Where ‘Valkyrie’ was filmed in Berlin
Where ‘Valkyrie’ was filmed in Berlin

THE CIRCLE OF CONSPIRATORS: LOEWENVILLA

On August 6, 2007, the natives of a cozy ‘Gregor-Mendel-Straße’ street next to magnificent ‘Schloss Sanssouci’ in Potsdam near Berlin, were to witness an unprecedented liveliness. It should seem that these local residents were accustomed to the tourist renaissance, yet on the way beside a magnificent mansion at Gregor-Mendel-Straße 26 men and women from Potsdam saw a barrier, as it later turned out, which separated the outer world from a filming production site of Valkyrie’, a historical drama with Tom Cruise as a leading actor. In distinction from accident bystanders and journalists, the locals were of course permitted to move across the street being escorted by a security man. In the course of the upcoming week, a mansion, historically known as  Loewenvilla (Lion’s villa) with its neo-baroque facade decorated with Art Nouveau elements, was fated to become a filming location for the ambitious Hollywood movie devoted to the ‘July 20’ plot, a coup against Hitler. The villa was chosen to depict a meeting place for the high-ranking plotters against Hitler’s regime, starting from the first visit of Claus von Stauffenberg in late 1943. The point is that the villa turned out to be something more than another beautiful location outside Berlin, which had been chosen for economical reasons. Loewenvilla in actual historical terms was one of the cradles of the opposition to the Nazis, saw the visits of Stauffenberg, and was for some period a hiding place for the explosive, which devastated one of Hitler’s meeting rooms in his headquarters in East Prussia.

Valkyrie movie loewenvilla
The scene from ‘Valkyrie’ depicts Stauffenberg coming to the secret meeting

While the magnificent Sanssouci palace, in some measure created based on the designs of king Frederick II ‘The Great’, accommodated the hill above Potsdam as early as 1747, the vast territory to the East of the royal residence, had long been desolated. In centuries and decades prior to 1904, when Berlin banker Georg Rohn bought a small plot of land in the area known as Mühlenberg, the terrain had been dominated by wooden mills. A new landowner chose a location, which dominated (and still does) the area from a hill of fifty meters: the feature, which had once attracted the king himself. Georg Rohn dismantled the old erections and in less than a year the plot of land was turned into a masterfully designed villa with a garden ensemble next to it. The building up was given to two masters of their crafts: architect Emil Lorenz (1857-1944), best known for ‘Hindenburg villa’ (for some time a residence of the famous field marshal) in Hannover, and garden artist Julius Trip (1857-1907), one of the most important innovators of garden art in the country. The two masters finally built a magnificent villa of 1000 square meters with a garden of another 2200. A curved staircase was created to lead into the garden with its picturesque terrace. With its large front windows and a luxurious interior with wood-paneled ceilings, mosaics, and parquet, the villa at Marienstrasse 26 (the address at that time) was to become one of the precious landmarks of the area.

Loewenvilla potsdam
The old map of the Potsdam area. The ‘Muhlen Berg’ is clearly visible to the right of Sans Souci palace
Potsdam neighborhood July 20 1944
The vast area to the East of Saus Souci palace would become a place for Loewenvilla
Loewenvilla historical site in Potsdam near Berlin
Original drawings of the Loewenvilla 1905

As early as 1932 the villa and the adjoining garden were purchased by a family of Fritz von der Lancken. The new owners accommodated only some rooms and the new owner decided to open a boarding school for boys from noble families, particularly the local landowners, which would operate in the years prior to WWII and throughout a part of the War. The alternative source claims that Lancken operated the school and lived here since 1932, but bought the villa as late as 1941. Being a combat veteran of WWI, in the interwar period, Fritz von der Lancken had all means to make the most of his civil life. In 1939 at forty-nine years he was called into the army soon after the outbreak of the new World War. Toward 1944 Fritz von der Lancken obtained the rank of lieutenant colonel and member of the General Army Office in the Army High Command under General Friedrich Olbricht. More than that, he was Olbricht’s aide. A lieutenant colonel was an active plotter of the military wing of the opposition to Hitler and he offered his villa for the meetings of the conspirators a number of times. The location outside Berlin was perfect for the resistance members.

Loewenvilla where Valkyrie movie was filmed
An old photo of the backyard of the villa, which faced the garden

In her interview for  ‘Valkyrie’ movie, Maria Antonia von der Lancken, Fritz’s daughter in her eighties in 2007, recalled the visits of colonel Stauffenberg to their house. Fritz von der Lancken and his wife Maria Antonia Verhoop had three daughters and the children used to pay particular attention to Stauffenberg due to his eye patch. The elderly woman also cast back one’s memory to the fact that her father used to lay the phone around with pillows to minimize the chance of tapping the villa. It is worth noting that the Lowenvilla was not only a place for the meetings of the conspirators but a place for hiding the explosives, which Stauffenberg used in an attempt to assassinate Hitler.

Adolf Hitler and Claus von Stauffenberg
The famous photo of Claus von Stauffenberg meeting Hitler at the Wolfschanze on July 15, 1944

On July 19, 1944, on the eve of the putsch, Stauffenberg ordered his driver Karl Schweizer to go to Loewenvilla in Potsdam and bring the explosive to Claus’ residence at Tristanstrasse 8 in Wannsee, another suburb of Berlin. The package included two packets tied with string. It is generally accepted that von der Lancken used to hide the explosive behind a radiator cover in the stairwell of the villa. As for Stauffenberg himself, as far back as November 1930 he started a mortar course in Potsdam, while serving in the army, and got himself familiarized with the use of explosives. In late June 1944, Colonel Wessel Freiherr von Freytag-Loringhoven passed the explosives and fuses to Stauffenberg, who then hid them partly in his own office at Bendlerblock and partly in von der Lancken’s villa.

Loewenvilla in Potsdam Claus von Stauffenberg
Stauffenberg’s grandson Philipp von Schulthess shows where the bomb was stored in Loewenvilla

Apart from granting his home for the meetings of the plotters and for hiding explosives, Fritz von der Lancken was an active participant in the July 20 putsch, later known as ‘Valkyrie’. During the second half of the day being present at Bendlerblock he was ordered to guard General Joachim von Kortzfleisch, the commander of the Berlin defense forces, who had refused to cooperate with the conspirators. After the putsch was suppressed and the Bendlerblock complex taken by the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Guard battalion, von der Lancken was himself put under arrest. Along with some other plotters, he was temporarily held in the former office of Claus von Stauffenberg. While the key five leaders of the putsch were executed in the courtyard of the complex, the men held in the office managed to destroy a part of discreditable documents and were later taken to the Gestapo prison. On September 28-29 Fritz von der Lancken faced the show trial led by notorious Roland Freisler and on the second day, he was sentenced to death and hanged in Plötzensee prison.

For what concerns the famous villa, in the last year of WWII it was given to the residents of a retirement home which had been previously bombed during one of the air raids on Berlin. After the end of the war and the collapse of the Nazi regime, the Lancken family for some time gave shelter to homeless children, who had lost their parents in Berlin. In 1952 Fritz’s wife Maria Antonia von der Lancken took her daughters to Berlin and for decades the villa was a guest house for the Potsdam University of Education. Later on, the mansion was once again returned to the Lancken family, and nowadays it is owned by Claudia Marquard-Hansen, Fritz’s granddaughter. The woman let the villa on lease for the events of interest, particularly for those devoted to the honoring of the German resistance. She was enthusiastic to grant her home for the filming of  “Valkyrie’ in 2007. The Loewenvilla with its two marble lions on both sides of the entrance was listed as a national monument in 1987, and in 2001 a repair was conducted with the donation of the German Foundation for Monument Protection.

