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Sunday June 23rd 2024

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes | 2023

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes filming location: Olympic Stadium, Berlin
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes film location: the exterior of the Games Arena: Olympiastadion, Berlin

Discover where The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2023) was filmed around Germany – in Berlin, Cologne, Leipzig and Duisburg; and around Poland, in Wrocław and Lower Silesia.


Essentially an origin story for Coriolanus Snow (the President played by Donald Sutherland in the previous films), Songbirds and Snakes was based at the venerable the Babelsberg Studios at Potsdam, southwest of Berlin, and took full advantage of the city's outstanding architecture – from 1930s Fascist to cool modern – which has already proved a gift to the makers of dystopian fantasies.

To build the world of Panem, the production also moved to other German cities and to Poland.

In fact, although there are digital enhancements, the film is made almost entirely on practical locations.

The prologue, set during 'The Dark Days' of Panem after the war and three years before the commencement of the Games, sees young Coriolanus and his cousin Tigris foraging for food among the dismal ruins. Surprisingly, even this was filmed on real locations. It's Berlin's Karl Marx Allee, although plenty of set-dressing and CGI were needed to bring it to that decrepit state. We’ll see it later, closer to its smart modern appearance.

At the Snows' apartment, we're on the production's only purpose-built studio set. If the complex layout of the home seems incomprehensible, that's the result of a clever design conceit. Without an overhead view you'd struggle to work out that its plan is patterned after a hexagonal snowflake, a reference to the family name.

Prologue over, we leap forward to preparations for the 10th annual Hunger Games. The Snow family has fallen on hard times and 18-year-old Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) is preparing for Reaping Day when, not only are the Tributes from the various Districts to be chosen, but the prestigious Plinth Prize – and its substantial grant – is to be presented to the student with the best grades.

As Coriolanus makes his way to the ceremony, we see Karl Marx Allee, still enhanced with digital additions but not the wrecked wasteland it was earlier.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes filming location: Strausberger Platz, Berlin
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes film location: view of Panem: Strausberger Platz, Berlin

The ostentatious statue rising from a circle of fountains is fake but the fountains are real. This is Strausberger Platz, the huge crossroads at the junction of Karl-Marx-Allee and Lichtenberger Straße in Berlin’s Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district.

The ceremony is being held in 'Heavensbee Hall’, the pillared frontage of which is the Altes Museum (Old Museum), Bodestraße 1-3, on Museum Island, given grandeur with the digital addition of an extra story. Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is Berlin’s museum complex occupying the northern end of Spree Island in the Spree River.

The museum itself was built in 1830 and predates the idea of a museum district so when newer institutions were built alongside, it became "the Old Museum".

You can glimpse part of the island complex in 2011’s Unknown, with Liam Neeson, and we’ll be seeing more of it later in the film.

Inside the Hall, the assembled students are shocked to be told that the rules have been changed. They will each now be given the task of mentoring one of the Tributes and it’s the most effective Mentor who’ll be awarded the Prize.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes filming location: Bärensaal, Altes Stadthaus, Klosterstraße, Berlin
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes location: the prize-giving in 'Heavensbee Hall': Bärensaal, Altes Stadthaus, Klosterstraße, Berlin | Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo / Agencja Fotograficzna Caro

The Hall's interior is the Bärensaal (Bear Hall), the stone-arched lobby of the Altes Stadthaus (Old Town Hall), Klosterstraße 47 in Berlin. The most striking feature of the Bärensaal is carefully avoided on-screen – the sculpture of a bear, the symbol of Berlin for which it’s named.

The hall was previously seen in Equilibrium, the 2002 dystopian fantasy starring Christian Bale, and the town hall's entrance foyer in in Mockingjay Part Two. It's not generally open to the public, and they're quite strict about that as I discovered

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes filming location: Landscape Park, Duisburg
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes location: 'District 12': Landscape Park, Duisburg | Photograph: Shutterstock / hans engbers

With the Reaping, there's the first glimpse of 'District 12', poorest of the thirteen districts. This time around it is Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord (Landscape Park), Emscherstraße 71, at Duisburg, in the center of the Rhine-Ruhr Region, in the far west of Germany. A perfect match for the grim industrial setting, it’s a public park designed in 1991 on the site of a former coal and steel production plant which closed in 1985.

