In the opening scene of the film, where Traudl is being interviewed for the position of Hitler's secretary in late 1942, she introduces herself to him as Traudl Humps. However, in all scenes in the bunker in April 1945, she is referred to as Frau Junge. In June 1943, Traudl, with Hitler's approval, married Waffen-SS officer Hans Hermann Junge, who was subsequently killed in action in France in August 1944. Because the film jumps directly from 1942 to 1945, these events are not depicted. However, her name change is correct.
Most of the outdoor city scenes for the movie were filmed in Saint Petersburg, Russia. This was for two reasons: one, the architecture of the city has many Germanic aspects, and two, there are plenty of streets with little or no modern advertisements and other commercial aspects.
Also helping Bruno Ganz in preparing for the role was the unique, only known recording of Adolf Hitler when he held a private conversation with Field Marshal Gustaf Mannerheim of Finland; at that time, he was a World War II ally of Germany against the Soviet Union. Hitler unexpectedly showed up to congratulate Mannerheim on his 75th birthday on June 4, 1942. Finnish intelligence agents secretly made the recording in a train wagon, as Hitler did not allow recordings nor photographs to be taken in private. Some eleven minutes of the recording feature relaxed, normal-tone talk in which Hitler generally describe his views about the war. One of two copies of the tape was discovered in 1992 and has since been studied by scientists and historians.
The button that Adolf Hitler removes from his jacket and gives to Magda Goebbels is the Gold Nazi Party badge, awarded to high-ranking party members who had constant membership from 1925. Hitler gave himself Badge No. 1 when he authorized it in 1933, even though he was not the first party member. The Soviets found the badge in the bunker and it was stored in a vault at the Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters. In 1996 the FSB, the Russian Federation successor to the Soviet KGB, revealed that it had the badge and in 2005 put it on display. In November that year, it was stolen in a brazen smash-and-grab raid. The burglar escaped even though he triggered the display alarms. So far, it has not yet been recovered.
The featured interview samples of real Traudl Junge are taken from the documentary "Blind Spot", recorded in April and July 2001. Due to serious health problems, Junge was unable to attend the film's premiere on February 9, 2002. The premiere had been a great success and the camera man went to the hospital to inform Junge, whereupon she is said to have answered, "My life work is accomplished. Now I can let go." Just hours later, she died at age 82, after a long fight against cancer.
Of the thirty-seven named real-life people featured as characters in the film, Rochus Misch was the only one who was still alive when the film was released. He died on September 5, 2013 at the age of 96.
After the film's release, Bruno Ganz stated that, at first, he did not want the role of Adolf Hitler. After viewing the film The Last Ten Days (1955) and Albin Skoda's portrayal of Hitler, however, Ganz realized the role could be played with some depth, and accepted the part.
Karl Richter, a member of the German NPD, managed to get into the movie via the normal way. He played the uncredited part of Generalfeldmarschall Keitel's adjutant. He later expressed his pleasure and satisfaction when the casting department asked him to try on the uniform, lift his right arm and shout "Heil Hitler." The filmmakers did not know who he was and that he actually was quite experienced in performing the salute.
Clips from this movie are used in numerous parodies that appear on YouTube in which a scene (usually the one of Adolf Hitler yelling at his subordinates) is re-subtitled to imbue it with unintended comedic meaning. The first such video was "Hitler gets banned from Xbox Live;" other subjects include: Nashville's gas crisis of 2008, changes to Epcot at Walt Disney World, the delay of the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), fans' disappointment with the first Avatar (2009) trailer, the "Balloon Boy" hoax of October 2009, and Brett Favre signing with the Vikings. Many of the parodies have Hitler yelling at his subordinates about punctuation or spelling errors, in reference to the fact that sticklers for editing are sometimes derided as "Grammar Nazis." In 2010, Constantin Films, which owns the rights to Downfall (2004), started taking down the parodies, arguing that their copyright was being infringed. Shortly thereafter, new parody videos appeared decrying Constantin Films' actions as "Naziesque." Contrary to the reaction of Constantin Films, director Oliver Hirschbiegel claimed to have seen over a hundred of such parodies and enjoyed them very much. YouTube has since stopped blocking these parodies. As of August 2019, the most well-know creator of the parodies, "Hitler Rants Parodies", continues to have a presence on YouTube, with new material ranging from light comedy to biting political satire subtitling.
Adolf Hitler was a teetotaler. He never drank alcohol and he never smoked. Several times officers are seen hastely doucing lit cigarettes in front of Hitler, as it was one of the many things he forbade in his presence. After Hitler commits suicide, several officers are seen lighting cigarettes, now free from the Führer's commands.
Christian Berkel, who portrayed Schenck, stated his own background was not too far from his character. His father was also a doctor during the war, arrested by the Russians afterward and then released. His mother's side, however, was Jewish. Almost all of his relatives on her side, save his grandmother and two cousins, were lost in the camps.
During the letters montage, Magda Goebbels is seen writing a letter to her son, Harald Quandt (there is a picture of him in front of her), by her first husband, industrialist Günther Quandt. He was her only child to survive the war. In 1944, as a Lieutenant in the Luftwaffe, Quandt was injured and captured by the Allies in Italy. He was released in 1947 and later died in an air crash in 1967.
