Berlin's Bridge of Spies

German Filming Locations for Bridge of Spies

Berlin has a way of drawing attention to itself. Even when it's in the background of a movie, I'm always like "oh hiiii, Berlin!". And it is increasingly the star of the film.

In the 2015 Academy award nominated movie, Bridge of Spies, Berlin is more than just the setting. The Bridge of Spies is an actual place with an important role in Berlin history.

In 1960, a U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union and the pilot miraculously survived the crash. He was used to trade for a Russian spy in a delicate operation that took place on a lonely bridge in Potsdam. This was just the first time the Glienicker Brücke was used for a spy trade and it would not be the last, leading to its nickname "The Bridge of Spies".

The movie is directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers, and stars the likes of Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance (who won Best Supporting Actor for this role), Sebastian Koch, Amy Ryan and Alan Alda. Spielberg has already covered the Holocaust with Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, but this is his first time covering the Cold War and the first major Hollywood film to depict the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Along with shooting locations in Brooklyn, Wroclaw, and Beale Air Force Base, in California, much of the shooting took place in Germany. Learn more about the history of Berlin's infamous Bridge of Spies and the different German filming locations it took to create the film.

01 of 07

Glienicke Bridge, Berlin - Prisoner Exchange

Glienicke Bridge, Havel, between Potsdam and Berlin, Brandenburg, Germany
Ulf Boettcher / LOOK-foto/Getty Images

At first glance, Glienicke Bridge (Glienicker Brücke) may appear no more special than the nearly 2,000 other Berlin bridges. It crosses the Havel river between Wannsee and imperial Potsdam.

A bridge has stood in this location since the 1600s with the current version built in 1907, flanked by elegant pillars. During the 1960s and separation of East and West Berlin, the bridge became a restricted border crossing. Less well-known was is burgeoning status as a place to trade spies.

The first, covered by the movie, took place on February 10, 1962. In a terse stand-off, U.S. and Soviet Union agents stood on opposite sides of the bridge to trade Soviet spy Rudolf Abel for captured American U2 spy-plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers. The exchange went as smoothly as could be expected with tensions at an all-time high and the bridge became the location for exchanging spies and prisoners.

One of the most important exchanges took place here on June 12th, 1985. After three years of negotiation, 23 American agents were given back to the West in exchange for Polish agent Marian Zacharski, plus three additional Soviet agents.

The last prisoner exchange happened on February 11th, 1986 and was the most public. Well-known human rights activist, Anatoly Shcharansky (now known as Natan Sharansky), was labeled a Refusenik (unofficial term for individuals - often Jewish - who were denied permission to emigrate out of the Eastern bloc) and accused of spying for the American Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). He was held as a political prisoner for nine years in Soviet prisons until the two sides arranged for an exchange of Shcharansky and three Western agents in return for Karl Koecher and four other Eastern agents.

All in all, it is expected that nearly 40 people were exchanged on the bridge.

Since the Fall of the Wall, Glienicke Bridge has proved a popular backdrop in television commercials and a functional crossing point over the Havel. From here visitors can access Schlosspark GlienickeBabelsberg Castle and Park and Sacrower Heilandskirche (Church of the Saviour).

It lends a great credibility to the film that they were able to shoot in this iconic location. During filming in November 2014 the bridge was closed to the public and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived to watch the Hollywood re-enactment of an important point in German history.

02 of 07

Studio Babelsberg - Sets

Babelsberg Studios

Like so many movies made in Berlin, Studio Babelsberg produced many of the sets used in Bridge of Spies.

This is one of the oldest large-scale film studios in the world and was a precursor to today's Hollywood. The studio has produced such recent international hits as The Reader, Inglourious Basterds, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. 

If you want a look behind the scenes, the studio offers tours and even an amusement park. When films are in production, visitors may be treated to a first look at the sets. (Note that tours are currently only offered in German).

03 of 07

Hotel Hilton Berlin - West Berlin Interior

Berlin Hilton Hotel
GettyImages / delectus

Production designer Adam Stockhausen explained that much of the shooting of East Berlin (such as the reconstructed Checkpoint Charlie for the film) actually took place in Poland. Berlin simply looked too put together to pass for its 1960s self.

Shots of West Berlin interiors were supplied by posh hotels like the Berlin Hilton which actually lies in former East Berlin.

04 of 07

Funkhaus Berlin Nalepastrasse - East Berlin Interiors

Erin Porter

On the other hand, DDR relics like the Rundfunk der DDR (Radio of the GDR) provided interior shots of East Berlin. The former radio station was once the size of a small city and retains most of its authenticity from its magnificent wood-paneling recording halls to the milchbar that provides authentic East German meals. Periodic tours of the site are available in German.

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07

Berlin-Rummelsburg Betriebsbahnhof, Lichtenberg, Berlin - Vintage Trains

Berlin-Rummelsburg Betriebsbahnhof in Lichtenberg

Spielberg's focus on accuracy extended to the transportation used. This includes the original New York subway cars as well as the vintage trains used in Germany.

Some of the shots for the film took place on a freight yard originally opened in 1867 to handle cattle. This station in East Berlin is currently used for the parking and maintenance of passenger trains when not being used shooting major motion pictures.

06 of 07

Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial - Former KGB Prison

Hohenschoenhausen desk.jpg
Erin Porter

Gedenkstaette Hohenschoenhausen was a top secret DDR prison and provides the authentic East German touch for the film. Production designer Stockhausen said,

We filmed the Gary Powers Berlin sequence in the basement of the former KGB prison that is now a museum. Upstairs in the same prison is where we shot the detention cell scene with James Donovan [the Brooklyn attorney played by Tom Hanks, who craftily negotiated the exchange of Powers for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, portrayed by Mark Rylance]. It was emotionally significant to be shooting in places that were the real thing when we could.

While the DDR was in power, this prison complex was where people simply vanished. Interrogations in the newer upstairs cells would go on for hours, days or even weeks. The internationally acclaimed film The Lives of Others also made use of these chilling cells to amplify their historical drama.

The site has been transformed into a memorial site with some tours even provided by its former prisoners. It is a vital stopping point for people interested in Cold War history.

07 of 07

Berlin Tempelhof Airport - Flight Scenes

Tempelhof Park
GettyImages / Sean Gallup  

Filming began and ended in this airport turned park. Once the site of the Berlin Airlift, Templehof once again transformed itself for the film. Watch for the airport as James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks character) descends from a historic C-54 Skymaster.

Visitors today can walk, bike, or rollerblade the runway. It has also been used as a concert and event space as well as a refugee center.