The European summer is here, the sun is shining and it feels like time for a continental holiday. To get into the mood, we’ve put together a list of some classic European films, and the cities that made them great – Berlin, London, Paris and Rome!
Wings of Desire
A story of angels floating above the city of Berlin during the Cold War, Wings of Desire is both mournful and uplifting. Filmed by Wim Wenders at Potsdamer Platz in 1987, when it was empty no-mans land around the Berlin Wall, the imagery illustrates the trauma felt by the split city. Today that muddy field has been transformed into a polished plaza surrounded by skyscrapers, though the route of the wall is still marked in cobblestones across the square. Fittingly, Wim Wenders was honoured by the Berlinale this year, and Wings of Desire screened for the festival audience just metres from the very different place it was filmed 28 years ago.
Run Lola Run
Never has the Berlin streetscape been so prominent in film as in this 1998 art masterpiece. The title character sprints and dodges her way around the courtyards and roads of the city in three parallel attempts to save the life of her boyfriend. The arched bridge she jogs across is the historic Oberbaumbruecke, which connects the districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain over the River Spree. Take a walk (or jog) through its arches and admire the sweeping view of the city and the water. Filming also took place in the Gendarmenmarkt, a lovely central square, and the Deutsche Oper U-Bahn Station, which featured as the site of Manni’s arrest.
Released in 2003, Goodbye Lenin! by Wolfgang Becker reflected on the falling of the Berlin Wall and the radical changes that were brought upon the city’s eastern residents as seen through the eyes of the Kerner family. It was filmed largely around the Plattenbau, (prefabricated) communist buildings near Alexanderplatz in Berlin and towering government buildings of Karl-Marx Allee. Today these structures are largely intact, and visitors can get a sense of how these areas and western Berlin diverged between 1961 and 1989. You can also recreate the scenes where the family visit their dacha, or holiday cabin, by hiring a Trabi (the DDR’s answer to the Volkswagen) and taking a day trip out to the lake regions around Berlin – or visit the Spreewald, where the Kerner’s favourite gherkins come from.
The Bourne Supremacy
Former cold war capital Berlin was a natural choice for the location of spy thriller, The Bourne Supremacy starring Matt Damon. The chilly weather and stark architecture lended the film a tense atmosphere, from the wide square at Alexanderplatz where Nicky nervously waits for Bourne, to Templehof Airport, where the CIA team fly in. The airport has actually closed since filming and the huge expanse of runways, parking bays and fields have been turned into an unusual park for locals to enjoy! Tours inside the airport, exploring its complex history from Nazi base to site of the Berlin Airlift during the Cold War can be booked through the local group Tempelhofer Freiheit.
Find a beautiful pre-war or modern holiday apartment with Wimdu Berlin.
Believe it or not, this classic was actually almost all filmed in a soundstage in California, but the regal buildings and damp gloom of the set transported viewers straight to the streets of London in 1910. Stroll through Regents Park and admire the grand houses opposite, believed to have inspired Cherry Tree Lane. At St Paul’s Cathedral, feed the pigeons on the front steps, where young Michael gave the lady a tuppence for the birds instead of investing it at his father’s bank. As for the penguin waiters and ceiling tea-parties – we couldn’t find that in London, but we did find a ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ tour that brings the magic to life with song and dance through the city!
The 2004 film, Closer, based on Patrick Marber’s film of the same name, explored love, jealousy and loss through the story of a privileged professionals living in inner London. The place where Natalie Portman’s Alice and Jude Law’s Dan speak for the first time is at Postman’s Park, where the ‘Alice Ayres’ tile at the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice inspired Alice’s fake name given to Dan. Other prominent London locations included the London Sealife Aquarium where Larry and Dan meet up on a hoax date, and Whiteleys Bayswater – the elegant, modern scene of Anna’s photographic exhibition where all four characters come together.
OK, most of Harry Potter was set in Hogwarts, which is miles away from London, but key parts of the plot played out here, and it featured prominently throughout the films. At Kings Cross Station, keep an eye out between the platforms for a tribute to Platform 9 3/4 from the Harry Potter books and films. Cross the Millenium Bridge, which appeared in The Half Blood Prince, and explore the tiny antiques and bookstores of Cecil Court, which inspired the magical high street Diagon Alley. For even more Potter fun, don’t miss the new Warner Bros studio tour of the original sets at Leavesden.
Sigh! This 2001 instant classic had it all – a sweet romance, laugh out loud comedy and a dreamy location in a bohemian London suburb. The landscape that surrounds Will and Anna’s budding relationship is crucial to it’s success – glamorous Anna is charmed by the laid back Notting Hill lifestyle. Much of the filming took place here – follow in Hugh Grant’s footsteps and check out the Portobello Road Market, or peruse the colourful antique shops. The shop that inspired Will’s travel bookstore is nearby, and at 280 Westbourne Park Road, look for the distinctive blue door that was used as the exterior for Will’s charming if shambolic flat.
