Reconstruction & First Television Productions

May 1945. World War II ended in Germany. Like many other locations in Berlin, the film studios on Oberlandstrasse had suffered substantial damage. Nevertheless, operations to recuperate and reconstruct the site moved so quickly that barely two months later, in July, the first productions could already begin, starting primarily with dubbing projects.

The situation in the Tempelhof studios was quite special: unlike Ufa’s other production facilities, these studios were located in the state’s American sector. Even before the first German productions started in 1946, smaller projects were launched in the studios in the summer of 1945 under the supervision of the occupying powers. Among other things, the U.S. authorities commissioned the dubbed production of Hitchcock’s “Suspicion.” Meanwhile, in the other Ufa studios located in the Eastern sector, Soviet propaganda was the order of the day.

New Technologies Arrive at Oberlandstraße

Within the first year after the war, the number of staff in the former glass houses quadrupled from 36 to 160, and by the mid-1950s the four studios had been rebuilt. A new studio was even added to the pre-existing ones. The studios’ focus shifted to two main aspects. On the one hand, the aforementioned dubbing productions: two of the studios were explicitly dedicated to dubbing work and a separate atelier space was to serve this purpose alone. The so-called “Dubbing Village” of the Atelier Gardens is still in use to this day. On the other hand, from then on colour film would become an important focal point. Although the first experiments with colour film took place at the beginning of the 20th century, the company had to wait until the end of World War II before colour film became widespread in Germany. According to their own statements, the studios on Oberlandstrasse were equipped with “the latest technical equipment” perfectly suited for color film production. Thus, the first German post-war color film “Schwarzwaldmädel” was partly shot in Tempelhof in 1950.

A Golden Era for Cinema

The Oberlandstraße production facilities were once again at the cultural forefront. Both “Schwarzwaldmädel” and the following year’s film “Grün ist die Heide”, attracted around 16 million viewers to cinemas. Of the 110 West German films produced in 1955, 20 were shot in the newly refurbished Tempelhof studios. Famous names such as Romy Schneiders or her mother Magda took part in productions that were filmed on site.

Business was not only booming in Oberlandstraße—the mid-1950s saw the heyday of cinema across the Federal Republic. In 1957, 817 million cinema tickets were sold—almost seven times as many as in the pre-covid19 year 2019.

Television: Competition or Opportunity?

The wave of newfound success started receding as quickly as it had been rising. The culprit was television, which was becoming increasingly popular. Between 1955 and 1957 alone, the number of “TV subscribers” grew from 100,000 to over a million.

This development firmly pointed the way toward the future of the studios on Oberlandstraße. After all, television needed broadcast material too. In 1957 and 1958, the first five German television films were shot for ARD. These first steps were not particularly successful, but that was only the beginning of the television trajectory in Tempelhof. In the following years, major productions such as Disney’s “Emil and the Detectives” or various Karl May films were shot in the famous studios.

Meet Changing Cities

CHANGING CITIES

The mission of Changing Cities puts an emphasis on livable cities. Creating awareness of civic problems, they implement creative actions that inspire people to initiate change themselves by supporting them in getting involved in a variety of campaigns and initiatives.

They bring their expertise into the political discourse to create the framework conditions for the transport transition locally, at the neighbourhood level, to the state and federal political level.

Atelier Gardens caught up with Changing Cities when they moved to the Atelier Gardens campus last year. For more information, you can learn more about what they do here.

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On a snowy February day early this year, nearly 40 fully packed cargo bicycles arrived on site. They are Changing Cities—the newest tenants on the Atelier Gardens campus. The organisation, which some people may still remember from the bicycle referendum in Berlin, was founded in 2016. The members’ primary motivation and goal? To make cycling comfortable and safe.

Ranghild Sørensen, spokesperson for Changing Cities, says that the association collected 100,000 signatures for the referendum within just three and a half weeks. The government also recognised that the city was ready for a change in mobility and passed the Mobility Act shortly thereafter. Changing Cities set an important movement in motion with the referendum: today, almost 7 years later, over one million signatures have been collected all around Germany for another 54 bicycle referendums. According to Sørensen, this is one of the association’s greatest successes: “Transport policy is no longer left to the experts, but is debated in public discourse.”

Towards the Redistribution of Public Space

Changing Cities quickly realised that passing the Mobility Act was not enough. “You need political consent and willingness to implement it. And there isn’t enough of that at the moment,” says Sørensen. Of the 2.698 kilometers of cycle paths that should be built by 2030 according to the Mobility Act, merely 113 kilometers had been completed by January 2023—a scant 4.2 percent. This observation comes from a bicycle network monitoring.