Loewenvilla in Potsdam today
The front side of the Loewenvilla facing Gregor-Mendel-Straße, as I saw it in September 2019

In the movie, on the heels of his release from the military hospital, Claus von Stauffenberg comes to Berlin, and inside the semi-destroyed church, he and General Olbricht discuss the determination of the military opposition to Hitler. In the following scene, Claus attends the secret meeting at Loewenvilla in Potsdam, where he meets two dozen of men. The scene suggests that Stauffenberg meets the majority of the present conspirators for the first time in his life. Among those present we may identify the key plotters:

  • Henning Hermann Robert Karl von Tresckow
  • Carl Friedrich Goerdeler
  • Friedrich Olbricht
  • Ludwig August Theodor Beck
  • Job-Wilhelm Georg Erdmann «Erwin» von Witzleben
Meeting of the conspirators of the German Resistance: Valkyrie 2008
The very first meeting of the conspirators visited by Stauffenberg as it was depicted in Valkyrie

 

HISTORICAL INACCURACIES AND DETAILS OF THE SCENE

  • Stauffenberg was not Oster’s replacement. Hans Oster was indeed one of the most devoted plotters against Hitler and the Nezi regime. He was a deputy head of Abwehr (German Intelligence Service) under Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, and for years his office had been located in the same Bendlerblock army complex as the army headquarters. Oster was indeed dismissed from his post and put under house arrest in April 1943, at the time of Stauffenberg’s stay at the hospital, and his removal was to become a painful setback for the Resistance. At the same time, Hans Oster was released from his post not because of his opposition to Hitler, but for the facts of his help to the Jews. In some sense, Stauffenberg was to obtain the role of the key moving force of the conspiracy, but in terms of the army ranks and positions, Oster had never been under the command of General Friedrich Olbricht and Claus never took Oster’s official position in the army. Oster was the second man in Abwehr, and General Friedrich Olbricht was the head of the Army General Office of the Army High Command, to completely different institutions in the Wehrmacht. In actual terms, Olbricht was looking for a trusted man for the post of chief of Staff of the Army General Office and Stauffenberg was to replace Colonel Hellmuth Reinhardt, who had decided to obtain a field position in Spring 1943. Olbricht asked Claus to take the position in May 1943, while the latter was still in the hospital. There was no direct correlation with the arrest of Hans Oster.
  • Olbricht called Stauffenberg Colonel. The point is at the moment of his release from the hospital and a visit to Berlin in August 1943, Claus had the rank of lieutenant colonel. Taking a new position under Olbricht, supposed obtaining the rank of Colonel. Along with that, Stauffenberg would receive the rank of Colonel as late as June 1944, as Chief of Staff of the Reserve Army under Friedrich Fromm, almost a year after the meeting shown in the movie, supposed to take place in August-September 1943.
  • «Erwin» von Witzleben and waiting for the allies sooner or later. As the meeting depicted in the movie was held in the mid-1943, in fact, there were not enough arguments to judge the loss of the War by Nazi Germany. The allied invasion of Northern Africa was still too far from Germany, the battle for Southern Italy was still at its height without Allied supremacy and it was still one year prior to the invasion of France. The fact is the movie squeezed the events of the two years 1943-1944 into a few weeks for better understanding by the audience.
  • Uncle of Claus and Ludwig Beck. A respected General let the present men see that Stauffenberg is not an accident guest here. When Beck gives reference to Claus’ uncle, the man is meant here is Graf Nikolaus von Uxkull. A combat veteran of the First World War and later a businessman, Uxkull initially supported the coming of the Nazis (as well as Claus did), but later made up his mind to be opposite to the regime. With the outbreak of WWII, Graf von Uxkull expressed his thoughts to Stauffenberg that Hitler could not rule Germany. Nikolaus von Uxkull was a brother of Claus’ mother Caroline Schenk, Countess Stauffenberg (Countess Uxkull-Gyllenband before marriage), and he had two daughters and a son: cousins to Claus. After the failure of the July plot, Graf von Uxkull and Nina Stauffenberg (Claus’ wife) would be arrested on July 23. Nikolaus would be executed on September 14, 1944.
  • The image of Carl Goerdeler. While  Peter Hoffmann, the leading historian of Stauffenberg and the German Resistance, was among the movie consultants, ‘Valkyrie’ included some alterations related to the characters. Carl Friedrich Goerdeler was a much more moral character than was depicted in ‘Valkyrie’, where he played a role of a kind of antagonist inside the Resistance when it comes to leadership and arguing with Stauffenberg. Goerdeler respected Stauffenberg and found him high-minded. At the same time, there was indeed a strain between the two. In later 1944 when being a prisoner, Goerdeler would tell the interrogators that Stauffenberg had a worldview in some way close to left-wing socialists and Goerdeler did not support Claus’ ambitions to be involved in all aspects of the conspiracy, including politics.
  • Fromm? Who is Fromm? The first meeting at Loewenvilla was followed by another one in a more restrained circle: Stauffenberg, Olbricht, Goerdeler, Beck, Tresckow, Witzleben. The six men discuss Stauffenberg’s idea about Valkyrie. When it comes to the mentioning of Friedrich Fromm, the commander of the Reserve Army, Goerdeler is shown to have no idea of the name. In his amazing ‘Stauffenberg: A family history’ book professor Peter Hoffmann wrote that in early 1943 the Resistance lacked a leader and Carl Goerdeler had an idea to persuade Fromm to join the coup.
  • Stauffenberg and Tresckow. When Claus von Stauffenberg arrives at the secret meeting, one officer looks out from the window in anticipation of the guest. Several historical books about German resistance and the July 20 plot state that these two (Stauffenberg and Tresckow) got acquainted for the first time as late as August at the Berlin home of General Olbricht. Most likely, their encounter took place two years before the scene depicted in ‘Valkyrie’. Back in July 1941, Stauffenberg visited Army Group Center headquarters on the Eastern front and evidently met two active conspirators: Lieutenant-Colonel (at that time) Henning von Tresckow and Second Lieutenant Fabian von Schlabrendorff. The latter two were impressed by Stauffenberg as a non-nazi officer. After Stauffenberg’s move to Berlin in mid-1943, Claus and Henning met at least twice in Potsdam (he and his family lived here) and it was Tresckow who got Stauffenberg acquainted with Carl Goerdeler. As early as October 10, 1943, Henning von Tresckow was sent to the Eastern front as a commander of Grenadier-Regiment of the 8th Army in Army Group South, and on December 1 promoted to Chief of the General Staff of the 2nd Army.
Hennin von Tresckow
Colonel Henning von Tresckow (center right) with officers including Ewald Heinrich Kleist-Schmenzin, Georg Schulze-Buttger, Fabian von Schabrendorff (far right)
Carl Goerdeler
Carl Goerdeler as Mayor of Leipzig in mid 1930s
Henning von Tresckow
Henning von Tresckow played by Kenneth Branagh is waiting for the arrival of Claus von Stauffenberg played by Tom Cruise
Loewenvilla Valkyrie filming locations in Berlin
A more intimate meeting in the Loewenvilla while discussing the details of the Valkyrie plan

Stauffenberg’s visit to the meeting at Loewenvilla is shown as the one profound moment of encounter with most of the plotters. The facts say that Claus got acquainted with some of them on different occasions and places. Loewenvilla was not the only place of meetings for the conspirators. For example, on January 8, 1943 Ludwig Beck, Carl Goerdeler, Ulrich von Hassell, Johannes Popitz, Jens Jessen, Helmuth Graf von Moltke, Peter Yorck, Adam von Trott, Friedrich-Werner von Schulenburg, Eugen Gerstenmaier held a meeting at Count Yorck’s house in Lichterfelde. Ludwig Beck took up residence on Goethestraße in Lichterfelde not far from Yorck’s one. In fact, there were many secret groups opposed to the regime in Nazi Germany and the one shown in “Valkyrie’ held at Loewenvilla was an offspring of the so-called ‘Mittwoch Gesellschaft’ (Wednesday club).

Initially, this special interest club in Berlin, known as ‘Free Society for Scholarly Entertainment’, was attended by sixteen distinguished German scientists, including Professor Ferdinand Sauerbruch, who in 1943 performed a successful operation for cancer for Ludwig Beck, Johannes Popitz, the former Finance Minister of Prussia in Hitler’s cabinet and a Resistance Member since 1938, and Professor Jens Jessen. Later on, two men were included in the club: Ulrich von Hassell, a former German Ambassador to Rome, and Ludwig Beck a specialist on military matters. The club was created back in the XIX century and for decades its members used to discuss only scientific matters, and each of the recognized figures in it shared his craft with the others. The ‘Wednesday Club’, held every second Wednesday of the month, at its core was not a resistance group, but the discussion became more critical toward the regime after the outbreak of WWII, and the criticism of National Socialist ideology was tolerated. The club was strictly private, without strangers (for example Carl Goerdeler was not given a membership), with strong solidarity between the members, which would later evolve into the practice of Resistance meetings.