Not a typical ‘park’, it preserves the old industrial structures. The centre of the old steel mill is now Piazza Metallica, a space for public events and performances, and this is what’s used as the site of the Reaping as Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) is chosen as Tribute, capturing attention by bursting into impassioned song. She, naturally, is the one to be mentored by Coriolanus.

Convinced by his cousin Tigris (Hunter Schafer), Coriolanus realises that, if only for selfish reasons, he needs to win the trust of Lucy Gray.

That's how he finds himself the only Mentor waiting at the railway station for the arrival of the goods train carrying the Tributes, a scene chillingly reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s. This uses the Rheinisches Industriebahn-Museum Rhenish (Industrial Railway Museum), Longericher Straße 214, in Cologne.

This location was chosen for its collection of around 70 industrial rail vehicles – plus the track of course.

Recklessly, Coriolanus jumps aboard as the truck transporting the Tributes drives off, only to find himself dumped unceremoniously with them into an animal enclosure in 'Capital Zoo', where they're to be put on public display.

It's a pretty convincing zoo, but it's no more than a set built at a roundabout in Britzer Garten, Sangerhauser Weg 1, a landscape park opened in 1989 in the Britz district, to the south of Berlin.

Gathered with the other Mentors in the Capitol classroom, Coriolanus is about to be punished by Dean Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), the inventor of the Games, for his flagrant disregard of the rules. He's saved by the intervention of Dr Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis), Head Game Maker, who's savvy enough to realise that Coriolanus's gift for promotion is exactly what the ailing games need.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes film location: Langhansbau Anatomisches Theater (Anatomical Theater of the University of Veterinary Medicine), Philippstraße, Berlin
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes film location: the Capitol classroom: Langhansbau Anatomisches Theater (Anatomical Theater of the University of Veterinary Medicine), Philippstraße, Berlin | Photograph: Wikimedia / Matthias Heyde / HU Berlin

The distinctive white, circular lecture theatre is one of the spaces that feels like a studio set, but it’s not. It’s the Langhansbau Anatomisches Theater (Anatomical Theater of the University of Veterinary Medicine), Philippstraße 12/13, east of Luisenstraße in the historic quarter of Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt.

Dating from the 18th century, it’s the oldest surviving educational building in Berlin, designed to provide a good view of animal dissections for veterinary students. It’s now a museum and events space run by the Hermann von Helmholtz Center for Cultural Technology.

Did you recognise it from, yes, another dystopian fantasy, 2005's Aeon Flux, with Charlize Theron?

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes filming location: Monument to the Battle of the Nations, Leipzig
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes location: the Mentors meet the shackled Tributes: Monument to the Battle of the Nations, Leipzig | Photograph: Shutterstock / Vladimir Wrangel

The awkward getting-to-know-you session as Mentors meet shackled Tributes is filmed in an environment to so outlandishly theatrical with its gigantic statues that it's hard not to believe this has to be the product of the film’s Art Department, but in fact it’s one of the most famous landmarks in the German city of Leipzig.

It's the Monument to the Battle of Leipzig (Völkerschlachtdenkmal) known as the Battle of the Nations, when Austria, Prussia, Sweden and Russia united to defeat the forces of Napoleon in 1913. This was a big deal but has been somewhat overshadowed by the First World War which erupted within a year.

The crypt represents the symbolic grave of the more than 120,000 fallen soldiers – the eight pillars of the crypt are designed as giant death masks, in front of which two monumental guards stand. Pretty astonishing. We see the monument's towering exterior a little later.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes filming location: James Simon Galerie, Museum Island, Berlin
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes location: Coriolanus and Clemensia enter the 'War Department': James Simon Galerie, Museum Island, Berlin | Photograph: Shutterstock / Mistervlad

When Coriolanus and Clemensia Dovecote (Ashley Liao) need to make a presentation to Dr Gaul, they enter the ‘War Department’ via a wide, white staircase, which is the entrance to the James Simon Gallery, Bodestraße, on Berlin's Museum Island again.

