NOT an abandoned Scottish Medieval village

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
August 23, 2023

This photo has been going around the internet claiming to have been taken in an old abandoned medieval village in Scotland.

©Alex Friedrich

It wasn’t.

It is a gorgeous photo and a wonderful setting, it makes your imagination run wild, where exactly is it, would you be able to visit it, why was it abandoned… how has that very old bucket survived hanging in water like that…?

As romantic and exciting the idea of an centuries old deserted village is and although there really are abandoned villages in Scotland, the photo does not show that, it wasn’t even taken in Scotland.

The scene almost looks like something out of a fairytale and that’s because it is, a modern day sort of fairytale: a film.

It is relatively easy to find out where the photo was really taken, several fact checkers have already discovered that it was taken at Studio Babelsberg, just outside Berlin in Germany, the oldest large scale film studio in the world.
The property uses a total area of about 460,000 square metres (5,000,000 sq ft), thanks to its size they can afford to leave film sets standing in stead of demolishing them as soon as the filming is finished.
Although the Studio has a very popular and large film theme-park attached to it, with a “medieval” area, the place where the photo was taken is not accessible to the public.
So the photo had to have been taken by someone working on a film.
On the Babelsberg website I found out that the filmset was last used for the shooting of ‘Hansel and Gretel Witch hunters’ filmed in the first half of 2011.

Source; Babelsberg

I’m sorry to say that the set has unfortunately been taken down since then.
These photos show the filmset and the current situation;

Source; Studio Babelsberg
The backlot today, the set is gone.
Source; Google Maps

This is a video shot on the filmset, you can clearly see its the same location;

And here is a little clip from the film showing the town square;

© Paramount Pictures

The photo started getting attention when it was shared online on the Imgur image hosting website with the imaginative title ‘Skyrim in real life‘, after the popular video game.

Source; Imgur

Even though one of the commenters already explained that it was a film set, the picture soon started living a life of it’s own.

When someone shared it online as an abandoned village in Scotland, it triggered people’s imagination and it went sort of viral.
People have been claiming the Scotland story since at least 2015.

I never considered writing an article about the photo because so many fact checkers had already debunked it, sometimes using one of my tweets as a source, but it did annoy me that the real origin of the photo had remained a mystery.
But recently I decided to take one last look at this case and had a breakthrough.

Trying to once more find the source of the photo I stumbled upon a Flickr account with that photo, but there were several other pictures on that page that made me wonder if the person who uploaded them had perhaps also made them.
The photo was uploaded in 2013, earlier than any other copy of the photo I found online and from his Flickr account it became clear that user 3PASSA was into Urban exploring (or Urbex, if you’re hip and cool), which involves going around old abandoned buildings and taking pictures.
The result is often gorgeous and stunning, but always fascinating.
Old abandoned hospitals, army barracks, factories, broken windows, left behind artefacts and spooky rooms.
You can check out 3PASSA‘s photos on his Flickr page by clicking here.
Many of the photos he made were taken in and around Berlin, another clue.
His Flickr profile mentioned another account he had, which was all about the props and models he made, I clearly was on the right track, someone living in Berlin, working in the film and TV industry, who uploaded a photo of a Berlin film set.. yes I was so close!

I did a bit of detective work, via his Flickr profile I had learned his name was Alex, he made props and models, lived and worked in Berlin.
I’ve worked in the same line of work for quite a few years, yes besides as a researcher I also dressed a few historical sets, made some props and even was involved with special effects.
So I pulled a few strings, bothered some of the people in the business I used to work with and looked everywhere.
Once more luck was on my side, I found a certain Alex Friedrich on Linkedin and when I checked his website it was clear that I found the right man.

I contacted Alex and when he replied he confirmed that he had taken THE photo and that he knew the photo was being shared with the fake story attached to it.
But he also told me that the village was originally not built for ‘Hansel and Gretel Witch hunters’ (2013) but for ‘Anonymous’ (2011), a film about Shakespeare!
Here’s a little clip showing the set as it appeared in the film;

© Columbia Pictures

Originally it even had a replica of the famous Globe theatre, but once filming was done it was demolished while the rest of the buildings were turned into the town we know from the later film.

On this photo you can see the Globe theatre on the left that was part of the original set.
Source; Studio Babelsberg

Alex worked on Hansel & Gretel as a props maker and took a few pictures after the filming was done.
He also told me that that both sets were built during the winter, sometimes with temperatures of -10 degrees!
Which may sound insane but of course most films are recorded in spring and summer and building a set takes a while, so sometimes there’s no other way.
The show must go on!

Another view of the village, photo also made by Alex.
©Alex Friedrich

There are real abandoned villages in Scotland, although of course none of those look like the ones in the photos above.
There’s for instance the islands of St Kilda, lived on for almost 2000 years but abandoned in the 1930s, and the village of Lawers near Perhshire, which recently made the news when it was put up for sale, including old ruins and a ghost.

Village of Lawers
Source; nz_willowherb

I felt like a detective who cracked another case, of course few people will care while many will just be annoyed when I tell them all this as they’re just innocently sharing a fun picture on social media.
But it is just so rewarding to solve a mystery, no matter how important it is or isn’t.