Is Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Real?

The Academy Award-winning movie The Grand Budapest Hotel took us to a different time and place. Set in the fictional Eastern Europe’s Republic of Zubrowka pre-WWII, viewers were taken to a mountainside resort only the wealthy could afford. Filled with murder, mystery, and intrigue, and touched with a sprinkle of comedy, writer-director Wes Anderson took his audience to a hotel almost anyone would love to visit. But was that opulent pink location a real hotel? Let’s look.

A model of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
The Grand Budapest Hotel | Justin Baker/Getty Images

What was the ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ about?

The film begins in the mid-1980s when a woman seizes the opportunity to read a book, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” she finds in a cemetery. It was written by someone only known as The Author. The Author (Jude Law) had earlier ventured to Zubrowka to see the formerly affluent Grand Budapest Hotel that had fallen on hard times with few guests.

He befriends an elderly man, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) the hotel’s owner. The two sit down to dinner, and Zero tells his story, according to IMDb. In 1932, the young Zero (Tony Revolori) is a bellhop trainee at the hotel whom the concierge, M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) takes a liking to.

Zero, an undocumented worker, earns a permanent position and becomes Gustave’s confidant. No one knows who owns the hotel. Gustave charms every senior lady who stays at the hotel and takes them to bed. Zero meets the love of his life, Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), who works at the pastry shop.

One of Gustave’s lady friends, Madame D (Tilda Swinton), is found dead at home in her bathroom. According to her will, she left some things to family members, but a recently added codicil leaves Gustave her cherished painting, “Boy with Apple.” At this point, Madame D’s son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) becomes an active part of the film. 

Upon return to the hotel, Gustave is arrested as a suspect in Madame D’s murder. Zero works with Agatha to stash tools in pastries that Gustave and his new friends, members of the Society of the Crossed Keys, can use to escape. The rumblings of WWII are afoot, while others connected to the Madame D case are also murdered. Gustave and Zero are on the run.

Gustave, Zero, and Agatha return to the hotel to retrieve the painting just as Dimitri and his sisters arrive. Confidential paperwork attached to the back reveals a second will vindicating Gustave of Madame D’s murder and leaving him businesses she owned including full ownership of the hotel.

Dimitri, now the prime suspect in his mother’s murder, disappears. Zero is promoted to concierge. Zero and Agatha are married, but she dies while carrying their first child. Gustave is killed by soldiers in defense of Zero, who remains undocumented.

The elderly Zero finishes his story by telling The Author that Gustave left everything to him. The Author asks if Zero keeps the failing hotel in memory of Gustave. No, he has kept it as a tribute to Agatha and the best years of his life. The film ends with the woman finishing the book.

Numerous noteworthy actors appear in the film including Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson, and Owen Wilson. 

Zubrowka is fictional, what about the hotel?

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Zubrowka began to take shape after a visit to the spa town of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. “The town has a great quality to it,” said set designer Adam Stockhausen. “It has pastel-colored buildings along the river and several hotels in the hills above the town,” he told National Geographic. “It had all the right elements but not in the right places.”

Stockhausen, who won the Oscar for Best Production Design for the film, got to work and created his own country. The Grand Budapest Hotel is indeed fictional. The glorious pink building’s exterior is a model. Its lobby was set up in a vacant department store in Gorlitz Germany, inspired by the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary.

Other local hotels lent inspiration to the Grand Budapest including the Hotel Imperial, which is perched high on a mountain overlooking the city, according to Roadtrippers. The coat check area was influenced by a Prague municipal building.

Where were other scenes from the ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ filmed?

Germany was the hub for filming the movie. Mendl’s confectionary shop, for example, was filmed in Pfunds Molkerei, a Dresden Germany creamery Stockhausen found to be “overwhelmingly beautiful.” Checkpoint 19 was filmed at Osterstein Castle in Zwickau, Germany. It had served as a Nazi prison camp later becoming a nursing home.

The castle is currently awaiting approval as a museum. When Deputy Kovacs (Goldblum) was chased around an art museum, the scene was filmed in Dresden’s Zwinger Museum. The museum, originally built in the 18th century was nearly bombed out in WWII.

Rebuilt, it now houses a large collection of European paintings and the largest porcelain collection in the world. As for the name of the country, Republic of Zubrowka, Anderson borrowed it from a Polish bison grass vodka.