World War II miniseries changes Swiss town

Wednesday, September 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INTERLAKEN, Switzerland – Above the town hall, the Stars and Stripes have replaced the Swiss flag. The main square is filled with soldiers. And the local bank is under military control.

Disruption and confusion – coupled with excitement and hilarity – reign as scenic parts of central Switzerland are transformed into a giant movie set for the filming of a World War II miniseries from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

The $120 million Band of Brothers follows an elite and feared group of U.S. paratroopers from their training in Georgia to their achievements in France on D-Day, their capture of Adolf Hitler's Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgaden, Germany, and occupation of Zell am See in Austria.

Most of the series is being filmed at Hatfield Studios, a former British aerospace factory north of London where Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Hanks teamed up for Saving Private Ryan.

But filming continued until this week on the Swiss locations, which include a mountain pass, a lakeside hotel and parts of the tourist resort of Interlaken, all chosen as more "authentic" than their real-life Austrian and German equivalents.

"It's terrific that this is happening. It will mean more tourists coming and the place will become famous," rejoices Theres Bhend, who owns a small vacation apartment in Unterseen, a picturesque Interlaken suburb selected because of its fine old town square.

To give the setting a "genuine" 1945 feel, all geraniums have been removed from window boxes, street lights disguised, white parking strips covered and billboards replaced with such advertisements as one for Dr. Thomas' "great internal and external" healing potion.

It's too genuine for some.

An elderly woman searches in confusion for her local bank, temporarily transformed into aprovisions shop with a large proclamation by the "Military Government-Austria" pinned on the door.

"I thought we were in Switzerland, not Austria," comments British tourist John Callaghan.

"Don't worry, it's just another film about the Americans winning the war," replies his wife, Joan, as the couple joins other tourists from nearby hotels to gawk at the action.

Orders and insults ricochet around the town square as the production team's military adviser, Dale Dye, rehearses about 150 Swiss extras.

Mr. Dye says the Swiss extras are better than many because they have to do national service and so have basic training in handling weapons. They are also enthusiastic, as relatively few films are made in Switzerland.

After about three hours, he and Mikael Salomon (Hard Rain) are satisfied.

Despite the chilly morning rain, the local extras apparently enjoy the experience.

"I was actually in Austria in 1945, so I know the way it was and how local people felt," says 78-year-old Charlotte Hermanns, a German-born retired fashion designer cast as a nervous elderly Austrian watching the Americans on parade.

The entire seven-day shoot in Switzerland, which needed some four months of logistical preparations, 75 trucks, busloads of equipment and cost nearly $2 million, will likely result in less than seven minutes of screen time.

The series is based on historian Stephen Ambrose's nonfiction book about Easy Company of the U.S. Army's 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. It is due to be aired next year on HBO. Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Hanks are executive producers, leaving others to deal with the hands-on production.