The Real-Life Grand Budapest Hotel Is Not In Budapest… And It's Not Even A Hotel

Tom Butler - do not use
Senior UK Writer

Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (out this week on Digital HD, and on Blu-ray and DVD on 7 July) tells the tale of a stately hotel in the fictional Alpine country of Zubrowka.

The Texan film-maker scoured the archives of the The Library of Congress searching through photo records of palatial European hotels for a suitable establishment that could cover all his aesthetic bases (from pre-war opulence to 1960s brutalism), but he struggled to find something that would match his demands.

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One day he found just the place, and in typical Hollywood fashion, it was neither grand, nor was it in Budapest. It wasn’t even a hotel. It was a shopping centre.

The 1913 Kaufhaus zum Straussen department store in the sleepy Saxony town of Gorlitz had fallen on hard times. Having once offered residents 7,100 square metres of shopping heaven, the cavernous store had been unceremoniously shuttered in 2009 following the financial crisis.

Anderson took one look at department store’s grand hall and immediately fell in love with its marble columns, intricately detailed domed glass ceilings, and imposing curved staircase. This was to be his ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’.

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Most of the film’s hotel interiors are shot in the closed department store. The set designers built false walls to create the claustrophobic fondant-coloured 1960s, before they were stripped back creating the more luxurious marble and gold of the 1930s hotel. They even set up production offices and a costume department in the unseen floors of the store.

“It was surreal,” explains actor Tony Revolori who plays Zero in the film, “We would spend a lot of time in the lobby, shooting different things and it became like a second home for us in Gorlitz.”

It helped to immerse the actors in their surroundings, which in turn elicited better performances from the actors as Revolori explains.

“There’s a lot less things you have to think of as an actor. There’s no green-screen, so there’s no imagination needed. You don't have to think there’s something there, it’s actually there, and it makes it seem all the more real.”

Anderson was so enamoured with the building that he actually toyed with the idea of buying it for himself, but a local entrepreneur Winifried Stoecker beat him to it.


Right now, the building is being renovated and a thick layer of dust covers the marble floors, but evidence of filming still remains in the gold lacquered columns (painted by the production team) that line the upper floor. Whether they’ll still be there when it re-opens as department store in 2015 is currently undecided.

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Those looking to visit the picturesque Gorlitz will see ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ down every street. Location Manager Klaus Darrelmann found hundreds of locations in the town with many of its perfectly preserved cobbled streets and squares appearing in the film, doubling for the fictional town of Lutz.

The walled entrance to Old Lutz Cemetery, which appears at the very start of the film, is easily spotted but in reality it leads to a dusty old car park instead of a graveyard.

The huge city hall (the Stadhalle), which is now closed but occasionally hosts public events, doubled for the dining scene in which F. Murray Abrahams’ Mr Moustafa recounts his tale to Jude Law’s author character. The huge rear façade also acted as a surrogate front elevation of the ‘Grand Budapest’ for the scenes which show cars pulling up outside.

Other locations in the town, which made it into the final picture, include a dilapidated public baths known as the Freisebad. The spooky old sanatorium was closed to the public in 1996 and would make a great setting for a horror film. It was reopened for Anderson to film the hotel’s spa sequences, and its high ceilings, peeling walls and cracked tiles seem tailor-made for the 1960s-set scenes.

The town mayor’s personal office even appears in the film as the office of Jeff Goldblum’s Deputy Kovacs. It’s no surprise locals have begun to dub the town Gorliwood as a quick browse through the mayor’s visitor book reveals ‘The Reader’, ‘Around The World in 80 Days’ and ‘The Book Thief’ all shot there in recent years, with many residents appearing as extras in a number of the productions.

The mayor estimates that ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ alone brought over 5 million Euros to the local economy, and one local business that felt a direct benefit was Anemone Muller-Grossman’s Café Care.

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The baker was approached by Anderson to make the distinctive three-tiered ‘Courtesan au chocolat’ pastry that appears throughout the film. He had been a fan of the home-made chocolate bars she sells in a small Gorlitz shop, and asked her to help out when his original French baker dropped out.

2000 pastries later, Anemone confesses that she’s not really a fan of the sugar-loaded confection invented for the movie. Consisting of three delicately iced profiteroles, stuffed with cream and chocolate, she says the ‘Courtesan au chocolat’ is more of a “treat for the eyes, not for the mouth”.

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Unfortunately, visitors to Café Care won’t find it on the menu of her scenic countryside café located 15km outside of Gorlitz, but she might show you Wes Anderson’s original sketches for the cakes if you ask politely.

Although you can’t check into the ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’, a short drive across the Czech border will take you to the spa town of Carlsbad, which served as a direct inspiration for the film, replete with its funicular and quaint cobbled streets.

Anderson took countless reference photos of the opulent Grand Hotel Pupp in Carlsbad for inspiration. Its a hulking great establishment comprising of eight separate buildings with over 220 rooms, a casino, a café, luxury dining suites, and a health spa, and it plays host to the annual Karlovy Varla film festival.

It’s the closest you’ll get to actually staying at the ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’. And it’s exactly the kind of establishment that the film’s fussy hero, M. Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), would approve of.

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is out now on Digital HD, and on Blu-ray and DVD on 7 July.

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