New ideas and actions are needed, and therefore the association pulls up their sleeves and starts from scratch. Once again, a bottom-up approach to the redistribution of public space is at the centre of action, starting with citizens. Inspired by an initiative in Barcelona, the Kiezblock campaign was born: transit traffic should be kept out of the neighbourhoods, which in turn should improve the quality of life of residents. The Changing Cities association pursues a similar idea with the school zone campaign. Simple measures should be taken to ensure that children are safe on their way to school. “There are schools that have fought for a crosswalk for seven years and are still waiting,” says Sørensen.

Large demonstration against the stop of cycle path expansion, July 2nd, 2023

A Shared Vision & Philosophy

The twelve-member team feels right at home in the new offices south of Tempelhofer Feld. The association identifies with the campus’ motto, “Soil, Soul, and Society,” because it reflects its ambition to redefine public space. Especially in terms of social issues, Sørensen sees an overlap with Changing Cities’ attempts to change the way we live together.

As Changing Cities is a relatively new resident, there haven’t been that many points of contact with the Atelier Gardens community yet, but the association has high hopes for the green spaces outside the offices, particularly in the summer. “We want to hold meetings with volunteers here, and possibly host conferences in the future,” says Sørensen. The in-house cinema also offers interesting possibilities.

The transition to sound: The golden era of the Tempelhof studios

After the explosive debut of silent film at the beginning of the 20th century, the two glass houses on Oberlandstrasse were at the center of German film production. At the end of World War I, the studios were bought by Universum-Film AG (Ufa) and skyrocketed to prominent status in the film industry. Even the German president Friedrich Ebert made sure to pay them a visit in 1920. Just for perspective: that same year there were 510 German film premieres! Film production was indeed going strong.

During those golden years, productions from Oberlandstraße traveled as far as the USA. Among some of the internationally successful titles were “Anna Boleyn” by Ernst Lubitsch and “Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam” by Paul Wegener. Cinematographer and film director Karl Freund also worked in the studios south of Tempelhofer Feld. With his “unleashed camera” – a camera that could move freely through spaces – he inspired and influenced future generations of directors in Germany and beyond.

It’s not surprising that in this highly prolific time of German cinema, acclaimed British directors flocked to Oberlandstrasse. One of them was none other than Alfred Hitchcock, who used the studios in the mid-1920s. Still quite unknown at the time, his great talent and characteristic approach to filmmaking was already recognized by the magazine “Lichtbild-Bühne.” A few years later, Edgar Wallace, who is considered the inventor of the modern thriller, was in the Tempelhof studios to film his crime movie “The Red Circle.”

Increasingly strong national and international competition

But just as quickly as the studios on Oberlandstrasse rose to fame, so too came their gradual decline. The film industry’s big names were increasingly drawn to the US where Hollywood was rapidly establishing itself as a cinema giant. Lubitsch and Freund, but also Berlin-bred actress Marlene Dietrich, chased their careers across the pond.

The competition was not only outside the borders, but also within the country as the Tempelhof studios were up against other rivals within the German Republic. In 1921, Ufa added the Neubabelsberg studios. There a newly built 8,000-square-meter challenged the demand for the studios on Oberlandstraße as they simply could not compete with such structural proportions. Other such gigantic studios popped up during that time in smaller towns, such as Johannisthal and Staaken.

Too loud for the new sound films

Towards the end of the 20s, the proximity of the Ringbahn railway and the airport adjacent to Oberlandstraße turned out to be problematic for film production. The reason? The invention of sound film demanded extremely quiet conditions as even minor external fluctuations could disrupt the recordings.

Ufa generally lagged behind in the switch from silent to talkies, but when it eventually took the leap forward, the Neubabelsberg studios became the center of attention. By 1930, nine studios were fully equipped and fit for sound film production. Meanwhile, the two Tempelhof glass houses were rented out to foreign and female producers.

Nevertheless, the first sound film productions were shot in the Tempelhof studios as early as the late 1920s. One noteworthy example is Bolváry’s “Two Hearts in ¾ Time,” a sound film operetta that made its debut in 1930.

It was not until 1931 that the conversion to sound film started in Oberlandstraße. The glass houses had to be made soundproof: a shell-like structure made of steel, concrete and bricks was built around the glass, while the roof was covered with a soft, sound-insulating material. This cost Ufa 280,000 Reichsmarks – which today is the equivalent of about 1.2 million Euros.

A mixed outlook

Despite the buildings’ conversion, it was undeniably the beginning of a dark time for the studios on Oberlandstraße. When the National Socialists came to power, the emigration of producers, actors and directors increased. In 1937, Ufa was bought by the governmental party and, like everything else, was deeply affected by conservatism and film censorship. Later on, the studios took another blow when the Second World War bombing that started in 1943 caused serious damages to the premises.