July 20 plot Valkyrie movie by Bryan Singer
The final encounter in the villa with all main plotters ready for the July putsch

Loewenvilla in Potsdam

 

STAUFFENBERG VILLA

Loewenvilla in the famous Berlin suburb Potsdam was not the only historical place in or around the capital, which had been closely connected to Claus von Stauffenberg. To the great enthusiasm of the filming crew and the historical consultants such as Professor Peter Hoffman, the director Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise were to shoot at another cradle of the German Resistance, a villa in Wannsee. The production team used the location for several important scenesб such as seeing off Nina Stauffenberg and the departure to the airport in the early hours of July 20. Nowadays, there is no museum inside the villa, which serves as a residential house for a few families. The fact of historical importance is reminded by a metal plaque to the left of the entrance from Tristranstrasse:

Lieutenant-Colonel Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg (15/11/1907 — 20/07/1944) lived here 1943-1944. He died in resistance to Nazi tyranny.

Tristranstrasse 8 Wannsee Claus von Stauffenberg

It should be noted that Claus and his three fellow conspirators were executed in the inner courtyard of the Bendlerblock complex in the early minutes of July 21, while the old plaque mentions July 20. When I visited the location in September 2019, the villa was divided between four families, two on each floor, and the most exciting moments for the residents are connected with the frequent visits of the filming crews of documentaries and the rare visitation of another scholar, who tells the story of Claus von Stauffenberg. The villa was built by the ‘Heimstätten AG’ building company and was put into use in 1905. ‘Heimstätten AG’ was founded back in 1895 and in the course of its forty-year existence created projects in the districts of Schlachtensee, Nikolassee, and Zehlendorf: all to the South-West of the center of Berlin. Unfortunately, the builders of the gorgeous villas did not overcome the burden of the economic crisis and went bankrupt in 1936.

Villa of Claus and Berthold von Stauffenbergs in Wannsee
Left: this photo was taken back in the 1970s. A memorial plaque could be seen to the left of the entrance. Right: my photo from 2019

Both the ‘Valkyrie’ movie and the historical plaque next to the entrance of the house at No. 8 Tristranstrasse make a privileged emphasis on Claus von Stauffenberg, and both omitted the man, who had suggested Claus live here after his leave from the Munich hospital. This man was Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, his older brother and an active plotter against Hitler. Berthold was the oldest among four Stauffenberg brothers, yet just a little bit older than his twin brother Alexander, before whom he drew his first breath on March 15, 1905. In two years, their mother brought other twins to life, one among the two, Konrad Maria, did not survive the second day, and the second was named Claus Philipp. In relation to Berthold, he had been an introvert since his early childhood and such natural secrecy would later turn him into an experienced opportunist to the Nazi regime. After a brief course of military training, he chose to study at the university to later obtain a diploma in Law, his future craft.

Brothers Stauffenbergs
Alexander, Claus, and Berthold Stauffenbergs in the garden of their home at Lautlingen, 1918

In late August 1939, just a few days prior to the outbreak of WWII, Berthold was admitted into the First Department of the Naval Warfare Command in Naval High Command in Berlin as a staff judge and adviser for international law. Four years later, when Claus was severely injured in Northern Africa and brought to the hospital in Munich for medical treatment, his brother Berthold was among the most frequent visitors. As the recovery succeeded, Claus made a few visits to his family in Jettingen, but the restoration to heals and strength also meant that Stauffenberg was to keep his word given to Lieutenant-General Olbricht, who had previously called Claus to obtain the position of Chief of Staff in the General Army Office. In August-September 1943 Stauffenberg made several trips to the hospital, where he got treatment, which included the try-in of an arm prosthesis. During the same period in mid-1943, Claus paid a few visits to his brother, who for some time had lived in the two-story villa at No. 8 Tristranstrasse in the suburb of Wannsee. As early as September 10, 1943, Claus finally came to Berlin once again postponing his medical treatment and joined his brother Berthold in Wannsee.

Berthold and Claus von Stauffenberg Valkyrie movie
Berthold (left) and Claus (right) von Stauffenberg in the 1920s

The house, where Berthold used to live and where Claus von Stauffenberg moved in September 1943, was located just a few minutes’ walk from the railway station of Wannsee, which had a direct junction with Berlin city center. The name of the street Tristranstrasse is of course a reference to the legend about Tristan and Isolde, two key figures of an epic Middle ages poem. The story of love had a Celtic origin and had been known in France since the XII century, and was printed as a novel adaptation in Germany as early as 1484. Four centuries later, Richard Wagner wrote an opera in three acts, ‘Tristan und Isolde’, which would be highly liked by Adolf Hitler. However, the Stauffenberg brothers were not specifically enthusiastic on this matter, as they had no idea of the infamous ‘Wannsee conference’, which had taken place in a villa nearby on January 20, 1942, and put the extermination of Jews in Europe onto a mass-production scale.

Claus von Stauffenberg

Berthold Stauffenberg 1944
Alfred Kranzfelder (left) and Berthold Stauffenberg while facing Nazi People’s Court on August 10, 1944. Only a few hours after they were sentenced to death

On September 14, 1943, Claus was here in the villa to write a letter to his mutual friend of his and his brother, Rudolf Fahrner, to inform the latter of his move to Berlin. All while Stauffenberg was to take his position as late as November 1, he had come to the capital in advance at the request of General Olbricht. Stauffenberg was to take a more active part in the military resistance and become an important player in the upcoming putsch against Hitler. Sometime later in the same Fall, the two brothers were adjoined by Graf Nikolaus von Uxkull-Gyllenband, Claus’ and Bertold’s uncle from the mother’s side. Uxkull was the man who had tried to convince Claus of the necessity to get Germany rid of Hitler as far back as 1939. ‘Uncle Nux’ was highly appreciated by the Resistance as a kind of liaison between the Army and the military command in Prague. On November 23, 1943, the Naval High Command building was badly damaged during the Allied air raid on Berlin and the office moved firstly to Eberswalde and then in January 1944 to Bernau. After this event, Berthold had no other alternative, than to move to the military barracks next to his new office, since the journey from Wannsee to the Northeast one had taken much time. Anyway, Berthold used to visit his brother Claus at Tristranstrasse throughout 1944.

Wansee and the villa of Claus von Stauffenberg Tristanstrasse 8
The aerial view from the 1950s of the Wannsee train station (left) and the area with Tristanstrasse in the middle

As early as February 29, 1944, Graf Nikolaus von Uxkull-Gyllenband was released from his post: he was now sixty-seven years old. In those months Annabel Siemens, a niece of another plotter Peter Yorck, used to come to the villa to take care of the house. She rarely met Claus, who used to leave the house early in the morning and come back at late hours daily. In March or April 1944 the girl was asked not to come anymore as it was too dangerous for her. The point was that toward early 1944 Stauffenberg’s villa was becoming one of the key meeting places for the plotters of the Resistance, and in summer the visitors openly discussed the details of the upcoming plot against Hitler and the format of the future government after the Nazis. Among the visitors to the villa were: a former prominent trade unionist Wilhelm Leuschner, a resistance member since 1934 Jakob Kaiser, an active plotter Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg, famous German theologian and a member of the Kreisau circle group Eugen Gerstenmaier, and even Carl Goerdeler.

Toward Summer 1944, the villa at Tristranstrasse became a temporary residence for another two men and active plotters. Once Claus was asked to take the position of the Chief of Staff of the Reserve Army under Friedrich Fromm, Stauffenberg proposed Olbrich his close friend Albrecht Ritter Mertz von Quirnheim to take Claus’ former position as the Chief of Staff in the Army General Office. Quirnheim, an enthusiastic plotter himself, moved to 8 Tristanstrasse on 14 June 1944. Rudolf Fahrner was another man, who joined Claus in his villa for some time. He came back to Berlin from Athens on June 29 and used a room in the villa for work while staying in the capital. Fahrner had known Berthold Stauffenberg since 1935, Claus since 1936, and the third brother Alexander since 1941. He was the head of the German Scientific Institute in Athens.