But Dr Gaul’s imposing pillared space inside, filled with jars of the Doctor's grotesque experiments is somewhere else entirely. Believe it or not, this is a crematorium, the Krematorium Baumschulenweg, Kiefholzstraße 221 – more superlatives – the most modern cremation plant in Europe when it was opened in 1999. And it's been seen on-screen before in, yes, a dystopian nightmare, Aeon Flux again.

By the time we get to the Games Arena itself, what else could it have been but Berlin’s famed Olympiastadion (Olympic Stadium), with a little digital work. Built as Adolf Hitler’s centrepiece for the 1936 Olympic Games, its intimidatingly Fascist style has since been toned down a little by modern additions.

The curved passageway studded with wall-lamps evoking Ancient Roman imperialism, is the Olympiastadion’s exterior walkway. And, yes, you’ve already seen it in Equilibrium.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes filming location: Centennial Hall, Wroclaw, Poland
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes location: the Games Arena: Centennial Hall, Wroclaw, Poland | Photograph: Shutterstock / Sirio Carnevalino

The Olympic stadium is obviously open-air – so for the film, the enclosed interior was found miles away in Poland.

It's Hala Stulecia (Centennial Hall), Wystawowa 1, in Wrocław, southwestern Poland. Formerly Hala Ludowa (People's Hall), the venue was built in 1913 to host exhibitions, concerts, theatrical performances and sporting events.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes film location: Kuppelhalle, Sportpark, Berlin
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes film location: the Games Command Centre: Kuppelhalle, Sportpark, Berlin

It remains intact, by the way, and is still in use. All that convincing-looking damage done by rebel bombs was a digital illusion.

The Games’ Command Centre, where the Mentors monitor their screen and Lucretius 'Lucky' Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman) hosts the TV spectacle, is back in Berlin, and right next to the Olympic Stadium. This is the Kuppelhalle (Sportpark Berlin Kuppelsaal), Hanns-Braun-Straße 1 which, despite its radical design, was another part of the original 1930s Olympic Park, used for fencing events but now for gymnastics.

Coriolanus is so determined that Lucy should stay alive and win that he resorts to cheating. Discovered, he's banished to the Districts for 20 years.

The forbidding Peacekeeper Headquarters, where he bribes his way to get sent to District 12 is the Ullsteinhaus, Mariendorfer Damm 1–3 in Berlin's Templehof district. The tallest high-rise in Germany for 30 years, the intimidating-looking block was simply a former printing house, built in the 1920s in what's called the 'brick expressionist' style. Today it houses retail stores and also the Deutsches Museum Press.

The District 12 railway station takes us back to Duisburg’s Landschaftspark, but the '43rd Garrison Barracks', where Coriolanus and Sejanus (Josh Rivera) are to be trained as Peacekeepers, is the Großfunkstelle Nauen, the old Nauen Transmitter Station, Graf-Arco-Straße, 14641 Nauen, on the outskirts of Berlin.

Currently operated by Germany's state telecommunication service, Deutsche Telekom, it's the oldest continuously operating radio transmitting installation in the world, and another building from the Twenties.

The rest of District 12 is Landschaftspar, including ‘The Hob', the music venue where Coriolanus sees Lucy performing, and the 'Hanging Tree’, which was a set piece built in the park, digitally augmented with extra height.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes filming location: Grzedy Ponds, Grzedy, Lower Silesia
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes location: the lake in the countryside: Grzedy Ponds, Grzedy, Lower Silesia | Photograph: Shutterstock / Shutterstock / artu68

Once Coriolanus and Lucy venture outside the industrial complex, the countryside is the area around the city of Wałbrzych, Lower Silesia in south-western Poland.

The idyllic lake is Grzędy-Stawy (Grzędy Ponds), an artificial reservoir now known as a famous fishing pond, south of the village of Grzedy, itself about 47 miles south-west of Wrocław, toward the Czech border.

I assume you’ve seen the previous films, so it’s no spoiler to hint that all does not end happily, but it’s all back in the places we’ve already visited in Berlin.