It was obvious that the two iconic film production sites could only continue their trajectory after the end of the war. Two important milestones following the war’s destructive consequences were the studios’ newfound roles as dubbing studios and TV production sites with long-term tenants such as the public television channel ZDF.

From Film Pioneers to Campus for Urban Regeneration: It all began with Silent Films

At the beginning of the 20th century, the pioneers of the German silent film industry realized their visions in the large red brick buildings housing the Atelier Gardens. It was here that later on TV hits such as “The Kurt Krömer Show” and “Circus Halli Galli” were created and filmed. Long before it became an industrial area, Oberlandstraße was first established as one of the hubs of German film and television history.

The first steps of film in Germany

It was the year 1913. Cinema – still silent at the time – was experiencing a boom in Germany, and particularly in Berlin. The number of so-called “movie houses” in the capital reached 300. 15 times more than a decade earlier. Today, in comparison, Berlin counts 91 cinemas with 266 screens. At the beginning of the 20th century, Germany was also a major player in film production, and film studios were springing up everywhere in the capital’s center. Soon it became clear that sparsely populated areas were better suited for filming as they provided more space and quiet. That’s when the German film pioneer Alfred Duskes decided to set up a film production facility in the still largely undeveloped area south of Tempelhofer Feld.

Daylight as the best condition for filming

From the outside, the studio building looked like a large glass house, since this architectural detail allowed ample natural light to flow in and created ideal conditions for filming. Despite the widespread availability of electricity, daylight was still central to film production at the time. In fact, so important was natural light that on film sets there were people called “sun peekers” whose job was to observe the sky and the various lighting shifts. Only when they signaled “okay” could shooting begin.

In the same year that Alfred Duske’s production facility was built, Oberlandstraße welcomed its second glass house. The building was commissioned by Paul Davidson, a curtain dealer with a penchant for cinema. “Even from a distance, you can see two strange structures towering up from the ground, looking like gigantic bird cages,” wrote the journal Lichtbild-Bühne in June 1913. The only disadvantage of this architectural design was that, just like a greenhouse, it tended to get extremely hot in the summer – something that actors complained about early on.

The golden years of German cinema

Shortly after, the war erupted and put a damper on the film industry’s evolution. Cinema attendance declined, and so did revenue. But paradoxically, the war also presented an opportunity for German film production. Since the French films that had heavily dominated Germany up to that point were banned, a gap opened up in the market that was not only filled by American productions, but also by German and Danish ones.

In the following years, numerous internationally successful films were shot in the two production facilities in Oberlandstraße. These included various films by the Danish silent film star Asta Nielsen or the director Ernst Lubitsch. According to estimates provided by Davidson’s employees, about 1.5 million movie-goers watched Nielsen’s films per day across the world. While in Lubitsch’s case, following his initial success with films such as “The Eyes of the Mummy” (1918), the director set out to continue his career in Hollywood. There, shortly before his death, he was awarded an honorary Oscar for his life’s oeuvre.

And that’s just the beginning of the story of the large red-brick buildings of Oberlandstraße. The 20th century still had a lot to offer for the film production facilities that opened their doors in 1913. In the years that followed, the street south of Tempelhofer Feld was shaped by the transition to sound film (in their nascent years, sound films were called “talkies”), the establishment of the first dubbing studios, and became part of the early history of German television. Part of these new transformations were names and titles such as Alfred Hitchcock, Edgar Wallace, “Emil and the Detectives” (1964) or the public TV late-night talk show “Nachtstudio” (1997-2012).

From Clay Tablets to AI: Forms of Communication

From Clay Tablets to AI: Forms of Communication

“Lanah? Lanah, we’ve lost you again.” The face of the archaeologist Lanah Haddad, who is brought in from Iraq via Zoom, is frozen on the screen stretched out in TON1. The irony of the situation is hard to miss on this evening, which is themed “From Clay Tablets to AI.” Ayham Majid Agha, the curator of the event series, smiles: “How else could we have explained AI better?”

An Interdisciplinary Approach

During the evening, in dialogue with the guests, we reflected on how we communicate with each other – sometimes from an artistic or academic perspective, and other times through lectures and performances. The performance artist Tiara Roxanne kicked things off with a lecture on the grammar of the word “gathering.” The rapid succession and repetition of words acted as meditation, inviting the audience to critically consider how digitisation has changed the way we remember, tell stories, share, collect and perceive who we are.