Valkyrie movie lcoations in Wansee the villa

On July 16, 1944, just four days prior to the faithful attempt to eliminate Adolf Hitler, the villa in Wannsee witnessed a gathering of the plotters, which included:

  • Claus and Berthold von Stauffenbergs,
  • Mertz von Quirnheim
  • Caesar von Hofacker (a German Luftwaffe Lieutenant Colonel and liaison between the conspirators in Berlin and Paris)
  • Ulrich-Wilhelm Graf von Schwerin von Schwanenfeld, a protege of Hans Oster in Abwehr
  • Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg, a mediator between different resistance groups and a candidate for the post of State Secretary in the Reich Ministry of the Interior in the case of the putsch success.
  • Friedrich Adam von Trott Zu Solz, a diplomat supposed to be appointed Secretary of State in the Foreign Office and a key negotiator with the Allies after Hitler’s death.
  • Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg, a supposed undersecretary of state for a future Reich Chancellor
  • Georg Alexander Hansen, a colonel of the army, would organize cars and planes for the conspirators.

As the July 16 meeting witnessed at least five counts (‘Graf’ in German), it would be later regarded as the ‘Grafenrunde’ (Count round). Except for Hofacker (born 1895) all men in attendance were born in the XX century, most of them were below forty. In the course of emotional arguing, the Resistance members were uncompromised in the idea, that Germany had no future with Hitler. Among them, no one would survive to see the year 1945, including the host Berthold Stauffenberg, who would be tried and hanged in august 1944.

Tristanstrasse 8, Wannsee

The movie has an important scene, in which Claus recalls the moment when he let his wife Nina go on the street next to the villa. Thanks to the efforts of production design staff and the usage of artificial fog, Tristranstrasse street looks like it is 1944. It is worth noting, that his family of Claus spent the absolute majority of the time between his move to Berlin in September 1943 and July 20, 1944, with only a few infrequent visits to Berlin. Nina and the children lived in the townhouse of her parents and they used to make visits to Lautlingen, Stauffenberg’s childhood homeland. It is highly likely, that the scene when Claus in Berlin is met not by his brother Berthold, but by his wife and children, was added for better emotional background and to not include another location for their residence at that time. On October 28-29, 1943 Nina came to Berlin to visit the wedding of her relative and she did stay in the villa in Wannsee. After that brief stay, Nina took some documents from Berlin, because they were too discreditable to store them in the capital.

Nina and Claus von Stauffenberg the Valkyrie movie

Nina von Stauffenberg and her husband Claus
Left: Nina von Stauffenberg, middle: Claus and Nina, right: the wedding on September 26, 1933

Getting back to the historical background of the last seeing each other between Claus and Nina, this encounter took place, not in Berlin, but during Stauffenberg’s visit to Bamberg on June 24-26, 1944, almost one month before the putsch. Followed by this visit from Claus, Nina made up her mind to move to Lautlingen, Stauffenberg’s heartland, which still seems a safe haven amid the War, even in comparison with Bamberg. Toward summer 1944 the air alarms in Bamberg had become so frequent, that Nina’s children were forced out to pass the school exams inside the shelter. Apart from this, the majority of the local population were strong supporters of the Nazi regime. On July 16, 1944, on the day of the important meeting at the villa in Wannsee, Claus made a call to his wife and asked her to postpone the move to Lautlingen. The tickets were already bought and on July 18 Nina and four children left Bamberg to join their paternal grandmother. As early as July 23, only three days after the failed coup, Nina Stauffenberg and uncle Üxküll were arrested in Lautlingen and taken to Berlin. Nina’s sister and mother were also arrested and later released (the mother was put under home arrest) but without permission to go back home. Nina gave birth to her fifth child Konstanze on 17 January 1945 at the maternity home in Frankfurt an der Oder. She would succeed in returning to her home in Bamberg as late as 1953, previously taken by the SS and then abandoned after the air raid.

Claus von Stauffenberg with his son Heimeran, daughter Valerie, niece Elisabeth, nephew Alfred, and son Franz Ludwig in Lautlingen, summer 1943
Nina Stauffenberg and her children
Nina von Stauffenberg with her sons Franz Ludwig, Berthold and Heimeran on vacation in Lautlingen, 1942

Another important scene shot next to the villa at Tristranstrasse shows Claus, who leaves for the airport in the early hours of July 20, 1944. The perspective of the camera was chosen purposely to avoid the metal plaque next to the entrance.  Getting back to history, on the eve of the plot, July 19, Claus left his office at Bendlerstrasse around 8 p.m. He asked his driver to stop for prayer near the church in Steglitz and joined his brother Berthold at Tristranstrasse 8. The two brothers had trouble with sleep and for some time they read the poetry of their middle brother Alexander, Berthold’s twin. The next morning, July 20, the brothers woke up around 5 a.m. Claus put the explosive charge into his suitcase, the one which had been brought here from the hiding place at Loewenvilla in Potsdam (the house of Lieutenant-Colonel Fritz von der Lancken). Exactly at 6 a.m. as is depicted in the movie, Claus left his home for the last time and got into his Mercedes. It is worth noting that the cinematic version of the event includes calculated change. In the movie, Werner von Haeften, Stauffenberg’s adjutant was with the driver waiting at Tristranstrasse. In fact, it was Berthold, who made the way to the Rangsdorf airfield with his brother and Claus met Haeften there. Gefreiter (Lance-Corporal) Karl Schweizer was their driver and he knew nothing about the planned putsch and the explosives in the suitcase he himself had brought a day before. July 20 was to be a hot summer day. On the way to Rangsdorf, two brothers took a glimpse of the consequences of the recent air raid on Berlin. Erich Hoepner, the man supposed to take the post of the commander of the Reserve Army, spent his night of July 20 not far from the Stauffenbergs, in his father-in-law’s house in Wannsee.

Valkyrie movie filming sites in Berlin Wannsee villa
An important scene in the movie is when Claus (Tom Cruise) leaves for the airport on July 20. Werned von Haeften is to the right and no Berthold

Valkyrie 2008 movie sites

Wannsee Tristanstrasse 8 today

 

THE THREE AIRPORTS

There are three different historical locations in the movie, depicted as the airfields:

  1. An airfield on the Eastern front during Hitler’s visit on March 13, 1943
  2. Rangsdorf airfield near the village of the same name south of Berlin
  3. The airfield of Hitler’s headquarters Wolfsschanze in East Prussia.
March 1943 Hitler goes to the East
Hitler at Army Group Centre HQ in Smolensk on March 13, 1943. Hans Gunther von Smart introduces Hitler to Hans Georg Reinhardt, Walter Model, Gotthard Heinrici, Walther Weiss and Hans Krebs
Valkyrie filming locations in Germany
An opening scene of the movie with the authentic planes are depicted as landing on the Eastern front

Valkyrie movie opening scene March 1943

The first and the third locations were filmed at the Löpten airfield, 35 kilometers to the South-East of Berlin. Formerly known as the ‘Kleinköris’ (small grain), it was created years after WWII, as late as 1969 as a reserve airport for the former so-called East German Air Force. The airfield was used just a few times a year, and it was also used by the pilots of police helicopters for training. The Löpten airfield was finally closed in 1990, yet in 2007 its former landing strips were used during the filming of ‘Valkyrie’. The airfield of 2750 meters in length and 250 in width had both a grass surface and a paved touchdown zone, which allowed it to play two different locations throughout the movie: the paved as of March 13, 1943, and the grassy as July 20, 1944.

Kleinkoris airport near Berlin Lopten
Kleinköris Airfield on a US map from 1969

If we take a closer look at the airport scenes with Stauffenberg in Berlin, the historical Rangsdorf was played by the iconic Tempelhof airport in Berlin. It should be stated one more time: in historical reality, Claus von Stauffenberg used the Rangsdorf airfield to fly to and from the Wolfsschanze on July 20, 1944. On July 19, in parallel to his order to the driver Karl Schweizer to bring a suitcase from the Loewenvilla, Claus contacted General Eduard Wagner, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army. he asked the general, who had been an active plotter himself, to supply a plane for an unobstructed return flight from Wolfschanze after the annihilation of Hitler.  On July 23, Wagner would commit suicide by shooting himself. At the Rangsdorf the two brothers met Werner von Haeften, Claus’ adjutant, and General Helmuth Stieff, an active plotter, who failed to blow up himself next to Hitler on July 7 at Schloss Klessheim, near Salzburg. Stieff was to return to Mauerwald, OKH headquarters in East Prussia after a stay in Berlin and was accompanied by his own adjutant Major Roll.

