Will they fall in love again with the birthplace of the Blue Angel?

A Pot-Holed road leads to the dream factory on the wooded fringe of Metropolis, past decaying tenement blocks and lakes of mud. Inside the gates, rubble is all around amid giant molehills that could be straight out of a science fiction set. We are at Babelsberg Studio, birthplace of German cinema and, according to the publicity blurbs, the Hollywood of tomorrow.

By the year 2005 this sprawling heap of brick and twisted metal will be transformed into an empire of glass and concrete; a realm of superlatives boasting the biggest film production centre in Europe and the most modern in the world. Some of the hi-tech has already arrived.

In the ancient hangar where Fritz Lang toiled away 70 years ago, technicians today fiddle with keyboards, enveloping flesh-and-blood actors in a virtual architecture at the click of a button. The power is still generated by a rusty device that might well have featured in a Frankenstein movie of the 1920s, but its cables snake towards a room stacked with a supercomputer furiously crunching gigabytes.

There is, of course, more to movies than money and machines, but Babelsberg also has the creative juices of one of the world's best film directors on tap. Artistic success is seemingly assured by the presence at the company's helm of Volker Schlondorff, a man who passionately believes in a bright future for German cinema.

Or at least he believed, back in 1992, when the bankrupt studio was bought for a song by the French Compagnie Generale des Eaux. Schlondorff moved to Berlin and promised a renaissance for the European film industry. Hollywood, he suggested, would finally get a run for its money.

There were many people even then who shook their heads in disbelief, but most seemed to have fallen under Babelsberg's spell. After all, the studio had a long tradition of defying reality, from the hedonistic days of the "Roaring Twenties", when it served up beguiling images of a wrecked country partying away, to the ensuing spectacle of blond supermen goose- stepping towards oblivion. Even in Communist times, the stirring epics about the interesting lives of lathe-operators and Westerns in which the Indians always won had some artistic merit.

But five years after Schlondorff took over Babelsberg, Hollywood it certainly ain't, and nor is it an up-market art-house. The Marlene Dietrich Hall, the movie studio where the actress made The Blue Angel, stands empty. The studios that are occupied are churning out soaps, chat shows and game shows for German television. Some movies did make money, but its biggest production. Schlondorff's The Ogre, a beautiful film about the war, underwhelmed the critics and sank in the German market last year without a trace. Its only, slim chance of recouping the DM27m (pounds 10m) invested is with foreign sales and video rights.

There are rumours, hotly denied, that Schlondorff is so dispirited that he is threatening to quit. His name still adorns the company letterhead, but the real power now rests with the French owners' employee, a manager named Pierre Couveinhes who climbed the corporate ladder of his native steel industry before embarking on a glittering career in water. Mr Couveinhes and his masters were always more interested in cash flow than art, and are now deftly repositioning Babelsberg in the market.

Future profits lie in television - yet more game shows - and the theme park. Fritz Lang's robot from Metropolis and gimmicks salvaged from more recent productions are pulling in the punters in their thousands. The company is also looking for post-production niches where its hi-tech expertise is almost unrivalled. Rather than compete with Hollywood, it is trying to entice big American studios to bring some of their work to Berlin. Babelsberg will become a "media city" with expensive apartments and wine bars.

That seems to leave the phoenix of German cinema firmly stuck in the ashes. They do not talk so big at Babelsberg as they used to five years ago. German movies, they now say, do not have a chance, because 80 per cent of the home market is occupied by Americans, and the language barrier keeps the rest of the world closed. Everything from funding - even Frankfurt banks invest in Hollywood, rather than Berlin - to marketing is stacked against Europeans. The box office hits in the past two years have been comedies, but German humour is thought not to travel well.

As for Schlondorff, he will no doubt make great films again, though perhaps not in German and not in Babelsberg. He is about to start work on a new movie, a thriller entitled Just Another Sucker. It will be made in America.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee