‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ inspired by storied resorts of yesteryear

The old hotel stands atop a pine-covered mountain overlooking a historic spa town in central Europe. Guests, assorted aristocrats, grand dames, writers and rich tourists arrive by funicular to be greeted by an immaculately dressed concierge and uniformed bellboys. 


Inside, it’s all gilded ballrooms, sweeping stairwells, rooms the size of warehouses and white-gloved waiters serving cocktails and pastries on silver trays.

Who doesn’t love a grand hotel?

Sadly, in this case, the hotel in question does not exist. “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” the latest movie from director Wes Anderson, is set in a fictional hotel in a fictional European country in a period spanning World War I and World War II. But the architecture, design and style of the hotel – from the imperious façade with its towering cupolas right down to the cakes served in its café – were meticulously researched by Anderson and production designer Adam Stockhausen, who visited luxury hotels and historic spa towns in several European countries that would suit the era and atmosphere of the film.

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So, since The Grand Budapest Hotel does not exist – Stockhausen built a miniature model for exterior shots, and interiors were filmed in an abandoned department store in Gorlitz, Germany – what hotels inspired the movie?

“Our primary influence was the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic,” says Stockhausen, who worked with Anderson on his previous film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” and was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on “12 Years a Slave.”

“It’s a great insight into the sophistication and luxury of the period,” he said.

A 228-room luxury hotel with a medical spa, five restaurants and a cafe, James Bond fans will recognize the Pupp as the Hotel Splendide in 2006’s “Casino Royale,” starring Daniel Craig. Built in 1701, the hotel’s gray exterior does not exactly match the bright, sugar-icing-pink façade of the Grand Budapest Hotel – “Wes insisted on pink for it,” Stockhausen says – but the large sign above the roof and its red-carpeted lobby bar and flagship restaurant, Grandrestaurant, are reminiscent of the movie’s ballroom and restaurant.

The Pupp’s history was an influence, too. It was founded by a confectioner named Johann Georg Pupp, and, perhaps in tribute, an elaborately decorated snowman-shaped confection with pink and green icing features prominently in Anderson’s movie. Another echo is that the Pupp was nationalized in 1950 by Czechoslovakia’s communist government and gradually fell into decline. A similar change occurs in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” when it goes from a vibrant resort in a free country to a drab, gray and ominous space after socialists assume power in the fictional country. Fortunately for those looking to visit the Pupp today, it was privatized in 1989 after the Berlin Wall fell and has been returned to its former glory.

Talking of Berlin, Anderson and Stockhausen also visited the celebrated Hotel Adlon, now part of the Kempinski group, in the German capital. An opulent 382-room property set on Pariser Platz Square close to the Brandenburg Gate, it was established in 1907 and became an intrigue-heavy hangout for journalists, ambassadors and socialites in the 1930s, in the run-up to World War II. Nazis frequently visited, too, and this finds an echo in the film when the fascist Zig-Zags – they have ZZs on their uniforms, instead of SS officer rank insignias – pay a visit to the Grand Budapest Hotel. 

In terms of its design, though, the original Hotel Adlon was mostly destroyed by a fire accidentally lit by Red Army soldiers in 1945, having somehow survived the Allied bombing. After 1945 it was part of communist East Germany and was demolished. A new hotel was built on the site after German reunification.

Many of the grand old western European hotels Anderson and Stockhausen visited have been rebuilt and redesigned so much over the years that they are no longer what they were in the era the film represents. These include The Savoy and the St Pancras (formerly the 1873-built Midland Grand Hotel) in London, which were both on their itinerary. That said, the top hat and tails the doormen wear at The Savoy are not too far from the look employed by Ralph Fiennes, the concierge, in the film.

As for American hotels, one in New York was on their list: “I looked at the pictures of the Waldorf Astoria – the old Waldorf – the ballroom in particular,” says Stockhausen.

Sadly, the old Waldorf, which stood at Fifth Avenue on the site of today’s Empire State Building, no longer exists, having relocated to Park Avenue in 1931.

For those who can’t travel to Europe or New York to visit any of these hotels, it’s worth noting that Stockhausen spent many hours at the Library of Congress in Washington looking at vintage Photochrom postcards of grand European spa hotels as they once were. So there’s always a postcard.

Douglas Rogers was born and raised in Zimbabwe. He is the author of "The Last Resort: A Memoir of Mischief and Mayhem on a Family Farm in Africa" (Broadway Books 2010).