Berlin speeds on Cruise control

'Valkyrie' among benefactors of production fund

BERLIN — Germany’s new production fund has sparked a boom in Berlin’s film industry, injecting substantial cash and glamour into the bohemian metropolis. 

The production fund, which dishes out $85 million a year in production coin, has attracted a number of pics, including the Wachowskis’ “Speed Racer,” Bryan Singer’s Tom Cruise starrer “Valkyrie,” Tom Tykwer’s “The International,” Uli Edel’s “The Baader-Meinhof Complex” and Stephen Daldry’s “The Reader.”

As a result, Berlin’s top eateries are bustling, and paparazzi are permanently parked outside the Regent Hotel, where Cruise and the “Valkyrie” cast are staying. Singer seems to have turned the nearby Borchardt restaurant, famous for its schnitzel, into his commissary. Cruise, too, makes occasional appearances, shaking hands with German bizzers.

Talent such as Cruise, Nicole Kidman (who stars in “The Reader”) or Clive Owen and Naomi Watts (headlining “The International”) add buzz to what’s turning into a profitable year for Berlin production facilities as well as for hotels, restaurants and cab drivers.

Berlin’s Babelsberg Studios is now the studio with the highest production volume in Europe. By the end of 2007, the studio will have hosted 11 productions including “Speed Racer,” “The International,” “Valkyrie” and “The Reader.”

For Sony’s “The International,” carpenters re-created more than half of the famous winding staircase of New York’s Guggenheim museum in actual scale.

“We can host two or three large international productions plus two smaller German ones at a time,” says a Babelsberg spokesperson, adding, “The problem isn’t space, because space is never a problem in Berlin, but there’s a limit to good crews who are used to international standards.”

And it’s not just good crews that are now hard to come by in Berlin. Theaterkunst, Berlin’s leading costume designer and archive, has been hustling to service “Valkyrie” as well as a number of high-profile German period dramas.

German thesps are also in high demand, with many of them playing supporting roles in U.S. productions and “Baader-Meinhof” featuring a cast of more than 130 speaking parts, including Moritz Bleibtreu and Martina Gedeck in the title roles.

Meanwhile, as far as space is concerned, Berlin offers an ample choice. Rents for offices and apartments are ridiculously low. There are also still many disused, semiderelict buildings across Berlin that can be adapted and used for almost any purpose.

One of those buildings, situated right in the center of west Berlin Kurfuerstendamm, is so vast and flexible it was used for a number of different scenes for “Baader-Meinhof” as well as “The International.”

The mayor and the Berlin council have become very accommodating toward filming. Major traffic routes have been closed off this summer for several film shoots, an unimaginable feat in other German cities.

Whereas Munich used to be the center of the German film industry, that title has now been nabbed by Berlin.