The courier ‘Ju 52’ plane was late behind the schedule due to the morning fog and was ready for take-off as late as 8 a.m., thus with a one-hour delay. Berthold Stauffenberg was not the only brother, who was left behind at the Rangsdorf airfield that morning, saying goodbye to Claus. Bernd von Haeften, Werner’s brother also came to accompany him on the journey. Being three years older than his brother, Bernd was a deeply religious man and wished no support for the physical elimination of Adolf Hitler, but he was deeply involved in the resistance activity. On August 15, 1944, he would be hanged at Plötzensee Prison. At least some historians claim that on that morning Stauffenberg, Werner von Haeften, Helmuth Stieff, and major Roll departed on the board of Heinkel 111’, but highly likely it is a confusion with the plane on the way back to Berlin hours later. The flight of 600 kilometers to Rastenburg took a little bit more than two hours and Junkers-52 touched the ground in East Prussia at 10:15. Upon arrival, Sieff and Roll headed toward the OKH headquarters, and Stauffenberg and Haeften were driven to the Wolf’s Lair.

Valkyrie scene Rastenburg

Airport scenes in Valkyrie historical movie by Bryan singer with Tom Cruise

Followed by the assassination to kill Hitler inside the meeting room, the event which I would not cover in detail here, Stauffenberg and Haeften managed to get to the airfield and used Heinkel ‘He 111 for departure, the one, which had been supplied by General Eduard Wagner on Claus’ request a day before. Upon their arrival back to Berlin’s Rangsdorf at 3.45 p.m, the two men saw routine activity. There was no driver Schweizer to meet them and Stauffenberg was to claim another car. In the same minutes, as it was depicted in the movie, a call was made to Bendlerblock to finally lunch the Valkyrie. Werner von Haeften was the man who made the call and there is no definite answer, did Claus take the phone as well. Followed by the arrival of another driver with a car, the two finally departed for Berlin and arrived at Bendlerstrasse toward 4.30 p.m.

Tempelhof airport" Valkyrie movie filming locations in Berlin
This scene depicts the landing of the plane back in Berlin. It was filmed on the landing strip of the Tempelhof airport

Where Valkyrie movie was filmed

Rangsdorf airport has no such historical prominence as the Tempelhof, which was used by the filming crew to depict Stauffenberg journeys. It is worth mentioning that initially the airfield was not meant for military usage and was opened back in 1936 shortly before the Berlin Olympic games. Rangsdorf was meant for the arrival and departure of the sports delegations but was later used to operate all international flights to and from the capital. At the height of WWII, the site was used to create several factories producing details for airplanes. Later on, Rangsdorf served as the airfield of the wartime Army headquarters at Zossen. The seizure of Rangsdorf by the plotters had been an integral part of the whole plan, that’s why Stauffenberg was stunned by the routine here upon arrival. His untroubled arrival from Wolf’s lair to Bendlerstrasse was also an important element of the putsch. On the same day, July 20, another man used the airfield to fly to Rastenburg and then back to Berlin. It was Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the notorious Director of the Reich Security Main Office. Heinrich Himmler took off for the capital the same day and highly likely used the Rangsdorf as well. When the Soviets occupied Berlin in 1945, they took away the machinery, in simple words stole it. Rangsdorf was to become an airfield under occupation and was used as such until 1994. Since then the site has been abandoned, but a memorial stone devoted to Stauffenberg is still to be found.

Map of the Rangsdofr airport
Rangsdorf airfield on a US map from 1952
Rangsdofr airport near Berlin in the 1990s
Rangsdorf airport from the air, 1991

The filming crew of ‘Valkyrie’ shot the scene with Stauffenberg’s flights from and in Berlin not in Rangsdorf, evidently too abandoned even in 2007, but on the airfield at Tempelhof, an iconic Berlin airport. In the scene of his return flight on July 20, we can see the well-known hangars, which also made appearances in ‘Bourne Supremacy’ and ‘Bridge of spies’. Back in the late XIX, the site of the modern airfield was accommodated by a military camp of the Prussian army, and its connection with the sky would be marked in 1909 with two memorable events. Ferdinand von Zeppelin touched the ground here after his flight inside a zeppelin dirigible from the Boden lake. 300 000 Berliners were out that day, particularly on the roofs, to witness the flight. In the same year 1909 Orville Wright, a famous aeronaut, used the open site for making several records, including flying for 36 minutes.

Tempelhof field in 1909
Orville Wright flying the Wright Model A Flyer over a crowd of spectators waving their hats at Tempelhof Field, 1909

As early as 1923 there was a decision to turn the former open site for military exercise into the main airfield of Berlin. The first terminal and the hangars were erected a little further to the South of the modern ones, on the site of the present landing strips. The first air route was successfully set between the capital and Königsberg, the center of Eastern Prussia, and as early as 1926 Tempelhof became a transport hub for the later well-known Lufthansa. In a year, in 1927 a new metro station (Modern Paradestraße) not only joined the area with the city center but became the very first airport metro station in the world. Toward Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933, Tempelhof was the largest airport in Europe with than junction with more than 70 cities. The reconstruction and expansion of the existing airport were entrusted to Ernst Sagebie, автору the building of the Reich Ministry of Aviation at Wilhelmstraße (also featured in ‘Valkyrie’ movie). On the second day of WWII, September 2, 1939, the terminal was temporarily closed for civil aviation, and was resumed as late as March 7, 1940, and lasted until April 24, 1945. It is important to note, that Luftwaffe never used Tempelhof primarily as a military airfield, in contrast to Rangsdorf. In the last days of the War, Rudolf Böttger, airport commander refused to destroy the facility and it was later occupied by the Soviets.

The building of the Tempelhof airport
The aerial view of the Tempelhof airport in 1930
Tempelhof and Hitler 1935
Hitler is speaking at the May Day celebrations at the Tempelhof field in Berlin, in 1935
Tempelhof airport after WWII
Aerial photography of Tempelhof Airport. Around 1948

In accordance with the arrangements between the Allies, a control over ‘Zentral Flughafen Berlin-Tempelhof’ (Main airport Berlin-Tempelhof) was passed to the Americans on July 2, 1945. The US engineering battalion conducted the initial repair works and as early as February 1946, the first air corridors of West Berlin became reality. In 1948 during the military blockade of Western Berlin by the order of Soviet tyrant Stalin, Tempelhof was fated to become a vital thread of supply for two million people. In the course of the ‘Berlin airlift’, the Tempelhof took the majority of the 278 000 flights to Berlin under siege. Commercial aviation here was resumed in 1950 and toward 1954 the volume of annual passenger traffic reached 650 000 people. In 1975 Tempelhof was closed for ten years after the opening of Tegel airport but later was got back for operation with small aircraft. Despite the diligent initiatives of the Berliners, Tempelhof accommodated the last flight in 2008. At present, the area is known as the largest park in Berlin with 300 ha of open space, accessible for cultural events, exhibitions, and sports competitions.

Tempelhof airport in Berlin during the Cold war era
Douglas DC-4 parked in front of a hangar at Berlin Tempelhof in January 1954.
Tempelhof in the 1960s
A well-known color photo of the Tempelhof hangar, 1962
Tempelhof Flughafen airport in Berlin: Valkyrie movie locations
A modern view of the former main entrance to the airport

 

BENDLERBLOCK INTERIORS: TEMPELHOF

Among the important scenes of the ‘Valkyrie’ movie, there are a few which focus on the routine work and later the unexpected renaissance of events at the headquarters of the Reserve army at Bendlerstrasse. I have already made a separate detailed article on this complex of buildings and it must be said, that almost all interior shots were filmed inside the former main building of the Tempelhof Terminal. One would ask, why the filming crew did not use the authentic cabinets of Stauffenberg, Olbricht, and Fromm for the interiors of the army headquarters. The first argument goes with the complexity of works conventionally performed by the art department. Weeks and even months of preparation for the sets could mean a long-period closing of the ‘Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand’ (Memorial to the German Resistance) for the sake of the commercial project. Secondly, the filming crew received restricted access to the Bendlerblock complex, particularly to the inner courtyard, and the issue here was not about shooting in other parts of the complex. And finally, it was just easier to shoot at Tempelhof, which was accessible and empty back in 2007.

