How Poland Came to Stand In for Germany in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Bridge of Spies’

Even without the rebate Poland was attracting major international productions, including Claire Denis’ sci-fi drama “High Life,” Alexandros Avranas’ Jim Carrey-starring crime thriller “Dark Crimes,” and Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller “Bridge of Spies,” which earned production designer Adam Stockhausen an Oscar nomination.

Stockhausen recalls driving across eastern Germany, scouting for locations alongside Markus Bensch, the location manager for Berlin’s Studio Babelsberg, their car skirted past picturesque Görlitz—where Stockhausen had done his Academy Award-winning work on Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”—and toward the Polish border.

Back in Berlin, the two had been struggling to find the perfect location for their period drama in a city that’s been ceaselessly rebuilt and modernized since the end of the Cold War. At Babelsberg, Bensch had shown Stockhausen an old photograph of a street scene in Wroclaw, Poland—about five hours’ drive east. The snapshot seemed to capture the historical detail they couldn’t find in Berlin. The duo decided to investigate.

“It was a funny thing, where rather than searching through the entire haystack to find the needle, we knew exactly where we were heading,” says Stockhausen. “We were just hoping it was still there.”

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Perhaps it’s not surprising their search would take them to Wroclaw, which had once been the German city of Breslau. Throughout its history Poland has passed through the hands of Russian czars, Prussian kings, and Austro-Hungarian emperors, leaving the Eastern European nation with a hodgepodge of architectural styles that can be used to evoke a dizzying range of cities and historical eras. In Wroclaw, Stockhausen and Bensch found the street they were looking for intact; it would play a pivotal role in the film, which is set in the gloomy post-war period when the Berlin Wall was being built.

In Wroclaw, Stockhausen and his crew had their work cut out for them. They constructed new facades and skinned existing ones, erecting an ersatz Checkpoint Charlie and building large sections of the Berlin Wall that would then have to be moved to a separate filming location.

“What was so amazing about being there is the support they gave us to say, ‘We understand what you’re coming here to do. We want you to do it,’” says Stockhausen. “We were shutting down this entire public square and multiple streets spoking off of it. We had a very large control area. And that’s pretty extraordinary.”

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