Roxanne’s performance was followed by a talk by Syrian archaeologist, Yasser Showhan. With Haddad’s (somewhat hesitant) translation, Showhan went into the origins of cuneiform writing, referring to Mesopotamian clay tablets. Very early on in the history of humankind, about 4000 years B.C. to be precise, people saw a benefit in recording things in writing: whether it was for trading purposes, documenting agricultural stocks, calculating, tracking astrological events, recording song lyrics, or communicating.

The evening became increasingly participatory. With music by Bashar Al-Darwish, the audience was introduced to the world of AI-generated sounds, which Al-Darwish himself described as the “sound of the future.” Before Roxanne moved on to explore the connections between AI and colonialism in another performance, guests were encouraged to express their own creativity on clay tablets. The evening gradually drew to a close with accompanying music and an open bar.

This Is Just The Beginning

This evening was the first in the “Artémon” series of events. The name was not chosen randomly: It’s a mixture of the English words “art” and “monster” because the event series is intended to offer a space for artists who are still a bit reluctant to present their own artworks—and the monsters behind them—in front of an audience. In addition, these explorative evenings are also meant to give guests the opportunity to discover the lesser-known sides of Atelier Gardens, such as Keller 7, Halle 12, or Studio 2.

If you want to stay informed about future events and learn more about life on our campus, you can subscribe to our newsletter or visit our website.

Fotografiska Days at Atelier Gardens: Fashion as an Art Form

Sunglasses worn defiantly despite persistent rain – there was no shortage of style during the Fotografiska Days on Oberlandstrasse. From March 23rd to 25th, the Atelier Gardens hosted the Cultural Fabric exhibition of the renowned Swedish photography museum Fotografiska: an event that drew quite a crowd to the industrial zone south of Tempelhofer Feld.
Once through the gate, past the Atelier Gardens office buildings and straight ahead to the large hall labeled TON 1. The excitement in the air is palpable as visitors chatter and peer curiously into the hall behind the entrance control.

A colorful program

Over the course of three days, a series of events delved into the themes of art and fashion and their unquestionable correlation. Alongside an exhibition showcasing the works of nine internationally acclaimed artists, the program also included panel discussions, film projections, a ballroom showcase by So Extra Berlin followed by a joyfull closing party.

Fotografiska Days – Cultural Fabric’s goal was to explore the connection between the worlds of fashion and art. During the Fotografiska Days, the focus was on the question of how social integrity and artistic independence can co-exist.

 

Art, fashion or political statement?

The transition between art, fashion and activism is often fluid and up to interpretation. At least that’s what artist Šejla Kamerić expressed: “My work is a direct reaction to my environmental concerns.” The Bosnian artist used clothing shipped from Western Europe to the East imprinted with the slogan “The Party is Over” as a social commentary and criticism on our era of fast fashion and careless consumption.
The exhibition also tackled questions relating to cultural belonging and identity. One such example was Mous Lamrabat’s photographs in which people can be seen wearing traditional Muslim-influenced clothing like djellabas. Often only discernible at a second glance, the logos of Western capitalism are splayed across garments: a Nike swoosh here, a McDonald’s “M” there, and even a nod to SpongeBob SquarePants. As artist Jojo Gronostay sees it, “similar to fabric, culture is something interwoven.”

Fashion as a form of art is often overlooked, trivialized or met with contempt. However, the topic was received with open eyes and ears by the Berlin public. In the packed Atelier Gardens canteen, in front of the artworks, during the Q&A sessions, or even during a cigarette break in front of TON 1, there was lively discussion everywhere. Questions and impressions were exchanged in a buzzing manner. An obvious success for the collaboration between Fotografiska and Atelier Gardens!

Find out more about Fotografiska Berlin.

Welcome to the Atelier Gardens Journal

Welcome to the Atelier Gardens Journal. Here we’d like to share news about exciting developments and regenerative innovations, present the outcomes of collaborative work on campus, as well as introduce actors and discuss ideas.

Atelier Gardens is, and always has been, a unique creative campus with over a hundred years of film history: In the past, visionaries realized their ideas through the medium of film, a long-established way to inspire and motivate others. While film and television are still produced on campus, today the focus has shifted and Atelier Gardens prides itself as a laboratory for the makers of positive global change.

In this journal, we will share the ongoing changes and innovations happening on site, discuss ideas around collaboration, community and circularity, and report on the past, present and future of Atelier Gardens. Expect stories involving news, events, people, animals, plants and projects on our campus. Join us as we explore the shifts at Atelier Gardens and learn about new approaches to making positive change a reality within the urban context.

Stay tuned for numerous inspiring stories: Coverage of events, profiles and interviews with interesting change-makers, tips, information and inspiration for regenerative activities, and insights into our history and transformation.

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