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Spoiler Alert: You Can’t Really Stay at the Real Grand Budapest Hotel (But We Can Tell You Everything About It)

Peeling back the wallpaper on Wes Anderson’s sets and locations.

The exterior of the hotel is a miniature model created by set designer Adam Stockhausen. Photography by 20th Century Fox.
The exterior of the hotel is a miniature model created by set designer Adam Stockhausen. Photography by 20th Century Fox.

Wes Anderson’s latest movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is a fictional murder-mystery-adventure-love story set in a sumptuous pink Eastern European hotel on the eve of World War II. Unfortunately for moviegoers who’d like to visit, the Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t actually exist. It’s a miniature model. The hotel’s home base is also imaginary: the Republic of Zubrowka took its name from a Polish bison grass vodka.

Yet while neither country nor hotel is real, they look very … real. National Geographic interviewed set designer Adam Stockhausen to see how he went about creating the Grand Budapest Hotel and other locations in the movie, drawing from various European sites.

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

The Grandhotel Pupp is the white hotel on the hill (far right). Photograph by Bobak Ha'Eri.
The Grandhotel Pupp is the white hotel on the hill (far right). Photograph by Bobak Ha’Eri.

The Republic of Zubrowka was partially inspired by the spa city of Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. The production team didn’t actually film in Karlovy Vary but there are many visual references to the city in the movie.

“The town has a great quality to it. It has pastel-colored buildings along the river and several hotels in the hills above the town,” said Stockhausen. It had all the right elements but not in the right places. So the set designers created their own version.

The Grand Budapest Hotel was largely modeled on the Grandhotel Pupp. “There were some interesting interior details of the hotel that we liked, such as the wide corridors with carpet running down the center and windows that shone light into the hallways,” said Stockhausen.

Various other bits and bobs from Karlovy Vary made their way into the imaginary country. “There’s a funicular train [a cable railway used to ascend mountains] that we saw in Karlovy Vary and used in Zubrowka,” said Stockhausen. There’s also a chamois statue in Karlovy Vary, a similar statue was used on the movie poster.

The view of Hotel Imperial from jeleni skok cliff. Photography by mrlederhosen.
The view of Hotel Imperial from Jeleni Akok Cliff. Photograph by mrlederhosen.
Official Grand Budapest Hotel movie poster. Photography by 20th Century Fox.
Official Grand Budapest Hotel movie poster. Photograph by 20th Century Fox.

Görlitz Warenhaus Department Store in Görlitz, Germany

The production team found a vacant building that housed a now defunct department store, known as Görlitz Warenhaus, and used the existing interior as a makeshift studio in eastern Germany on the border of Poland. The department store was built in 1912; the grandiose lobby of the Grand Budapest fit perfectly inside the steel-framed building.

“We lovingly called it ‘the department store’ and it became our home base,” said Stockhausen. “We had our production office on the top floor and the interior became the interior of the lobby.”

The Görlitz Warenhaus was empty for four years before it became a set for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Photograph by Wolfgang Pichler.
The Görlitz Warenhaus was empty for four years before it became a set for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Photograph by Wolfgang Pichler.

The design team added various touches to the Grand Budapest from archival photographs of eastern European hotels. The tile floors were an homage to the Grand Hotel Pupp and the coat check was inspired by Obecni dum, a Prague municipal building with lots of glass mosaics.

The military concierge, played by Owen Wilson, stands with the hotel staff in the Grand Budapest lobby. Photography by 20th Century Fox.
The military concierge, played by Owen Wilson, stands with the hotel staff in the Grand Budapest lobby. Photography by 20th Century Fox.

The design team also had to modernize the hotel lobby set for scenes that took place in the 1960s, which meant, among other things, changing the color scheme from a bright pink and red to burnt orange and green.

“The transition was a massive undertaking. It’s what we did with the Bishop House in Moonrise Kingdom. But that was a small house and this is a huge hotel, so the scale was greatly magnified,” recalled Stockhausen.

The 1960s version of the Grand Hotel Budapest. Photography by 20th Century Fox.
The Grand Hotel Budapest lobby set in the 1960s. Photography by 20th Century Fox.

Pfunds Molkerei in Dresden, Germany

Mendl’s confectionary shop was filmed in a famous creamery in Dresden, founded by a farmer in 1892 and known as Pfunds Molkerei. “Inside the shop is all handpainted tile,” said Stockhausen, “and it’s just overwhelmingly beautiful.”