The little bear from “deepest, darkest Peru” has been recently revived by a new film about his exploits in London starring Nicole Kidman and Ben Whishaw. Check out the commemorative statue of the little bear at Paddington Station, where the Brown family first found (and named!) him, and maybe buy a little keepsake at the lovely nearby Paddington Bear Shop. Paddington, (like Notting Hill’s Will) also liked to peruse the antiques shops of Portobello Road, and fans can take ‘elevenses’ nearby at a teahouse as the little bear often did. Fanatics might also enjoy the Brit Movie Tours Paddington tour which includes sets from the movie.
Check out city apartments in Notting Hill, Paddington or Hackney on the Wimdu London page.
If you’re a fan of films set in Paris, you’ve definitely already watched Amelie, and probably more than once. This whimsical 2011 instant classic featured the bohemian Paris district of Montmartre, and spending a few hours wandering its hilly streets will transport anyone into her surreal universe. Scramble up the winding lanes to Le Sacre Coeur Cathedral, where Amelie lead Nino to the sightseeing binoculars and then dashed down the hill. Admire the view, then check out the Montmartre Carousel around the corner, where Amelie arranges the blind-date, before having a bite at the Café des Deux Moulins, a real cafe with a vintage style that served as Amelie’s workplace in the film.
Baz Luhrmann’s exquisite musical film Moulin Rouge! brought the bohemian spirit of Paris circa 1900 tearing into the 21st century. Centering on the Moulin Rouge cabaret club (birthplace of the can-can) the film is an extravagant ode to the writers and performers of the fin-de-siecle. As well as the fictional characters of Christian and Sabine, the film features real Paris personalities of the era like Toulouse Lautrec. Book a ticket to see a show at the real Moulin Rouge club in the heart of Montmartre and follow up the debaucherous show with a sip of the ‘green fairy’ at an Absinthe bar nearby.
The Da Vinci Code
Whether you believe any of it or not Dan Brown’s book and the subsequent film starring Tom Hanks certainly got everyone thinking about the history of Paris in a new light. The Louvre Museum was central to this and appears at both the beginning and end of the book and film. Take time out from admiring the art to trace the steps of Robert Langdon across the forecourt, where he discovered ‘the Rose Line’, a strip of plaques that actually represent the Paris Meridian. Then enter the Carrousel du Louvre mall to see the inverted pyramid, where Langdon believes the bones of Mary Magdalene are interred.
This delightful 1957 romp takes Audrey Hepburn’s beatnik character from an aloof bookstore in Greenwich Village to the glamorous parlours of Paris when she is persuaded to work as a fashion model. Hepburn’s character Jo, along with Fred Astaire’s Dick, take in all the major sights of Paris, from the Arc de Triomphe to the Champs Elysees and Place Vendome. The Jardin des Tuileries was the location for Jo’s shoot with the coloured balloons while the Eiffel Tower was the backdrop for the cheery song “Bonjour Paris!”. For a romantic day trip, head to the Palace of Versailles outside Paris, where the ‘fairytale’ styled shoot was filmed and which of course has its own decadent history.
This indie romance is a sequel to 1995’s Before Sunrise. This time around, Jesse is presenting his book at famed bookstore Shakespeare and Co when he notices his old flame Celine in the audience. They spend a few hours together in Paris, savouring their old friendship and ongoing attraction. They don’t spend long together, but they cover a fair bit of Paris in that time, from the Promenade Plantee to a ferry ride down the Seine. Shakespeare and Co is a real and historic bookstore-cafe, where generations of intellectuals in Paris have gathered to discuss the ideas of the moment. They hold frequent readings and other events, so check their blog, and see if there’s anything on during your stay in Paris.
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Roman Holiday shares many features with Funny Face – Audrey Hepburn, romance and pretty clothes, but what sets it apart is of course Rome! At the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, look for the ‘Mouth of Truth’ an ancient marble-carved face. Here, Gregory Peck’s character Joe Bradley gives Audrey Hepburn’s Princess Ann a fright by performing a trick in which the statue ‘bites’ off his hand. Admire the baroque Spanish Steps, where Joe pretends to bump into Ann in order to spend the day with her and get an exclusive for his newspaper. Also worth looking out for is the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, a museum in the former apartment of the great poets overlooking the steps.
Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic starring Russell Crowe brought the heart of the Roman Empire to life, illustrating the humanity and violence of the era with stunning visual effects and performances. The Colosseum, site of the original gladiator battles, was painstakingly rebuilt for the shoot at a cost of $1 million with computer-generated imagery used to add detail. The real thing of course is still standing, and its vast stands evoke the past so vividly it’s easy to imagine what it would have been like to watch a fight to the death there 2000 years ago. The Roman Forum and Pantheon are other ancient sites that are not to be missed on a trip to Rome.