Tom Cruise is an actor and a member of the Scientology sect. In his capacity as an actor, he has already requested permission to film in Berlin several times before. And he has repeatedly been turned down. It's all become such a routine that it's almost farcical.
Three years ago, Wolfgang Thierse, the then-president of Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, denied Cruise permission to film the dome of the historic Reichstag building, where the star wanted to shoot a scene for his action thriller "Mission: Impossible III." In the end, Cruise and his film crew left Berlin for Prague.
Now he wants to shoot another film in the German capital: "Valkyrie," in which he is to play the role of Hitler's would-be assassin Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. Part of the film, which is named after the code name Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators gave their 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler, is to be shot in historic locations such as the Bendlerblock, where the plot was hatched, and where Stauffenberg and others were executed following its failure. The building now houses some government departments, as well as the German Resistance Memorial Center.
But once again the answer to Cruise's request is a big "No." And the main reason is that when decision-makers in Berlin look at Cruise all they see is a Scientology member.
The "No" has grown especially vehement since Stauffenberg's 72-year-old son Berthold found the actor unworthy of portraying his heroic father. "I don't like the idea of an avowed Scientologist playing the role of my father," Berthold Stauffenberg said.
The Christian Democratic Party (CDU) politician and Bundestag member Antje Blumenthal was the most agitated among the political world's professional flusterers. Germany's Ministry of Defense would not be issuing a filming permit for the Bendlerblock, she announced. Blumenthal is her party's expert on religious sects and apparently believes she is qualified to make decisions about the reputation of the German resistance movement and a major Hollywood production.
Blumenthal had not read the script by Oscar-winning writer Christopher McQuarrie (who also scripted "The Usual Suspects"). The fact that Scientology-member Cruise has been cast to play Stauffenberg was all she needed to know.
It's certainly legitimate to ask whether a star like Cruise has lost his marbles, given that he believes in the bizarre sci-fi Church of Scientology. And of course there is evidence that the organization has put pressure on defectors and acquires real-estate by dubious methods.
But protests against films -- such as those against "Phenomenon," which featured Scientology-member John Travolta, 11 years ago -- and the refusal of filming permits are the most disastrous and most typically German of all possible responses.
'What Better Way to Recall the Nazi Era'
Jewish director Bryan Singer, who wants to shoot "Valkyrie" in the Bendlerblock, has a difficult time understanding the German concerns. And the Scientology sect's clever spokespeople were able to use his public astonishment to portray themselves as a persecuted group.
But the international press also dealt harshly with the German hysterics. "We say, what better way to recall the Nazi era than by denying a man work due to his beliefs," commented the Philadelphia Daily News. And Swiss daily Zürcher Neue Zeitung wrote: "As a film inspection authority, the Ministry of Defense is definitely miscast."
Meanwhile, there was great confusion at government agencies as to who is actually responsible for issuing a film permit. It certainly isn't Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, as his spokesman assured the public. Jung may hold the right of occupancy at the Bendlerblock, but the historic courtyard where Stauffenberg was executed is in the care of the Federal Office for Real Estate Administration, a department within Germany's Finance Ministry.
And people at the Office gave the issue short shrift. Torsten Albig, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance, said: "The Bendlerblock as a site of historical remembrance and mourning is not suited to being turned into a cinematic backdrop just like that."
It was a very weighty pronouncement, and a clever one too -- but also inconsistent. Four years ago, a film was shot in the very place where the Defense Ministry's employees now deal with the everyday tasks of a giant bureaucracy. "Stauffenberg" was directed by Jo Baier and featured German actor Sebastian Koch.
It was obviously a traumatic experience for Albig. "It was a painful experience for employees when caterers and camera teams suddenly showed up at the memorial site." That's what shock and dismay sound like when they are used strategically.
Scriptwriter McQuarrie is astonished by the absurd struggle over Bendlerblock. "It was there that everything began for me," he recounts. "When I saw the commemorative plaque for the heroes of the July 20 plot, the idea to shoot a film about them took root in my head."
He says he wants "Valkyrie" to portray a man who succeeded in liberating himself from sinister structures, and who died to liberate his country from a regime of terror. "I'm sure we will tell a story that is very German and, at the same time, very universal."
But the farce surrounding the shooting of the film seems quintessentially German.