Tom Cruise has not exactly been greeted with open arms in Berlin since he decided to shoot a film about German resistance hero Claus von Stauffenberg and his plot to kill Hitler. Nevertheless, despite a number of setbacks on securing key locations, shooting is scheduled to start this Thursday. And there is some good news for the project -- the film has now been given the green light to shoot scenes at Tempelhof Airport's Columbia Haus, site of a former Nazi prison for political detainees.
Over the past few days Berlin and the surrounding region have been gearing up for the shooting of "Valkyrie," which stars Cruise as the doomed hero. Old World War II-era planes with swastikas painted on the sides have already been practising scenes in the skies above Brandenburg, the state surrounding Berlin, and workers have been hammering away building a replica of the "Wolf's Lair" -- Hitler's Eastern Front military headquarters -- near the small village of Klein-Köris, 60 kilometers south of Berlin. Stauffenberg's failed attempt to kill Hitler with a briefcase bomb on July 20, 1944 took place at the original Wolf's Lair, which is located in present-day Poland.
Although Cruise has been turned away from a number of key locations in the German capital, he has been given permission to shoot in a building adjoining Berlin's iconic Tempelhof Airport. The Nazis used the Columbia Haus from 1934 as a prison and torture center for political prisoners, including future East German Eric Honecker.
The orginial building was torn down in 1936 to make way for a new grandiose airport complex, designed to be the gateway to the capital of a victorious Third Reich, Germania, as envisaged by Hitler and his favorite architect Albert Speer. Today Columbia Haus serves as offices for Berlin's Water and Shipping Authority (WSA), and is owned by the German government.
No End to the Controversy
There has been no end to the controversy over the film about one of Germany's relatively few wartime heros because of Cruise's membership of Scientology, which is viewed with deep skepticism in Germany. It is officially monitored by government intelligence agencies and has been under increased scrutiny since it opened a major new center in Berlin in January.
The government has a somewhat schizophrenic approach to the Cruise film. The actor has been refused permission to shoot at a Berlin police premises and at the Bendlerblock, a government building in central Berlin, where Stauffenberg hatched his plot and where he and several others were executed after it failed. But at the same time the government is also funding the shooting of Cruise's film, with the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) giving it €4.8 million ($6.5 million) in subsidies.
Stauffenberg's eldest son Berthold, recently voiced his concerns about the US actor playing his heroic father. "I don't like the idea of an avowed Scientologist playing the role of my father," he said in remarks to the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
But a number of Germans have also come to Cruise's defense. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the German director of the Oscar-winning film "The Lives of Others," criticized the "circus" surrounding the filming permits in Berlin and said that the film could be a big opportunity for Germany itself, saying it "would do more to improve Germany's image than 10 soccer World Cups."
And veteran German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl, who has made a career as a character actor in Hollywood, has also thrown his support behind Cruise. The 76-year-old asked those in Germany who are judging the superstar to calm down, calling them "inhibited, small-minded and uptight." In an interview published in the magazine Super Illu on Tuesday, Mueller-Stahl said an actor should only be judged on whether he plays a role credibly: "And that can only be done after the film is finished -- and not before."