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.

Angie McPherson is the Digital News Intern at National Geographic.

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