Swastikas flutter in the balmy breeze of an early summer’s day in Belfast to the bafflement of tourists and passers-by enjoying an otherwise unremarkable sunny Sunday in the city.
There was a simple explanation for the Nazi paraphernalia — the recreation of 1933 Berlin for the filming of Christopher and His Kind, a BBC TV dramatisation of the life of gay English writer and Berlin emigre Christopher Isherwood.
Onlookers watched in surprise as old-fashioned buses and motorcycles with sidecars sped along Donegall Street in the Cathedral Quarter — transformed into Nollendorfplatz where Isherwood lived in Berlin and the setting of his most famous novels.
The street was converted yesterday to wrap ‘scene 98’ of the drama which has been filming at various locations across Northern Ireland all week.
The company is rumoured to be using a number of other well-known back-drops including Mount Stewart House in Newtownards, nearby Ballywalter Park Estate and the Scottish Mutual Building behind City Hall in Belfast over the coming weeks.
Well used to time travel, new Doctor Who actor Matt Smith was seen sporting a 1930s period dress and a Brylcreemed barnet for his starring role as Isherwood.
Nothing was left to chance as the production company sought to create an authentic 1930s Berlin feel.
Crew pasted up posters for the Volksfest (carnival) 1933 and Deutschland Ernacht on the walls and old cups and saucers were on standby to adorn the tables of pavement Cafe Nollendorfplatz where Christopher may well sip on an espresso and chew on a breakfast pretzel.
Christopher and His Kind is a dramatisation of Ishwerood’s 1976 autobiography.
He escaped buttoned-up English society for the raunchy, liberated atmosphere of Weimar Germany Berlin in the 1920s.
Berlin expanded Isherwood’s horizons and inspired novels like Goodbye to Berlin, which gave him a reputation as one of the 20th century’s greatest writers of prose.
But in 1933, Berlin was on the cusp of mayhem as Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party began its murderous reign.
The activity piqued the curiosity of Leonard Andrion and his 11-year-old son Aaron as they observed filming yesterday. “It’s so exciting,” Mr Andrion said. “Aaron is so engrossed with Germany. He even knows all the rifles, and can’t wait to see some motorcycles with sidecars.”
Isherwood’s works have enjoyed a renaissance in recent months, with a film of his 1964 novel A Simple Man, about the bereavement of a gay man after the loss of his partner, enjoying major critical acclaim.Goodbye to Berlin is the best-known of his works, thanks to the haunting portrayal by Liza Minnelli of the Kit Kat club’s cabaret singer Sally Bowles in Cabaret, the film of a musical based on the novel.