Mendl's light pink boxes adorn the furniture inside Pfunds Molkerie. Photography by 20th Century Fox.
Pink boxes from the fictional Mendl’s confectionary shop were stacked up at the very real creamery called Pfunds Molkerei. Photograph by 20th Century Fox.
Rows of pastries created for the set of Mendl’s shop, including Courtesan au Chocolate (top left). Photography by 20th Century Fox.

In the movie, the creamery is transformed into a bakery whose signature cream-filled pastry is known as Courtesan au Chocolat. (Learn how to make the pastel pastry in this short video created by Wes Anderson.)

Osterstein Castle in Zwickau, Germany

“Checkpoint 19 ain’t no two-bit hoosegow,” exclaimed Ludwig, played by Harvey Keitel, referring to the prison in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The scenes for Checkpoint 19 were filmed at Zwickau Prison in Osterstein castle, which was used as a Nazi prison camp and is now a nursing home.

Schloss Osterstein castle after construction in September 2009. Photograph by Udo Leiser.
Schloss Osterstein castle in September 2009. Photograph by Udo Leiser.

“It was used as a political prison [after World War II] that went out of use after {German] reunification,” said Stockhausen. “It’s officially decommissioned and is now awaiting museum status.”

Sphinx Observatory in Switzerland

The observatory from The Grand Budapest Hotel is a miniature model filmed in front of a green screen. Photography by 20th Century Fox.
The observatory from The Grand Budapest Hotel is a miniature model filmed in front of a green screen. Photography by 20th Century Fox.

The observatory from the mountainous chase scene is another miniature model based on existing structures, mainly the Sphinx Observatory in Switzerland.

The Sphinx Observatory as seen on April 25, 2011 in Jungfaujoch, Switzerland. Photograph by Kevin Poh.
The Sphinx Observatory in Jungfaujoch, Switzerland. Photograph by Kevin Poh.

The Sphinx Observatory was opened in 1937. It’s one of the highest-altitude buildings in Europe, located around 11,500 feet (3,500 meters) above sea-level. Scientists use this mountaintop tower to study the stars and collect high-tech light scanning data for Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR).

Zwinger Museum in Dresden, Germany

Tourists walk around the courtyard of the Zwinger Museum in Dresden. Photograph by Ingersoll.
Tourists walk around the courtyard of the Zwinger Museum in Dresden. Photograph by Ingersoll.

During a climactic part of the movie, Deputy Kovacs, played by Jeff Goldblum, is chased around an art museum. The museum featured in the film is a former palace and orangerie that was converted into an art museum, known locally as the Zwinger Museum in Dresden.

“You can see Jeff pull-up in a trolley and go into a museum. The film shows the front of Zwinger and the entrance hall,” said Stockhausen. “But it becomes sets after the first couple of shots.”

Zwinger was originally built in the 18th century to host outdoor court festivities in the capital of Saxony. Nearly destroyed by World War II bombing in 1945, it has been rebuilt and is now home to a 760-piece collection of European paintings, the largest porcelain collection in the world, and a treasure chamber.

And even though the film was shot entirely in Germany, the filmmakers want to keep the illusion going that there really is a Republic of Zubrowka. You can take a grand tour—and even learn about the republic’s economy—at the Akademie Zubrowka website.

Comments

  1. John Gidding
    30k above sea level between ATL and SFO
    October 25, 1:14 pm

    I travel a lot for work and saw this film for the first time on a plane. I’ve since seen it in theaters, hotel rooms, and more planes – including right now. It’s a masterful work of art, lovingly created. Thank you for this insight with your article. I sometimes take notes in my sketchbook as I watch, for no clear reason other than wanting this film to influence me somehow. Everything from the vocabulary to the music, and the design/architecture, which is my profession. When storytelling and filmography find themselves in a perfectly executed choreography, the result is a spellbinding dance. Thank you Wes and Adam and everyone else involved.

  2. Gay
    Surrey England
    June 16, 4:20 pm

    Troy, it’s the Labours of Hercules starring David Suchett, a good old Agatha Christie mystery! :)

  3. Mateusz
    NZ
    June 15, 8:08 pm

    you can’t be serious, @jo — but in case you are, do yourself a favour and get some sense of humour!