In the scene where Peter Kranz and other teens return home, they stop near a dead young woman in an armored half-track. This incident refers to a well-known photo. The woman is supposed to be the member of the Norwegian Red Cross, attached to SS Division "Nordland." The Czech-produced half-track OT-810 (post-war production) was used in the movie.
Adolf Hitler mentions during his tirade, after learning of Steiner's failure to mount the counter-attack, that he should have executed all his high ranking officers like Joseph Stalin did. This refers to a period in the 1930s when Stalin enacted a pogrom against most of the Soviet leadership. He executed nearly 3/4 of his own generals and party leaders, for fear they would try and usurp him. This actually caused chaos within the Soviet leadership and was the reason why Stalin feared Hitler would invade Russia at the onset of the war, leading the dictators to sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which stated neither power would attack the other. Hitler, of course, broke the treaty and invaded Russia in June of 1941.
Justus Von Dohnanyi, who portrayed General Wilhelm Burgdorf, is the grandson of Hans Von Dohnanyi, one of the members of the anti-Hitler conspiracy, who was hanged in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in September 1944. Through his grandfather's marriage, he was also the grand-nephew of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, another anti-Hitler conspirator who was hanged in the Flossenburg concentration camp.
The April 23, 1945 telegram that Adolf Hitler received from Goering indicating that he was planning to announce himself head of state under the assumption that Hitler was incapacitated, had been taken prisoner or was dead, was sold at auction in July 2015 for US $55,000. The document had a history of its own, passing first into the hands of United States Army Captain Benjamin Bradin in 1945, after Bradin took it off of a desk as he was collecting war souvenirs from the Hitler Bunker. It later passed into the hands of Bradin's son, who then gave it as a present to a professor at the Citadel Military College of South Carolina. That professor in turn gave it to another student who ultimately sold it in 2015.
In many of the film's scenes during 1945, Hitler's movements are shaky as if he is nervous, especially during the "war room" scene. This was actually because Hitler is believed to have had Parkinson's and displayed many of the disease's trademark symptoms during his latter years.
The architectural model that Hitler and Speer admire was Hitler's plan for what Berlin. He named this future city Germania, and it was to feature, among other things, a domed building (similar to the capital building in Washington, D.C.) to house the German government. The building would have been so big that many of Hitler's architects feared it would collapse under its own weight.
Adolf Hitler supposedly had a terrible fear of pain, so much so that when he commited suicide, he was determined to both take cyanide and shoot himself, to ensure it happened as quickly as possible. He also did this as a failsafe against possible bad cyanide. The chemical was made in the concentration camps, and occasionally sabotaged batches were made, leading to slow painful deaths.
Hauptsturmführer Hans-Gösta Pehrsson was Swedish. He tried to get out of Berlin through the Swedish embassy but failed. He survived the war after being captured by the Red Army and died in Stockholm in 1974. The dead soldier lying in front of the half track in the famous picture is another Swede, Arvid Johansson from the city of Skövde.
The scene of Albert Speer's last interview with Adolf Hitler reflects the account in Speer's published autobiography (Speer confesses to disobeying Hitler's "Nero Decree" in order to save German resources and lives, and Hitler weeps at the betrayal). Historian Gitta Sereny has however argued that Speer's account is itself inaccurate, since in the first draft of his memoir he does not mention his confession and Hitler's response. Speer escaped a death sentence at the Nuremberg Trials after claiming not to have known of the Holocaust, and research after his death has proved this claim untrue.
In a classic film-making device, the use of the real, and fictional character version of Traudl Humps/Junge, gives the audience a more relatable easy way into the world of the bunker, via a relatively authentic fictionalised first person account perspective of someone who was actually there, than a generic World War 2 Film story that just features focus on the usual well-known Nazis. The fact that the film was made by the Germans, does also give it an added level of frank openness and honesty of their troubled history.
Although its understandably easy to assume, due to the hundreds of "Hitler Reacts" parody videos on YouTube, that the title "Downfall" refers to just the downfall of Hitler in the bunker, the film actually refers to the downfall of the Nazis/National Socialists.
The film extracts used in the various "Hitler Reacts" parody videos are from the first hour of the film. So, once the audience has watched the original versions of the scenes re-used for the parodies, within the original context, and correct subtitles, it is much easier to become fully engrossed in the seriousness of the film.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
During the war, a majority of the cyanide capsules produced were made in the concentration camps, which made sabotage a real problem. This is one of the reasons why many Germans who committed suicide by cyanide also shot themselves to make sure they would die. This is also the reason why Adolf Hitler's beloved dog, Blondi, was poisoned; he wanted to make sure his batch of cyanide was not fake.
Corinna Harfouch stated that she nearly broke down when filming the scene in which Magda Goebbels gives her children their "medicine" to put them to sleep before poisoning them. Bruno Ganz felt similarly when he held the girl playing one of the Goebbels' children in his lap as they sang, because he knew that these children were soon to be murdered by their parents.