Berlin is not beautiful like Paris, nor romantic like Venice, or grandiose like London. But what it is is a vibrant metropolis, filled with energy, enthusiasm, wonderful museums, interesting neighborhoods and a fascinating history.
One fascinating historical corner of the city is the Adlon Kempinski Hotel, located on the imposing Pariser Platz. The hotel faces the Brandenburg Gate, crowned with its horses and chariot. The Adlon is named for its creator, Lorenz Adlon, who envisioned the most opulent hotel in the world when it opened on October 23, 1907, amazing its guests with hot and cold running water, gas and electricity and a refrigeration and cooling system.
The hotel’s first guest was the Emperor Wilhelm II. who paid an annual retainer to guarantee rooms for his personal guests. The hotel became the most fashionable meeting place in Berlin for royalty, diplomats, politicians, artists and actors. It was the model for the 1932 movie, “Grand Hotel,”which was shot on the property, and it is where Greta Garbo uttered her famous “I want to be alone” line during the filming of the movie. Its guests included Josephine Baker, Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin.It was also the hotel in a future incarnation where Michael Jackson dangled his baby son out of a window.
During the Nazi era, although not Hitler’s favorite, it was frequented by the regime’s officials and SS officers. Its reputation for good times was such that, as recounted by Daniel Silver in his book, “Refuge in Hell,” some of the Jewish nurses from the nearby Jewish hospital would doff their yellow stars and leave their identity papers behind to go out to dine at the Adlon, a truly dangerous forbidden fruit for them.
The hotel partly survived the war, but most of it was left in ruins in 1945 when, so they say, a Russian soldier carousing in the basement near the fabled wine cellar, threw away a lighted cigarette, which caught the wine on fire and then burned down the hotel.
The Pariser Platz was in the East Berlin sector of the city during the years of Germany’s division, and the one remaining wing of the hotel fell upon hard times, until it was finally pulled down in 1984. After the wall came down and Berlin was reunited, the hotel was rebuilt partly on the old plans and reopened on August 27, 1997 under the auspices of the Kempinski luxury chain. Since then, it has continued to attract the glitterati, diplomats, actors, the rich and mighty, as well as ordinary honeymooners seeking something special.
The Adlon is again an elegant hotel with impeccable service. The “elephant” fountain in the center of the lobby surveys comfortable chairs, many with tables for enjoying a morning coffee, an afternoon tea or a late night drink. At Christmastime, the lobby is decorated for the season and on Sundays, a children’s choir entertains in the afternoon with German Christmas carols.
The rooms are perfectly appointed and if you leave your shoes outside your door at night, they will be returned beautifully polished the next morning. That’s a rarity nowadays. The hotel’s restaurants serve sophisticated international dishes.
The Adlon is not cheap, but if you happen on one of their specials, it’s well worth staying there for a trip back in time. You too can feel like Greta Garbo waltzing in and out of the revolving doors to the sound of the piano playing old and new favorites on the balcony surrounding the lobby, the “bel etage,” as it is called. It’s a very special place.