  4. Simon
    Anywhere where Jo isn't
    June 14, 9:43 am

    Jo you are a real nut job. Either that or totally brainwashed by a liberal arts university. Get a sense of humour.

  5. jo
    Here
    June 12, 4:07 am

    I can’t get over the films use of the name “Zero” including other racist remarks such as when the child was first interviewed and when the man broke out of prison and they were trying to figure out what to do as the other prisoners got into an automobile. Utterly disgusting! Even though the remarks are taken back in the prison break out scene, its just the fact they were told in detail. Just like violence in detail, these comments only serve one purpose – hatred – of refugees, immigrants etc. The underlying Nazi style ZZ black flags in the hotel near the end of the movie, the comments about 6th floor 6th floor and again 6th Floor read 666 – or devil worship. There were some obvious satanic references….occult style movie.

  6. Troy
    April 25, 11:20 pm

    No @nancy there’s no Funicular Train in Marigold. Anyone else? Please put me out of my misery.

  7. Nancy
    Cleveland, OH
    April 24, 5:58 pm

    @Troy – I think you are thinking of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1412386/)

  8. Todd Tuckey
    Philadelphjia PA
    April 20, 11:21 pm

    After seeing this incredible movie, I had to research the hotel. I truly wished it was still there, as it would have been on my bucket list to see! Sad to see it was all created by a team of brilliant people. I am so glad the movie will make them some well deserved money—to keep their creative powers going for more quality movies like this one! Thank you for explaining everything!

  9. Troy
    April 20, 10:13 pm

    Ok – this is driving me nuts – there is another film we saw recently which features a group of disconnected travellers who take the funicular train up to this grand hotel for a holiday only to realise the hotel is not what it promises and the characters are all a bit depressed and lonely. There is a mother and daughter. The daughter wearing a black eye from her husband ends up flirting with one of the other characters in the film and mother warns him away. We are struggling to remember the film but when we first started watching GBH we both instantly recognised the funicular train and Grand Hotel.

    Any ideas?

  10. Philip Craven
    British Columbia
    April 20, 10:05 am

    I admire the discipline and order that Wes Anderson applies to his vision and direction of the movie…he embraces symmetry along with rigid 90 degree pans, horizontal and vertical sweeps that all combine to make such compelling forms…I will watch this over and over.

  11. Angie McPherson
    April 16, 8:18 am

    The visuals were stunning! I can’t stop thinking about Courtesan au Chocolat. I really want to make my own at home. I’m happy you all enjoyed the film and wanted to know more about the real Grand Budapest Hotel. Charles, unfortunately I didn’t ask about Widow D’s mansion. But I’ll let you know if I find anything! And thanks Artur, fixed in the story. Thanks everyone for chiming in.

  12. Amy
    Niagara
    April 13, 11:03 pm

    Thanks for such a great article! I saw the film last week and can’t get the visuals out of my head… love Wes Anderson!!

  13. Artur Vogel
    Berne, Switzerland
    April 13, 5:12 pm

    Great film, great story, small detail: The “Kleine Scheledegg” in real life is called “Kleine Scheidegg” and is located in the famous Jungfrau region in Switzerland.

  14. Charles L. Baker
    Louisville, KY
    April 5, 3:01 pm

    Can’t get the visuals out of my mind! Stunning! Do you have information on the home of Widow D?

  15. Angie McPherson
    April 3, 4:02 pm

    Great find, Daniel. Hotel Imperial as well. The design team took their time and designed the hotel using elements from many different Eastern European Hotels. And thanks for flagging, Robert. You’re completely right, I missed it on first glance and updated the copy. Thanks to you both for reading!

    Hotel Imperial: http://www.karlovyvary.cz/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/imperial_1.jpg

  16. Daniel Van der Ree
    Amsterdam, Netherlands
    April 3, 3:32 pm

    The hotel was modelled after the Grand Hotel Pupp, and the Bristol Hotel. Both in Carlsbad / Karlovy Vary. Bristol Hotel: http://www.karlovyvary.cz/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/hotelbristolpalace1.jpg

  17. Robert C Brooke
    April 2, 3:45 pm

    The statue in Karlovy Vary appears to be a chamois and not a deer.The horns are curved back.