Berlin gentrification takes spotlight in new film by actor Daniel Brühl

German-Spanish actor Daniel Brühl called on some of his more "humiliating" Hollywood experiences for the black comedy "Next Door", his directorial debut premiering in competition at this week's Berlinale film festival.

Berlin gentrification takes spotlight in new film by actor Daniel Brühl
Brühl in a Berlin 'Kneipe' in a scene from Nebenan. Photo: DPA

The German-Spanish Brühl, who shot to fame aged 25 with the bittersweet Berlinale contender “Good Bye, Lenin!”, is now himself up for the Golden Bear top prize Friday at an event that has gone all-virtual due to the pandemic.

Since his early success, Brühl, now 42, has starred in hits including “Rush”, TV series “The Alienist” and the “Captain America” franchise.

READ ALSO: Germany holds virtual Berlinale film festival 

“Next Door” (Nebenan) tells the story of Daniel, a preening German-Spanish actor played by Brühl who like the director himself lives in a gentrified district of Berlin and is up for a role in a major superhero movie.

On his way to the airport, he stops in at one of the German capital’s traditional corner pubs to rehearse his lines.

‘Vain and narcissistic’

Trying to understand his character’s “motivation”, Daniel frantically calls Marvel executives begging them for more pages of the top-secret screenplay so he can better prepare.

Daniel practises the ridiculous dialogue with a familiar Marvel comics growl while watched by Bruno, a mysterious local sitting at the bar who soon reveals he knows more about Daniel’s life than he should.

Bruno is a native East Berliner who doesn’t take kindly to the wealthy newcomers who have moved into the area and driven up prices, and he’s immune to Daniel’s attempts to charm him.

Their small talk turns combative, then sinister as Bruno shows the unctuous Daniel who actually has the upper hand.

Despite the obvious parallels, Brühl joked, “I’m a vain and narcissistic man but I’m not as horrible as the guy we see in the movie”.

He told AFP he wanted “Next Door” to tackle both the transformation of Berlin, where rents have increased more than 75 percent over the last decade, and the occasional silliness of the entertainment industry.

READ ALSO: In graphs: How gentrification has changed Berlin

“I’m making fun of all the (movie) projects, all the ones that I really loved doing. But I also had some experiences in which I felt ridiculous and humiliated,” he said.

“I mean being sent a page where everything is watermarked and blurred and then you have three lines and don’t have any context and people expect you to pull off some magic performance and you think like ‘what the fuck, what is this?'”

‘Ich bin kein Berliner’

Brühl called it “a very purging, cleansing experience for me to show this humiliating aspect finally in a movie”.

But he admitted to being a little afraid of biting the hand that feeds him with his savage satire.

“Someone like (Marvel president) Kevin Feige — he has a great sense of humour. That’s something I like about Marvel. So I hope that when these guys see the movie they understand the joke,” he said.

He sought inspiration from the Coen brothers and fellow actor-turned-director Julie Delpy for the wild shifts in mood in the movie, which was written by bestselling German author Daniel Kehlmann.

Brühl, who grew up in the western German city of Cologne but whose parents live in Barcelona, has called Berlin’s now upscale Prenzlauer Berg district home since the early 2000s.

He said he wanted to take on the ongoing friction between rich and poor in Berlin as well as easterners and westerners three decades after the Wall fell.

“I was privileged to be rather successful as a young man being an actor,” he said.

“But no matter where I went, I always felt like an invader, be it in Prenzlauer Berg or in Barcelona where I found an apartment in 2010.”

He said that even today, Berlin can still give him that fish-out-of-water feeling.

“Even after 20 years, there’s certain encounters that I have where I truly feel, ‘Ich bin kein Berliner’ (I’m not a Berliner).”

By Deborah Cole

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Eight amazing German museums to explore this spring

With thousands of years of history in Germany to explore, you’re never going to run out of museums to scratch the itch to learn about and fully experience the world of the past.

Eight amazing German museums to explore this spring

Here are eight of our favourite museums across Germany’s 16 states for you to discover for yourself. 

Arche Nebra

Nebra, Saxony-Anhalt

One day, around 1600 BCE, local Bronze Age peoples buried one of their most precious objects – the Nebra Sky Disk, a copper, gold, and bronze disk that acted as a calendar to help them plant crops. This was a matter of life and death at the time. 

Over three thousand years later, in 1999, it was uncovered by black market treasure hunters, becoming Germany’s most significant archaeological find. 

While the Sky Disk itself is kept in the (really very good)  State Museum of Pre- and Early History in nearby Halle, the site of the discovery is marked by the Arche Nebra, a museum explaining prehistoric astronomy and the cultural practices of the people who made it. 

Kids will love the planetarium, explaining how the disk was used. 