Stauffenberg office at Bendlerblock
Office of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg at Bendlerstraße 13-14, summer 1944

Valkyrie movie filming at the Tempelhof airport main building

Valkyrie movie locations in Berlin: Tempelhof terminal

As I have already mentioned above, Ernst Sagebiel (1892-1970), the author of not only the giant Reich Air Ministry building but of numerous Luftwaffe facilities, was assigned to rebuild Tempelhof. An ambitious renovation of the airport was put into operation in 1935 and actually lasted until 1941, never fully finished. The main building of the renewed airport was opened for service in 1939. The momentous structure, later regarded as ‘the mother of all airports’ is 1200 meters long, 55 ha in size, and has a space of 300 000 m2, of which 200 000 were directly used. The terminal building has the shape of a semicircle and was to become the largest building in the world (on the perimeter) before the construction of the Pentagon in Washington. Apart from conventional facilities for the airport of that time, Tempelhof had separate floor facilities with giant air shelters. Speaking in general terms, dozens of spacious halls, hundreds of premises and offices, and more than one thousand doors, only superimposed the terminal with grandiosity. The building was also to become the largest nazi-building that was ever built. The Tempelhof terminal was designed to operate until the year 2000 in regard to the potential rise of passenger traffic. When it was opened in 1939, the terminal operated at only 3% of its potential capacity. In 2007 the filming crew of ‘Valkyrie’ brought here thousands of pieces of antiquariat from collections in US, UK, Germany, and Austria: all to recreate the Reserve army headquarters as they looked in 1944. The terminal building is now a monument of history and it would be preserved.

Hermann Goering and the design of the Tempelhof airport
Hermann Goering presents the design of the Tempelhof airport main building

The main building of the Tempelhof airport in Berlin how it looks today

The German eagle on the front-side of the Tempelhof terminal building
A preserved figure of the German eagle on one of the walls of the building

Some sources devoted to the production process of the movie, state that the interior of the office of General Friedrich Fromm was filmed not in the main building of Tempelhof, but at the building of the Main Customs Office in Berlin at the Platz der Luftbrücke nearby. The square was named after the well-known ‘Berlin air bridge’ by the mayor Ernst Reuter in 1949.

Office of Friedrich fromm

Friedrich Fromm Tom Wilkinson Valkyrie movie
General Friedrich Fromm played by Thomas Wilkinson

 

THE ROLL-CALL COURTYARD

The movie has two sets of sequences depicting the mobilization of the ‘Deutschland’ Guard battalion unit in Berlin, both depicted as an execution of the order received by its officer, played by Thomas Kretschmann. Apart from brief moments in the army canteen, the most momentous scenes took place in the spacious open-air courtyard, supposed to be a barrack square. This scene was once again shot at Tempelhof, in one of the two courtyards, which lead to the gorgeous lobby. Each of these two spaces has 90 meters of length and 40 meters of width. The camera perspective leaves us no clue, that the scene was filmed inside the Gargantua terminal building of 1230 meters in length. it is interesting to note, that followed by a sequence of the second roll-call here, we see Stauffenberg, who leaves the plane and makes a call actually behind the wall of the previous location.

Tempelhof airport courtyards
A design of the main building and the two courtyards

Grossdeutschland batalion

Valkyrie filming locations throthout Berlin Tempelhof

Thomas Kretschmann is a German actor with unprecedentedly acclaimed experience in depicting German officers in WWII-related movies. He is widely known for the characters of Leutnant Hans von Witzland in ‘Stalingrad’ (1993), Kapitänleutnant Günther Wassner in ‘U-571’ (2000), Hauptmann Wilm Hosenfeld in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002), of  Hermann Fegelein in ‘Downfall’ (2004), Adolf Eichmann. in ‘Eichmann’ (2010), Hauptmann Peter Kahn in ‘Stalingrad’ (2013). He was invited to take part in the production of ‘Valkyrie’ to portray Otto-Ernst Remer (1912-1997). On May 1, 1944, Remer got the position of the commanding officer of the Berlin Guard Battalion ‘Grossdeutschland’. On a higher level, this unit was under the overall command of Paul von Hase, a conspirator since 1938 and now the Berlin Military Commander. In July 1944 Hase was warned by Wolf-Heinrich Graf von Helldorff, the President of the Berlin police, that Remer had been a faithful Nazi and unreliable figure for the conspirators. Hase wrongly supposed that Remer would in any way fulfill the order.

Thomas Kretschmann playing Otte Ersnt Remer in Valkyrie
Thomas Kretschmann in the image of Otto-Ersnt Remer

Grossdeutschland‘ Guard Battalion was one of the few military units, which could rapidly take the government quarter in Berlin after the launch of ‘Valkyrie’. As the events of July 20 would prove, Remer was confronted with the orders issued by the conspirators and after a face-to-face meeting with Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and a phone conversation with Hitler himself, he ordered his men to suppress the putsch and to take the army headquarters at Bendlerstrasse. Of course, in reality, the men of the Guard Battalion were never stationed at the Tempelhof facilities. Their base was located in the district of Moabit, squeezed by Kruppstraße, Rathenower Straße, Seydlitzstraße and Invalidenstraße streets. The first complex of barracks was built here as far back as 1893 for the Berlin Guard Regiment of the Prussian Army and was designed for 2000 soldiers and officers. During the First World War, the unit was sent to the Western front, and as soon as 1922 the newly formed ‘Wachregiment Berlin’ (Berlin guard regiment) took the area.

As early as 1939 the unit was expanded and renamed ‘Infanterie-Regiment Großdeutschland’ (‘Grossdeutschland’ Infantry Division). With the expansion of the War, a better proportion of the division was sent to France, and later to the Soviet Union. At the same time, a part of the division known as ‘Wachbataillon Berlin’ (Berlin Guard Battalion) stayed in Berlin to perform security duties, guarding forced labor camps near the capital. As early as May 1, 1941, it was expanded to five companies and in October 1942 renamed ‘Großdeutschland Wachbataillon’ (Greater Germany Guard Battalion). During the last weeks of the existence of the Nazi regime, the unit was once again renamed, this time ‘Wachregiment Berlin’ (Berlin Guard regiment), and took part in the fighting with the advancing Red Army during the Battle for Berlin. The majority of those still alive managed to escape Berlin to the West, and on April 30 their former barracks in Moabit were occupied by the Soviets. After the War, the majority of the former military structures were demolished to leave space for Fritz-Schloß-Park, but some buildings survived until today. As for Otto Remer, he met the end of WWII as a highly regarded Nazi general and after release from Allied captivity in 1947, was involved in dubious Neo-nazi political movement and Holocaust revisionism. He died of natural causes in Spain at the age of 85.

Guard Batalion Greater Deutschland headquarters in Berlin
One of the buildings of the Rathenower Straße barracks during the Weimar Republic
Greater Germany guard batalion in Berlin
Recruits of the Grossdeutschland Infantry Division at their swearing-in ceremony in 1941

 

BLOCKING THE GOVERNMENT QUARTER

Followed by an order received by Otto Remer in the movie, ‘Valkyrie’ proceeds with the scenes of taking the center of Berlin under the control of the soldiers of ‘The Greater Germany’ Guard Battalion. They block the passage of the transport traffic with barriers made of barbed wire. A greater proportion of these sequences was filmed at Wilhelmstraße and Leipziger straße around the well-known Reich Air Ministry building, one of the monumental structures of the Nazi era, which has survived until nowadays. I have already mentioned the building in regard to its architect Ernst Sagebiel, who would later create Tempelhof airport. In the scene, one could see the purposedly placed (for the sake of movie production) Nazy symbolics, particularly dozens of swastika banners, The showing of the notorious symbol is strictly prohibited in public in Germany and the filming crew had to receive special permission for the shooting this scene. The Berlin officials were assisting the ‘Valkyrie’ production in many ways, for example temporarily removing the modern lighting and power poles around The Ministry of Finance building. During the shooting, eleven extras, who were depicting soldiers, fell out of the lorry on the move and got some injuries. It is interesting to note, that the investigation of the insurance company revealed no liability of the movie production company for the accident, as the extras failed to keep security measures.

