The film opens with an angel overlooking the city from high above — seated on the shoulder of an another winged figure, known to locals as the Goldelse, or Golden Lizzy. Located at the Großen Stern (Straße der 17.Juni, Berlin; 49-30-391-2961), the Victory Tower (Siegessäule) was a poignant symbol in the post-WWII film, built as it was in 19th century to celebrate Prussian war victories. Starting at 9:30 a.m. daily, visitors can climb to the top of the column for stunning views of the surrounding Tiergarten, the city’s largest park. Recently, Lizzy made news in July 2008 when then-U.S. Presidential hopeful Barack Obama gave a speech to some 200,000 people gathered at her base. While you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to check out the Staatsbibliothek (Potsdamer Straße 33, Tiergarten, Berlin; 49-30-266-0), the cavernous library where the angels live in the film.
Another landmark seen early in the film which can still be seen today is the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, a church badly damaged during an air raid during the 1943 Battle of Berlin, and a standing memorial to the horrors of war. (See it at the 28 second mark in the trailer.) The crumbling steeple stands next to a new church in the middle of the Breitscheidplatz (Lietzenburger Straße 39, off the Kurfürstendamm or Ku’damm in Charlottenburg, Berlin; 49-30-218-5023), the center of the former West Berlin.
One of the most dramatically different locations seen in the film is Potsdamer Platz. Once the city’s dazzling center, Potsdammer Pltaz became a barren wasteland following the war, scarred by the Wall and part of the no-man’s land between West Germany and the Soviet East. In the film, storyteller Homer (Curt Bois) and actor Peter Falk both search for the lost Potsdamer Platz, finding only an empty and overgrown field in its place. Today the square is totally unrecognizable, the home to the high-tech Sony Center (Potsdamerstraße, Berlin; 49-30-257-5500), Berlin’s equivalent to Times Square, completed in 2000 and boasting an IMAX theater and even a Legoland. To get there, take either the U-Bahn or S-Bahn train to Potsdamer Platz.
The Berlin Wall is a constant presence in the film, just as it was during the Cold War. Thankfully, the Wall is one Berlin landmark that no longer stands. To get an understanding of what the Wall was like, visit the East Side Gallery, a stretch of the Wall a little more than a half mile long. The preserved section of the wall features graffiti and paintings of political protest, including the famous Bruderkuss, an image of smooching Socialist heads of state Erich Honecker of East Germany and Leonid Brezhnev of the U.S.S.R. To see it for yourself take the train to either the Ostbahnhof and Warschauer stations in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, from there walk to Mühlenstraße.
The Criterion Collection edition of Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire‘ hits stores on November 3. For more information of Germany on the silver screen pick up Museyon’s guide to Film+Travel Europe.
Goldelse photo by Gary A. K./Flickr; Still from ‘Wings of Desire’ courtesy of the Criterion Collection; Sony Center photo by KlausNahr/Flickr