Atomkeller Museum

Halgerloch, Baden-Württemberg

From the distant to the very recent past – in this case, the Nazi atomic weapons programme. Even as defeat loomed, Nazi scientists such as Werner Heisenberg were trying to develop a nuclear bomb. 

While this mainly took place in Berlin, an old beer cellar under the town of Halgerloch, south of Stuttgart, was commandeered as the site of a prototype fission reactor. 

A squad of American soldiers captured and dismantled the reactor as the war ended. Still, the site was later turned into a museum documenting German efforts to create a working reactor – one that they could use to develop a bomb.

It’s important to note that you don’t need to be a physicist to understand what they were trying to do here, as the explanatory materials describe the scientist’s efforts in a manner that is easy to understand. 

German National Museum

Nuremberg, Bavaria

Remember that scene at the end of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, where an unnamed government official wheels the Ark of the Covenant into an anonymous government warehouse? This could possibly be the German equivalent – albeit far better presented. 

The German National Museum was created in 1852 as a repository for the cultural history of the German nation – even before the country’s founding. In the intervening 170 years, it’s grown to swallow an entire city block of Nuremberg, covering 60,000 years of history and hundreds of thousands of objects. 

If it relates to the history of Germany since prehistoric times, you’re likely to find it here.

Highlights include several original paintings and etchings by Albrecht Dürer, the mysterious Bronze Age ‘Gold Hats’, one of Europe’s most significant collections of costuming and musical instruments, and a vast display of weapons, armour and firearms. 

European Hansemuseum

Lübeck, Schleswig-Holstein

In the late Middle Ages, the political and economic centre of the world was focused on the North Sea and the Baltic German coasts. 

This was the domain of the Hanseatic League, one of the most powerful trading alliances in human history. Centuries before the Dutch and British East India Companies, they made in-roads to far-flung corners.

The European Hansemuseum in the former Hanseatic city of Lübeck tells the story of the league’s rise and eventual fall, its day-to-day operations, and its enduring legacy.

This museum is fascinating for adults and kids. It uses original artefacts and high-tech interactive elements to tell tales of maritime adventure. Younger visitors will also be enchanted by the museum’s augmented reality phone app that asks them to help solve mysteries. 

Fugger & Welser Adventure Museum

Augsburg, Germany

The Hanseatic League was not the only economic power in the late Middle Ages. The Fugger and Welser families of Augsburg may have been the richest in the world until the 20th century.

From humble beginnings, both families grew to become incredibly powerful moneylenders, funding many of the wars of the 16th century and the conquest of the New World.

The Fugger & Welser Adventure Museum not only explains the rise of both patrician families but also the practices that led to their inconceivable wealth—including, sadly, the start of the Transatlantic slave trade. 

The museum also documents the short-lived Welser colony in Venezuela, which, if it had survived, could have resulted in a very different world history.

This museum has many high tech displays, making it a very exciting experience for moguls of any age.

Teutoburg Forest Museum

Kalkriese, Lower Saxony

Every German child learns this story at some point: One day at the end of summer 9 AD, three legions of the Roman army marched into the Teutoburg forest… and never came out. 

Soldiers sent after the vanished legions discovered that they had been slaughtered to a man.

Arminius, a German who had been raised as a Roman commander, had betrayed the three legions to local Germanic tribes, who ambushed them while marching through the forest. 

Today, the probable site of the battle – we can’t entirely be sure – is marked by a museum called the Varusschlacht Museum (Literally ‘Varus Battle Museum’, named after the loyal Roman commander). 

The highlights here are the finds – made all the more eerie by the knowledge that they were looted and discarded from the legionaries in the hours following the ambush. 

German Romanticism Museum

Frankfurt, Hesse

The Romantic era of art, music and literature is one of Germany’s greatest cultural gifts to the world, encompassing the work of poets such as Goethe and Schiller, composers like Beethoven and artists in the vein of Caspar David Friedrich.

Established in 2021 next to the house where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born, the German Romanticism Museum is the world’s largest collection of objects related to the Romantic movement. 

In addition to artefacts from some of the greatest names in German romanticism, in 2024, you’ll find a major exhibition exploring Goethe’s controversial 1774 novel, ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, and another on the forest as depicted as dark and dramatic in the art of the period. 

Gutenberg Castle

Haßmersheim, Baden-Württemberg

Sometimes being a smaller castle is a good thing. The relatively small size and location of Guttenburg Castle, above the River Neckar near Heilbronn, protected it from war and damage over eight hundred years – it’s now the best preserved Staufer-era castle in the country.

While the castle is still occupied by the Barons of Gemmingen-Guttenberg, the castle now also contains a museum, that uses the remarkably well-preserved castle interiors to explore centuries of its history – and the individuals that passed through it.

After you’ve explored the museum—and the current exhibition that uses Lego to document life in the Middle Ages —it’s also possible to eat at the castle’s tavern and stay overnight!