Valkyrie filming locations Wilhelmstrasse

Valkyrie filming in Berlin, Germany

Filming crew of the Valkyrie movie
A behind-the-scene photo of the filming crew during the shooting at Wilhelmstrasse

Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin Valkyrie

How Valkyrie movie was filmed behind the scenes
Another interesting photo from the filming period, with the Swastika banners next to the flags of Germany and the European Union during the break-in shooting
Former Reich Ministry of Aviation building in Berlin
My photo was taken in 2019 with the ‘court of honor’ in the focus

Today, the former Reich Air Ministry building at Wilhelmstraße is occupied by The Ministry of Finance. In ‘Valkyrie’ it is shown as ‘Reichsministerium des Innern’ (Ministry of the Interior). The Ministry was once located at Konigsplatz not far from the Reichstag, yet it was badly damaged toward the end of the War and later demolished. The building of the former Reich Ministry of Aviation is still known as one of the largest buildings of the Nazi era. It covers the whole city block between Leipziger Straße, Wilhelmstraße and Niederkirchnerstraße (former Prinz-Albrecht-Straße), having 250 meters in length. When it was finished in August 1936 (the construction had lasted one and half a year since February 1935), it was the largest office building in Europe at that time. In wider means, the erection of such a pompous office building was the reflection of both Nazi megalomania and the expansion of the Luftwaffe under Hermann Goering, as well as the foregoer of the upcoming World War. The building was made of reinforced concrete, steel-framed construction, and covered with shell limestone panels. The wings attached to the main building along Wilhelmstraße form four courtyards. The one depicted in the movie beyond the metal bars is known as ‘a court of honor’. The building has 56,000 square meters of usable space with more than 2100 rooms connected by seventeen staircases, seven elevators, and 7 kilometers of corridors. When it was finished in late 1936, the new Reich Ministry of Aviation building gave workspace to four thousand people.

Hermann Goering near the Reich Ministry building
Luftwaffe Day parade in front of Reich Air Ministry building on Wilhelmstraße,1 March 1938

Luftwaffe headquarters in Berlin

Former office of the Wehrmacht air force
A rare color photo of the Reich Aviation Ministry building during the Nazi era

During the battle of Berlin, the building served as a shelter for Volkssturm units, the officers of the SS-division ‘Nordland’, and the former Luftwaffe personnel. On April 30, 1945 thanks to its reinforced structure, the building survived the direct artillery hit, in contrast to hundreds of other structures in the heart of Berlin. After the War, the symbols of the Nazi regime were turned down and removed from the front side to be later back temporarily during the shooting in 2007 for the ‘Valkyrie’ movie. For example, in a scene when the lorries penetrate the ‘court of honor’, one may see the replica of the notorious Nazi eagle above the fence. Unfortunately, the building served two dictatorships and on October 7, 1949, the puppet-kind GDR under the Soviet occupation proclaimed its constitution here and used the building until the reunion of Germany. In 1996 it was decided to initiate renovation works, which lasted four years and made it possible to eliminate the post-war additions. Since 1999 the complex had been used by the Federal Ministry of Finance.

Reich Ministry of Aviation
An aerial view of the area around the Reich Ministry of Aviation building after the War
Reich Ministry of Aviation today in Berlin
A back-side panorama over the extensive building from the position of ‘Topographie des Terrors’ museum

Reich Ministry of Aviation Berlin Valyrie locations

After a few brief scenes showing the intense conspiracy work at Bendlerstrasse, the panoramic view reveals another secured location, depicted as the ‘SS headquarters’. We see hundreds of swastika banners hoisted on the flagpoles in front of the pompous building with a giant eagle figure on top. In the days while shooting this scene, some of the residents and tourists were so concerned with the nazi symbolics, and hundreds of people in the uniform, that several calls to the police were made. In reality, the building depicted in the movie is just another preserved example of the architecture of the Third Reich: the main pavilion of ‘Berlin Messegelände’ (Berlin Exhibition Center). The first exhibition hall was built in 1914 on the territory of the former military parade grounds of the Charlottenburg garrison, but because of the outbreak of WWI, it would be opened as late as 1921 for the automobile exhibition. The main hall facing today’s Masurenallee street and the one depicted in ‘Valkyrie’, was completed in 1937 in accordance with the design of architect Richard Ermisch (1885-1960), previously known for the Tiergarten city hall. Some halls of the Berlin Exhibition Center were destroyed in WWII, but the 1937 hall survived as well as the well-known ‘Funkturm’, a radio tower of 147 meters from 1926, which looks like an Eiffel Tower. Today the grounds have twenty-six exhibition halls with 180 000 of total hall space. In 2002 the main hall played the role of ‘Stazione Marittima di Napoli’ (Naples Maritime Station) in ‘Bourne Supremacy’ and in 2015 Steven Spielberg used the building for the interior scene of the Gary Powers’ trial in ‘Bridge of spies’.

SS headauqrters Valkyrie movie

Valkyrie movie filming in Berlin

Messe exposition Grounds in Berlin today

The building of the Messe Berlin Exposition Grounds
A rare photo of the building-up of the main Messe Gelande pavilion
Messe Berlin in the 1930s
‘Funkturm’, a radio tower of 147 meters from 1926, is known as the Berlin Eiffel Tower. The main pavilion from the movie is visible to the right
The color photo of the Berlin Exposition Center in the 1930s
A rare color photograph of the newly built Berlin exhibition (Messe Berlin) 1937

Messe Berlin how it looks today

 

THE LAST STAND: THE COURTYARD

As I have already stated before, most of the interior scenes depicted as the headquarters of the Reserve army were, in fact, staged in the main building of the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin, still open in 2007. Along with that, it is extremely important that the climax scene of the shooting of Friedrich Olbricht, Claus von Stauffenberg, Mertz Von Quirnheim, and Werner von Haeften was filmed at the actual location of their execution in the courtyard of the former Bendlerblock complex. Getting back in time, the history of the ‘Valkyrie’ movie production was directly connected to the locations. It was Bendlerblock, which Christopher McQuarrie, an acclaimed scriptwriter, and director, visited in 2002 and which inspired him to write a new story of colonel Stauffenberg. While the German Defense Ministry had previously allowed the German movie ‘Stauffenberg’ with Sebastian Koch to shoot on the location in 2004, the initial request for the Hollywood version was initially rejected. There were a few possible reasons.

Filming crew of Valkyrie in Berlin
Members of the filming crew take their time at Stauffenbergstrasse

First of all, the German 2004 movie was focused on the German audience, had not had many commercial ambitions and its production was under the control of the national laws: the situation was vice versa with ‘Valkyrie’. Secondly, director Bryan Singer was widely known as a director of comic blockbusters such as ‘X-Men’ and ‘Superman Returns’ and his ability to create a thoughtful historical drama was under debate. The third widely debated reason was the choice of Tom Cruise for the leading role of Stauffenberg. Tom Cruise was a well-known follower of the Scientology movement, not banned but hostile in Germany. The official response in no way reflected any of the above versions and just stated that the production of ‘Valkyrie’ may hurt the historical significance of the location. The decision was changed after the personal appeal of scriptwriter Christopher McQuarrie, who had convinced the German government of a caring attitude toward history, and the importance of the correlation between the past and the present by means of using authentic locations. It is important the Memorial to the German Resistance, which took care of the site, gave a helping hand to the filming crew with access to its archives for deeper historical accuracy. The only undebated condition was not using the Nazi symbolics on the location of the memorial. To honor the memory and courage of the Resistance members, the filming crew used to start the night work here with a minute of silence.

Valkyrie scene at Bendlerblock army hq
The soldiers of guard battalion are shown rushing into Bendlerblock from Bendlerstrasse
Bendlerblock in 1944
A historical photo of the same entrance to the courtyard from Bednerstrasse (modern: Stauffenbergstrasse)

Bendlerblock today

Bendlerblock complex in 1945
A post-war aerial photograph shows that the Bendlerblock building was lucky enough not being raised to the ground

With an unprecedented accuracy to the details, the ‘Valkyrie’ movie anyway included some historical incorrectness. A few of them may be found in a scene of getting the first encounter between Claus von Stauffenberg and his aide Werner von Haeften. By getting a closer look at the scene, one may see the date May 26, 1944, on the calendar on the wall behind Haeften.

