stone", DIR: Paul Verhoeven) premiers and marks the beginning of the height of DEFA fairy tale films in the 1950s and 1960s.

As first DEFA film that has already been screened, "Das Beil von Wandsbek" ("The Axe of Wandsbek", DIR: Falk Harnack) is banned after its premiere. Harnack recedes from his position as artistic director. In August, "Der Untertan" ("The Underdog", DIR: Wolfgang Staudte) premiers. In West German cinemas, screenings of the film are dismissed due to "anti-German propaganda".

More than 1000 artists, technicians, inventors, craftsmen and administrators already work in the film metropolis that covers an area of 460,000 square metres. Soviet interests in the DEFA end on 1 January, the company is nationalised entirely. Now, the studio's name is "VEB DEFA-Spielfilm". The SED leadership orders the dismissal of all employees resident in West Berlin. Between 1953 and 1955, Kurt Maetzig directs an elaborate colour film in two parts about labour leader Ernst Thälmann. The films, with Günter Simon playing the main role, have a lasting effect on the perception of history of millions of GDR spectators.

Despite several successes, DEFA has difficulties to reach audiences. In order to improve film quality, artist teams are created that work on projects more independently than before. French star actor Jean Gabin works in Babelsberg, the Film "Die Elenden" ("Les Misérables", DIR: Jean-Paul Le Chanois) is the beginning of a series of German-French coproductions.

At the Cannes Film Festival, Konrad Wolf's "Sterne" ("Stars") is honoured with an award. The first TV film with the overtly symbolic title "Brücke zwischen gestern und morgen" ("Bridge between Yesterday and Tomorrow") is completed. During the following 30 years, the studios produce 540 films for GDR television.

"5 Tage - 5 Nächte" ("5 Days - 5 Nights", DIR: Heinz Thiel) is the first German-Soviet coproduction. The first DEFA science fiction film "Der schweigende Stern" ("First Spaceship on Venus", DIR: Kurt Maetzig) is also the first DEFA film with multi-channel magnetic sound. DEFA technicians start developing a 70 mm large-screen camera.

The DEFA company brigade group takes an active part in the securing of the construction of the Berlin Wall. With 27 premieres, the studio reaches the highest annual production level of its history.
The 11th Plenary Assembly of the SED discards critical, naturalistic art. This way, more than half of the DEFA's annual production ends up in the archive. Artists and cultural officials involved in the making of these films are banned from their professions. Filmmakers sidestep to historical or literary films during the following years.

DEFA western films become box office successes for more than a decade.

The first 70 mm DEFA film "Hauptmann Florian von der Mühle" with Manfred Krug in the main role premiers successfully. Same as the Soviet Union, the USA, Great Britain and France, DEFA now produces on 70 mm footage. "Ich war neunzehn" ("I Was Nineteen", DIR: Konrad Wolf) is an artistic climax in the tradition of antifascist films and is also received well by audiences.

As the GDR tries to gain international recognition as an independent German state, 19 "DEFA Film Weeks" are created: in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and in socialist countries. The first DEFA Film Week in the Federal German Republic takes place in Oberhausen. Celebrating the GDR's 20th anniversary, DEFA shows the popular success "Zeit zu leben" ("Time to live", DIR: Horst Seemann).

The "Gegenwartsfilm" ("contemporary film", i.e. a film dealing with a contemporary subject matter) "Der Dritte" ("Her Third", DIR: Egon Günther) is awarded the main prize at Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Main actress Jutta Hoffmann receives the award "best actress" at the Venice International Film Festival. In the following years, films about self-confident women become popular successes, such as "Die Legende von Paul und Paula" ("The Legend of Paul and Paula", DIR: Heiner Carow) in 1973.

"Jakob der Lügner" ("Jacob the Liar", DIR: Frank Beyer), a coproduction of DEFA and national television, is broadcasted in December, shown in cinemas one year later and, as the only DEFA film, nominated for an Oscar.

The expatriation of singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann causes an inflammation of the latent conflict between critical artists and the regime. Even film celebrities such as actor Manfred Krug and director Frank Beyer protest against governmental disposal. The confrontation shows its effect: more and more artists leave the GDR.

After 25 years, DEFA's foreigen trade results include 1100 contracts with film distributors and TV stations. DEFA films have been exported to 80 countries.

At last, renowned director Konrad Wolf has made a new contemporary film, attracting audiences to the cinemas. Main actress Renate Krössner is awarded a Silver Bear for her role in Wolf's "Solo Sunny" on the Berlinale. Same as at the beginning of the 1970s, female characters are at the center of successful films.

