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Business

German Film Studio Changes Hands

Berlin's ailing Babelsberg Studio faces a new future with owner Vivendi International planning to sell it to German investors for a symbolic price of one euro. Vivendi will also pay the studio's million-euro debts.

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Babelsberg provided the backdrop for the Oscar-winner "The Pianist"

Joint French-American media group Vivendi International announced it will sell Babelsberg, Germany's largest and most historic film studio, to a group of investors led by Carl Woebcken and Christoph Fisser for €1 ($1.20).

The Paris-based group also underlined that it would take over the unprofitable studio's older debts pegged at €18 million ($22.28 million). According to film industry sources, the studio, located in Potsdam, southwest of Berlin, was making losses of around €10 million yearly in recent years.

Vivendi however was at pains to stress that current film projects would not be affected by the change in ownership and said that the future owners wanted to focus on directing television films in Babelsberg and develop the studio's television production facilities.

Woebcken is the CEO of Berlin Animation Fonds, an animation production company.

Until last week, Studio Hamburg, a subsidiary of German public broadcaster NDR looked the most likely candidate to buy Babelsberg. But talks collapsed after apparent differences with Vivendi over finances.

Steeped in history

Founded in 1912, the sprawling leafy grounds of the Babelsberg Studio are steeped in history.

Metropolis

A scene from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"

The cinematic birthplace of legendary German diva Marlene Dietrich and the setting of classics such as "Nosferatu" and Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (photo), the studio also served as a backdrop for the production of hundreds of Nazi-tainted films between 1933 and the end of the Second World War.

It also became home to the DEFA Film, a famous East German film company during Communist rule in East Germany.

Money problems

In recent years Hollywood blockbusters such as Matt Damon's "Bourne Supremacy" have been shot at Babelsberg, while stars Tom Cruise and Charlize Theron are planning to work there on big-budget international films this summer.

Despite its international reputation and the fact that more than 3,000 films have been shot at Babelsberg since its founding, the studio has suffered from a perennial cash crunch and has not made a profit since the 1930s. In 1992, it was sold to Vivendi Universal, which has attempted to turn it into a major European film studio, but has been hampered by its own financial troubles.

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