EUFCN Location Award 2021 Finalist: Berlin

Time travel around the world… in Berlin! For The Queen’s Gambit  the German capital city Berlin was turned into 1960s Moscow, Mexico, France and the US.

Berlin is one of the finalists of the EUFCN Location Award 2021, the annual prize for European filming locations organized by the European Film Commissions Network (EUFCN). The location was submitted by the Berlin Brandenburg Film Commission.

Location Manager David Pieper describes how some buildings in the city of Berlin were transformed to recreate different chess tournaments around the world, and to host the production of the Netflix’s miniseries The Queen’s Gambit.

Friedrichstadtpalast Berlin ©Bernd Bundert – Phil Bray Netflix ©2020

Once separated into East and West, the German capital city Berlin inherits a huge diversity, which set the perfect mood for The Queen’s Gambit.

“Through the Russian influences of the city, the topic “Moscow” could be perfectly carried out with the location Karl-Marx-Allee and Bärensaal,” says David Pieper. “European Arts and architecture through out earlier periods made it possible to cover France easily. But the scenes set in the USA & Mexico opened up the opportunity for us and the set-design for a wide range of creativity.”

The Palais am Funkturm of the Messe Berlin was transformed into the Hotel Mariposa in Las Vegas, while the Friedrichstadtpalast a theatrical venue with colorful stained glass windows became the Aztec Palace Hotel, where Beth Harmon, the main character, plays the Mexico City chess tournament.

“We had a lot of fun shooting the Mexican tournament in the Friedrichstadtpalast – a highlight of the series, but it was also challenging. It’s a great filming location, great landlord, but due to its function not an easy place to shoot – additionally in regards of our endeavor.”

Friedrichstadtpalast Berlin ©Phil Bray Netflix ©2020

The Friedrichstadtpalst hosts nearly 365 shows a year. On no show days, the place is needed for rehearsals or for setting up a new stage.

“We needed at least a whole day for our shooting, and due to a lot of planning, postponing and checking on actors availability – we finally got to that point,” says Pieper. “Unfortunately we just managed to get that 1 day, so the challenge was to change the place into a Mexican hotel and back within 10 hours. No paffer or anything else… At the end it was an amazing shooting, everything went well and never before was the Friedrichstadtpalst put in scene like that.”

Messe Berlin ©Phil Bray Netflix ©2020

For the miniseries it was very important that the chess tournaments differed from each other but still were able to increase until the climax. After many incredibile wins, the brilliant Beth Harmon participates in the championship tournament of 1968 in Moscow. These intense scenes were filmed in the Bärensaal, located in Berlin’s old City Hall.

“Everything needed to go perfectly hand in hand. The Bärensaal as a location of the final was just as important as the opening scene of the French tournament. Because if you you don’t land a hit with the opening scene, the viewers will turn off. There’s no second chance for the first impression, but still – we needed the possibility to increase.”

Bärensaal ©David Pieper

Originally built as a hotel in 1911, the Haus Cumberland once housed several government administrations but now features residential apartments and retail space. On screen, it became the Paris Hotel.

“With the Haus Cumberland we were able to find that perfect mix. Very high quality but not too bombastic. Same with the Friedrichstadtpalast which just had the right dimension in line of the tournaments. A lot of factors play a role in the choice of a location – beautiful is often not enough.”

Berlin, the city itself, made the impossible possible and in addition provided a fantastic crew – starting with the set design and location management – and last but not least with film friendly local authorities that made the production of The Queen’s Gambit  a success.

The Queen’s Gambit ©Phil Bray Netflix ©2020

The general public has now the chance to vote for their favourite location among the 5 in the EUFCN Location Award shortlist:

Berlin for The Queen’s GambitBerlin Brandenburg Film Commission (GERMANY)

Cahir Castle for The Green KnightScreen Ireland (IRELAND)

Kornati National Park for MurinaFilming in Croatia (CROATIA)

Malaga for The Crown (Season 4) – Andalucía Film Commission (SPAIN)

Stadlandet for DuneWestern Norway Film Commission (NORWAY)

A lucky name will be picked among the voters and will have the chance to visit the best European filming location of 2021.

The European Film Commissions Network is a non-profit association that supports and promotes the European film industry and culture. It currently represents 95 European film commissions and film institutions from 31 different countries.