2400 employees work on 33 feature films and 26 TV films with 52 parts. However, the GDR's economic difficulties gradually become visible: investments are rare.

The first Golden Bear for a DEFA film goes to "Die Frau und der Fremde" (DIR: Rainer Simon) at the Berlinale. TV films account for 40 percent of the entire production during the 1980s. "Ernst Thälmann", a TV film with two parts, occupies considerable studio capacity. With Peter Kahane's debut "Ete und Ali" ("Ete and Ali"), the young generation of directors finally succeeds in cinemas.

A modern studio for TV audio engineering and synchronisation is opened after a 26-month construction period. 16 feature films and 24 TV films with 23 parts are produced. Business goals are more than fulfilled, which is also due to the fact that the studio equips Berlin's 750th anniversary celebrations.

The film "Einer trage des anderen Last" (DIR: Lothar Warneke) is received very well by audiences and discussed intensively, although its topic - tolerance between Christians and socialists and their common humanistic ideals - is as past-due as reforms in the GDR.

In October, suppressed resentments are finally spoken out in the studios: The staff demands the release of the films banned in 1965. During the time of the "Wende", the breakdown of the GDR, DEFA films are screened in empty cinemas. By the turn of the year, the studio's general director announces that state support, international coproductions and services have become necessary to ensure the company's competitiveness.

The Treuhandanstalt, a holding company for the privatisation of GDR property, privatises all GDR state companies. All DEFA institutions become GmbHs (i.e. limited companies). Hundreds of the 2400 employees are dismissed - this is the beginning of a clean sweep that is not finished before the year 2000. People from the film business and politicians plead for maintaining the venerable Babelsberg location, even French Culture Minister Jack Lang supports the idea of a European film and TV centre in Babelsberg. 14 DEFA productions premier - with moderate resonance. Since 3 October, GDR citizens have become FRG citizens, and the change takes its toll.

The ORB (Ostdeutscher Rundfunk Brandenburg), a regional division of the ARD (Alliance of Public Broadcasters of Germany), moves to the studio area and starts broadcasting. Few TV productions are ordered from Babelsberg but DEFA films are still being produced. "Der Tangospieler" ("The Tango Player", DIR: Roland Gräf) is awarded several federal film prizes. A Treuhand work group develops a DEFA film tour for tourists that is first offered in August. With more than a million items, Babelsberg's prop storage is the largest one in Europe. In December, the European Film Awards take place in the studio.

1992 -1999: Studio Babelsberg

The Treuhand concludes negotiations with Compagnie Générale des Eaux (CGE, today: Vivendi) and sells the studio to the French conglomerate; the new company's name is Studio Babelsberg GmbH. Over a period of 45 years, the liquidated DEFA company had produced 700 feature films, 540 TV films and a long list of children's films. Two thirds of the 46-hectare studio area are now reserved for media enterprises. The shooting of Studio Babelsberg's first feature film production "Der Kinoerzähler" ("The Movie Teller", DIR: Bernhard Sinkel) with Armin Müller-Stahl in the main role begins.

The last movie with the DEFA label "Novalis - Die blaue Blume" (DIR: Herwig Kipping) premiers, same as the last DEFA children's film "Zirri - Das Wolkenschaf" (DIR: Rolf Losansky). After its privatisation and extension, the DEFA film tour is now called "Studiotour Babelsberg". From the house discovered in 1911 by Guido Seeber for Bioscop, the ORB youth radio channel "Fritz" starts broadcasting. The ghastly, abandoned studio building is finally modernised. Director-superstar Billy Wilder visits the place where his career began. Studio Babelsberg's first international film production is called "Mesmer" (DIR: Roger Spottiswood).

The production company Grundy UFA rents Studio Babelsberg's new TV centre and starts producing "Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten" - the most successful daily soap of German TV history - for RTL.

The UFA Film and TV Production Company, Germany's biggest TV producer, settles opposite Studio Bablesberg.

An entire street of houses is built on the studio's outdoor area for Leander Hausmann's "Sonnenallee" - the set is later used and remodeled for several other productions. Carl-Friedrich Wachs, Managing Director and successor of Volker Schlöndorff, establishes Babelsberg Independence for coproductions with young underground producers. Unfortunately, Babelsberg Independence fails economically and has to leave the studio two years later.

Due to generous government aids, the media metropolis Babelsberg develops: 60 buildings have been demolished, the infrastructure has been modernized. The newly built TV studios are booked up. More than 1500 employees and freelancers work in more than 60 film and media companies, such as the UFA Film and TV Production Company and Medienboard Brandenburg. Filmpark Babelsberg attracts 570.000 visitors during its most successful business year. Studio Babelsberg becomes an established service provider and uses the slogan "The studio where Fritz Lang shot 'Metropolis' and where Marlene Dietrich crossed her lovely legs" in the last year of the 20th century.

