13 July 2019

Berlin, Germany

The American movie A FOREIGN AFFAIR is set in post-war Berlin and a large part was filmed there. Director and screenwriter Billy Wilder had fled the city for the Nazis in 1933. Actress Marlene Dietrich was born and raised in the German capital. After World War II, Berlin had been divided into four sectors by the Allied forces of the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain and France.
A Foreign Affair, 1:25:02
Filming on location started in December 1947, after which production moved to Hollywood in early 1948. The film is set two years after the end of the war. The destroyed city is still in ruins and its residents try to resume daily life. A group of congressmen arrive in Berlin to see the American soldiers at work. Among them is one woman, Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur). At the airport the committee members are welcomed by Captain John Pringle (John Lund). He has a secret affair with singer Erika Von Schluetow (Marlene Dietrich) who entertains the soldiers at the Lorelei nightclub.

After the reception at the airport, Captain Pringle goes to the black market where he exchanges the chocolate cake he received from Phoebe Frist for a mattress. This scene is set against the backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate. This former city gate was built in the neo-classical style from 1788 to 1791 and was standing in the Soviet sector. The building was badly damaged in the war. Of the original quadriga, the statue of the four horses with the goddess Victoria standing on top of the gate, only one of the horse's heads remained. The restoration, including a replica of the quadriga, was completed in 1957. The Brandenburg Gate is nowadays the symbol of (unified) Berlin. The statue with the spray-painted text "Der Sieg ist uns gewiss" ('Our victory is secure'), a slogan of the Nazis, is no longer there.

A Foreign Affair, 0:13:08
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 4 July 2019
A Foreign Affair, 0:13:18
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 4 July 2019

Captain Pringle takes the mattress to Erika Von Schluetow. He leaves on the Straße des 17. Juni with the Brandenburg Gate behind him. A little later he drives on the Tauentzienstraße with the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the background. After the war, the heavily damaged church was left untouched as a monument, but the surroundings have completely changed.

A Foreign Affair, 0:15:30
Straße des 17. Juni, Berlin, 4 July 2019
A Foreign Affair, 0:16:04
Tauentzienstraße, Berlin, 30 June 2019

The members of the congressional committee are driven around Berlin by Colonel Rufus J. Plummer (Millard Mitchell), with Phoebe Frist busy taking notes. They drive on the Straße des 17. Juni, behind them is the Siegessäule. This monument dates from 1873 and was erected to commemorate Prussia's victory over the Danes in the 1864 war. Similar to the Brandenburg Gate, a statue of the goddess Victoria is on top. There is a spiral staircase in the column, open to the public, that leads to a viewing platform.

A Foreign Affair, 0:22:47
Victory Column, Berlin, 28 June 2019

The Soviet War Memorial is being passed, erected shortly after the war to commemorate the fallen Russian soldiers. A little further is the damaged Reichstag building. Since 1999 the German parliament meets here, after years of restoration. Because of the many trees, only the flag on top of the building can be seen from the Straße des 17. June. When the car has driven under the Brandenburg Gate, the other side of the monument can be seen.

A Foreign Affair, 0:22:48
Soviet War Memorial, Berlin, 4 July 2019
A Foreign Affair, 0:22:55
Reichstag, Berlin, 3 July 2019
A Foreign Affair, 0:23:36
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 4 July 2019
A Foreign Affair, 0:33:21
Three new songs were composed for the film by Fredrick Hollander, who can also be seen as a pianist. He had previously written the songs for The Blue Angel from 1930, the breakthrough film of Marlene Dietrich. Although the opening credits state that the costumes were designed by Edith Head, the dresses that she wears during her performances are from her own collection. Dietrich had these made in close collaboration by Irene, an American fashion and costume designer with whom she had previously worked on two movies.

She wore the dresses, so-called "illusion gowns" because they appear to be translucent, during her appearances for soldiers at the front. The dress in which she performs the song "Illusions" can be seen in German movie museum Deutsche Kinemathek in the Sony Center where part of the permanent exhibition is dedicated to the career of Marlene Dietrich. For more information about the costumes that Marlene Dietrich wears in this movie, I highly recommend the blog post that Kimberley Truher wrote for her blog GlamAmor.

A Foreign Affair, 1:22:59
Museum of Film and Television,
Berlin, 29 June 2019

Marlene Dietrich performs for wounded
soldiers in Italy, May 1944

In 1960, Marlene Dietrich returned to her hometown for a performance of her one-woman show. On 4 May, she was received by Mayor Willy Brandt in the town hall of Schöneberg and outside greeted by a number of Berliners. This event was filmed by British Pathé but without sound. The town hall and the surrounding area have hardly changed.

Marlene Dietrich in Berlin, 0:00:27
Town Hall Schöneberg, Berlin, 30 June 2019
Marlene Dietrich in Berlin, 0:00:32
Town Hall Schöneberg, Berlin, 30 June 2019
Marlene Dietrich in Berlin, 0:00:38
John-F.-Kennedy-Platz, Berlin, 30 June 2019
Marlene Dietrich in Berlin, 0:00:41
John-F.-Kennedy-Platz, Berlin, 30 June 2019

In the same year, Marlene Dietrich was also photographed on the Tauentzienstraße in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. She was married in this church to Rudolf Sieber on 17 May 1923. Apart from the church, the view has changed completely.

Marlene Dietrich in Berlin, 1960
Tauentzienstraße, Berlin, 30 June 2019

Berlin has not forgotten Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992). In 2002 she was named honorary citizen and near the Sony Center is the Marlene-Dietrich-Platz.

Marlene-Dietrich-Platz, Berlin, 1 July 2019

Screenshots © Paramount Pictures/Universal Pictures
Photo Dietrich in Italy © National Archives and Records Administration
Photo Dietrich in Berlin © James Whitmore/The LIFE Picture Collection