General Olbricht informs Stauffenberg that he was promoted to the Chief of Staff of the Reserve Army. It should be noted, that the decision of his promotion would originate later in June 1944 after Stauufenberg’s and general Fromm’s visit to Berghof, Hitler’s retreat near Salzburg in Austria. Fromm was so impressed by Claus, that he suggested him take the post of the Chief of Staff. Stauffenberg was appointed to the position temporarily from June 15, 1944, and officially after July 1, with the promotion to Colonel. Another inaccuracy matches Stauffenberg’s appointment with his first encounter with Werner von Haeften. Indeed, the latter became an aide to Claus in November 1943.

Werner von Haeften Valkyrie movie
One may identify the incorrect date of the two meetings
General Friedrich Olbricht
General Olbricht brings the knews about assigning Stauffenberg as Chief of Staff of the Reserve Army

The movie has a few scenes, which show the inner courtyard of the Bendlerblock complex days or minutes before the end of the July 20 plot. It is shown, that the office of general Olbricht once faced the courtyard and he could see the soldiers of the Guard Battalion flow into the Bendlerblock complex through the arch. This passage was in fact the main entrance to the courtyard, once facing Bendlerstrasse (nowadays: Stauffenberg Straße). Taking a closer look at the scene of execution, overall, the sequence was recreated with historical accuracy to the details. CGI was probably used to hide the memorial plaque next to the entrance as well as the statue, a bronze figure of a young man with bounded hands in the center of the courtyard. It is unlikely for the filming crew to be permitted to dismantle the memorials for the sake of the filming process.

Bendlerblock headquarters in Valyrie movie
In a scene when General Olbricht sees soldiers rushing into the Army HQ
German Resistance memorial Center in Berlin
A window view over the courtyard from one of the former offices of the Reserve Army. The passage to Bendlerstrasse (today: Stauffenbergstrasse) is to the right
German Resistance Memorial in Berlin today
A modern view of the inner courtyard with the statue of a young man in the middle

THE HISTORICAL DETAILS ARE SHOWN WITH ACCURACY

  • When the soldiers of the ‘GrossDeutschland’ guard Battalion are taking the headquarters of the Reserve army, the movie shows one historically accurate detail. A few guards are shown as taken over by the incoming forces and disarmed. Getting back to history, around 10.40 p.m. the conspirators indeed summoned the cadets of the military school in Berlin to guard Bendlerblock. Most of those young men had no idea of the events they were involved in. Followed by the arrival of the Guard Battalion armed with anti-tank guns and machine guns, these few cadets were disarmed, put in one of the corners of the courtyard, but later released. The young soldiers found out that they had been used for guarding the heart of the conspiracy against Hitler.
  • Another important detail, which may be found in every detailed scholarship about the events of July 20-21, is the light of the military lorries during the execution in the courtyard. The drivers of the trucks, which brought the soldiers of the Guard battalion, were indeed ordered to put the lights on to illuminate the site. It is generally accepted, that it was Second-Lieutenant Werner Schady, who asked the driver for such. The headlight beam was also a means to blind the victims during the execution.
  • Stauffenberg’s cry before his last breaths is also a historical fact, later mentioned by many of the witnesses of the shooting. Historians and researchers have long ago agreed that the colonel shouted ‘Es lebe das heilige Deutschland’ (Long Live Blessed Germany). There are also alternative versions such as he shouted ‘Long live secret Germany’ (a reference to the German resistance), but none of them are regarded as trustful.
  • The courage of Werner von Haeften who shielded Stauffenberg from bullets is another historical detail, and not a fictional invention as it may seem. Every eyewitness, who in one way or another later testified about the event in the courtyard, recalled Haeften’s choice to die before Stauffenberg, thus being the second among the four.
  • Another important detail, which may not fall under your attention, is the way the bodies of the victims of the execution were treated. The movie shows how the bodies of the four officers are drugged in the lorries. It is a historical fact as well. The bodies were thrown into the back of one of the lorries and taken away to Alter Sankt Matthäus Kirchhof (St Matthias Church) Cemetery two kilometers from Bendlerstrasse for burial. The five officers, including Ludwig Beck, were buried with their uniforms and army decoration. On the next morning, they were exhumed and cremated, the ashes were scattered to the wind. Himmler would later comment on this action, that there should be left no trace of such people.
  • Another detail of the recreated scene in the courtyard deals with the pile of sand, in front of which the four men are executed. It is not a cinematic means to hide the memorial side and the post-war changes. This pile of sand was in fact there on July 21, as had been previously left either after the construction work or as a precaution means to deal with the incendiary bombs.
German Resistance Memorial in Berlin: Valkyrie movie locations
A few guards are shown here to be swept by the forces of the Guard battalion

The final scene of the Valkyrie movie 2008

Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg in Valkyrie
Tom Cruise in the climax scene of shooting Claus von Stauffenberg
Where Valkyrie was filmed in Berlin" Bendlerblock memorial
The cold-blooded look of the execution squad as they were depicted in the movie
German Resistance Memorial at Bendlerblock
A panoramic movie view over the scene of the execution and the courtyard with plenty of historical details

 

July 21 Bendlerstrasse
Soldiers of the Waffen-SS in the courtyard of Bendlerblock, July 21
Bendlerblock
A rare historical photo of the courtyard from the inside. In the center is the passage from Bendlerstrasse
The inner coutyard of the Bendlerblock 1945
A rare post-war photo of the courtyard. The entrance from Bendlerstrasse is behind the back of the cameraman

 

INACCURACIES OR INTENTIONAL CHANGES

  • The movie changes the order in which the four men were shot in the courtyard, evidently for the sake of dramatic climax. In both variants (the history and movie) General Friedrich Olbricht was hot first.  In actual history, Stauffenberg was called to be shot second, but Haeften shielded him and died second. Mertz von Quirnheim was executed last, but in the movie, he was shot second to make the killing of Claus von Stauffenberg the culmination of the scene and the whole story.
  • Otto Ernst Remer (actor: Thomas Kretschmann) is shown as a direct participant in the raid to seize the Reserve army headquarters and a witness of the execution. In fact, he did not come to the site until 00:30  when the four conspirators had already been executed. Regarding this, the moment in a movie when Remer lifts his eyes toward general Fromm, is fiction, particularly the fact, that Fromm was not present in the courtyard during the shooting, as well as Remer.
  • The movie has a character played by actor Matthias Schweighöfer, and he is stated as Lieutenant Herber. He is shown as an adjutant of Friedrich Fromm and the man who directly conducted the execution process. Getting to the history, this character reflected two different persons. Rittmeister Heinz-Ludwig Bartram was Fromm’s aide and he indeed made all possible efforts to make his chief free from the hands of the conspirators. Later on, when Fromm was freed, he ordered Bartram to arrange a firing squad for the execution of the plotters. Heinz-Ludwig Bartram then passed this order to First Lieutenant Schlee, who himself ordered Second Lieutenant Werner Schady to arrange men for the shooting. Schady was the man who directly conducted the execution in the courtyard. There are other few incorrectness, which may be identified in all regarding the shooting squad. In historical reality, ten men made shooting and not eight as depicted in the movie. Those soldiers are shown extremely cold-blooded and confident when Stauffenberg decides to look in the face of his executioners. In reality, these ten men were frustrated with the events in a way they did not understand the reasons why they were ordered to shoot high-ranking officers. Second Lieutenant Werner Schady was also ordered to escort Colonel-General Hoepner to the military prison.
  • Another dramatic detail of the scene has no historical background. General Friedrich Fromm did not observe the execution from the balcony above the main entrance to the building. He gave orders to his aide Heinz-Ludwig Bartram and himself hurried to send a message to Wolfschanze, that the “Putsch» by disloyal generals was violently suppressed. All leaders shot.” At the time of the execution in the courtyard, Fromm was giving an order to one of the soldiers to end the suffering of Ludwig Beck, who had failed to kill himself a few minutes before. Along with that, a minute after the execution was over, Fromm entered the courtyard, passed beside the bodies of his subordinates, climbed on one of the lorries, and proclaimed a brief emotional speech, which (he thought in such a way) had to convince the men in presence in his own loyalty to Adolf Hitler.
Valkyrie movie shooting scene
Otto Remer is depicted present during the execution, which was not the truth
Matthias Schweighöfer Valkyrie movie
A character stated as Lieutenant Herber

General Friedrich Fromm Valkyrie movie

the balcony of the Bendlerblock memorial
The balcony over the main entrance was used to portray the presence of Friedrich Fromm during the execution