2000 - 2008: Studio Babelsberg

The Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv, with its collections predominantly consisting of GDR TV productions, moves from Berlin-Adlershof to a new building in the ORB area. "Enemy at the Gates", by then the most expensive European film, is shot. The "Konrad Wolf" Film and Television College moves into a new building in the area of the media metropolis.
Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" is shot. The film is awarded several Oscars and a Palm d'Or at Cannes Film Festival.

The shooting of the Hollywood production "In 80 Tagen um die Welt" ("Around the World in 80 Days") begins. ORB and SFB found the joint venture RBB (Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg) with offices in Berlin and Potsdam. 650 RBB employees work in Babelsberg.

Among other locations, "The Bourne Supremacy" (DIR: Paul Greengrass) with Matt Damon and Franke Potente is also shot in Berlin and Potsdam. The French conglomerate Vivendi sells Studio Babelsberg to Munich-based investors Dr. Carl L. Woebcken and Christoph Fisser. The Hollywood production "Aeon Flux" is shot.

Studio Babelsberg GmbH goes public. By renting two new studio facilities outside the historical studio area, the studio capacity is doubled, making Studio Babelsberg the largest studio complex in Europe. Besides the daily soap "GZSZ", two telenovelas are shot - industrial TV productions in the modernized Tonkreuz provide security for Babelsberg's balance. The first European radio station for children "Radio Teddy" goes on the air from the Filmpark. In the Marlene-Dietrich-Halle, the Hollywood productions "V for Vendetta" (DIR: James McTeigue) with Natalie Portman in the main role and "Black Book" (DIR: Paul Verhoeven) are shot.

The Hollywood thriller "Der ewige Gärtner" ("The Constant Gardener", DIR: Fernando Meirelles), which is coproduced by Studio Babelsberg, receives a Golden Globe and actress Rachel Weisz wins an Oscar for her performance. "V for Vendetta" is screened at the Berlinale.
Result at the end of the year: 26 international inquiries, 26 negotiated offers, yet not a single realised major order in 20 months. The leasing of the studio facilities for TV productions turns out satisfactory.
Roman Polanski orders stage decorations for the theatre staging of "Dance of the Vampires" and rehearses in the studio.

Finally, another order from Hollywood! Same as "The Bourne Supremacy" (2004), the third part of the thriller - "The Bourne Ultimatum" featuring Matt Damon - is realised using the studio’s capacities.

Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky is awarded the Oscar for his film "The Counterfeiters", which was produced in Babelsberg in 2007. In spring, Babelsberg Film School opens with the support of Studio Babelsberg. When the school has to close its doors again in autumn, its students continue their education at other academies. Same as in 2007, the studio facilities are booked to capacity with several big and medium-sized productions. The shooting of the new film of US cult director Quentin Tarrantino causes a public stir. By the end of the year, the studio concludes a contract with Hollywood producer Joel Silver to ensure its participation in American productions and to maximize the booking of its studio facilities for the following years.

2009 - today: Studio Babelsberg / European Media Centre

For the first time, Studio Babelsberg presents the SHOOTING STARS Awards at the Berlinale film festival. The prize goes to David Kross for his performance in "The Reader" (directed by Stephen Daldry and co-produced by Studio Babelsberg); Kate Winslet receives the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. After eight years, Roman Polanski uses the studio facilities again to shoot "The Ghost Writer". Due to lack of booking, the management decides to hire short-term employees.

Studio Babelsberg AG is in the red and pays no dividend for 2009. In spring, US-based director Roland Emmerich comes to Babelsberg to shoot "Anonymous", a thriller revolving around Shakespeare. Studio Babelsberg plans to buy ground close to the Medienstadt railway station to be able to provide sufficient space for big productions and applies for public funds.

With the events of the "Potsdam - Film City 2011" program, Potsdam prepares the studio's 100th anniversary in 2012. The second 3-D film produced in Babelsberg is called "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters". Lana & Andy Wachowski, directors of "The Matrix", co-direct "Cloud Atlas" with Tom Tykwer. Starring Tom Hanks and produced by X Filme, "Cloud Atlas" is the first German film with a 100-million-euro budget. For the expansion of the studio, the city of Potsdam provides an area of about 5 hectares located closely to the historic studio premises.

On 12 February, Studio Babelsberg celebrates its 100th birthday at Marlene-Dietrich-Halle. The Berlinale film festival and media from all over the world honor the studio on its anniversary.