L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The finest address in Berlin - the Hotel Adlon, circa 1907

About forty - forty! - years ago, at a flea market in the very unlikely location of Vacaville, California, I found this souvenir album for the Hotel Adlon in Berlin, a building I'd never heard of up until that moment. Even though the address was German, the text and captions were all in French. (Still the international language of the day.) It was obvious that the fully illustrated portfolio was produced to commemorate the opening of the hotel in 1907, but it appeared that this was an "updated" edition, as one of the last images - the Duke of Saxe-Altenburg arriving at the hotel on the occasion of the Kaiser's fiftieth birthday celebration - is dated 1909.

The following images are the same ones as those in the above album...
... though the captions here are in German rather than French, so they must be from the German language edition.
Unter den Linden, the Adlon on the left, and the Brandenburg Gate beyond.

The cover, when I bought it, looked pretty much as it does now, but the interior was pristine. (It soon became a bit less so when it soaked up something unfortunate from the carpet, a certain fluid left by a roommate's small dog; it does not retain the smell, thankfully, but the first inch and a half of the bottom edge is not what it once was.) I've carted it around with me ever since, all up and down the west coast. I'm sure it's not worth anything, but I treasure the old things like this that have somehow - so improbably - found their way to me, the often fragile objects that record - conjure - what was grand, what was lost, the kind of things that have always set me daydreaming.

The main entrance, facing Unter den Lindem. (2 images.)
The lantern hanging in the entrance vestibule.

The end of the nineteenth century and the dawn of the twentieth saw the rise of the great luxury hotels, from the Waldorf Astoria, opened in 1893, to the Hôtel Ritz in Paris in 1898, and the London Ritz in 1906. But Berlin had as yet nothing to compare. In 1905 Lorenz Adlon, a successful wine merchant and restaurateur, had raised capital to build a hotel on Pariser Platz - adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate - at the heart of the German capital. He convinced Kaiser Wilhelm II that Berlin needed a luxury hotel at the level of those in Paris, London, and the other European capitals, and so the Kaiser personally interceded with the owners of the Palais Redern, a landmark 1830 building designed by the great Schinkel, which sat at Adlon's chosen location. The Kaiser cleared the way for Adlon's purchase of the Palais and for the subsequent demolition of the historic building.

Designed by Carl Gause and Robert Leibnitz, the hotel was built at a cost of twenty million gold Marks, and its rather sober façade would conceal Germany's most lavishly appointed and most modern hotel. Famously located at Number One Unter Den Linden - located in the heart of the government quarter next to the British Embassy on Wilhelmstrasse, facing the French and American Embassies on Pariser Platz and only blocks from the Reich Chancellery and other government ministries further south on Wilhelmstrasse - the Adlon opened on October 23, 1907 with the Kaiser, his wife, and many other notables in attendance, and quickly became the social center of Berlin. (As the rooms in the Stadtschloss were notoriously cold and drafty, the amenities grand but impractical, the Kaiser paid an annual retainer to keep suites available for his guests.) Many wealthy Berliners lived for extended periods of time in the hotel, while its ballrooms hosted official government functions and society events.

Entrance hall and main staircase. (2 images.)
Elevators - in case you couldn't tell! (2 images.)
The inner courtyard: the Goethe-Garten/Le Jardin de Goethe. (4 images.)
Mosaic frieze designed by Otto Vittali.
Garden Hall/Gartenhalle/Jardin des palmiers. (2 images.)
American-Bar/Bar Américain.
The public restaurant/Restaurant à la carte. (2 images.)
Gentlemen's writing and reading room. (2 images.)
Ladies' salon. (2 images.)
The music room/Beethoven-Saal/Salle de Beethoven. (2 images.)
Anteroom to the hotel dining room.
The hotel dining room: the Raffael-Saal/Salle de Raphaël.
The banquet room. (2 images.)
Kaiser-Saal/Salle Impériale. (3 images.)
Portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm II, by Ludwig Noster.
The Green Salon/Grüner-Saal/Le Salle Verte. (2 images.)
Niche between the Green and Blue salons. (The German caption says that this is adjacent to the banquet
room, but the building plan clearly contradicts that. The captions in the French edition get it correct)
The Blue Reception Room/Blauer Empfangs-Salon/Le Salon Bleu. (2 images.)
Ladies' powder room. (2 images.)
Ladies' powder rooms.
Gentlemen's bathroom.
Guest room interiors. (7 images.)
Ladies' hairdressing salon. (2 images.)
Barber shop.


Circa 1926.

Three years after the end of World War I and the abdication of the Kaiser, Lorenz Adlon was struck and killed by a car while crossing in front of the Brandenburg Gate, and his son Louis took over the management of the hotel. All through the Twenties and Thirties, the Adlon remained one of the most famous hotels in Europe, the host of celebrity guests: politicians and journalists, stage and film stars, opera singers and presidents. The Berlin hotel setting of Menschen im Hotel, the 1929 novel by Vicki Baum which was the basis for the film Grand Hotel, was inspired by the Adlon.

In 1931. See the last image in this post for nearly the same view, and how it appeared after the war.

The hotel remained a social center of the city throughout the Nazi period, though the Nazis themselves preferred the Hotel Kaiserhof a few blocks south and directly across from the Propaganda Ministry and Hitler's Chancellery on Wilhelmplatz. The Adlon continued to operate normally throughout World War II, even constructing a luxurious bomb shelter for its guests and a huge brick wall around the lobby level to protect the function rooms from flying debris. But parts of the hotel were converted to a military field hospital during the final days of the Battle of Berlin.

Circa 1937.

The hotel survived the war without any major damage, having avoided the bombs and shelling that had leveled much of the city. However, on the night of May 2, 1945 a fire, started in the hotel's wine cellar by Red Army soldiers, left the main building in ruins. Louis Adlon himself had been arrested a week earlier by Soviet troops after they mistook him for a military general due to his title of "Generaldirektor" of the hotel; he apparently died in the street of a heart attack five days after the burning of the Adlon.

Circa 1945-46.
The courtyard, circa 1950.
Circa 1950.

Following the war, the East German government reopened the building's surviving rear service wing under the Hotel Adlon name. The ruined main building was demolished in 1952, along with all of the other buildings on Pariser Platz. The square was left as an abandoned, grassed-over buffer with the West, with the Brandenburg Gate sitting alone by the Berlin Wall. In 1964, the remaining part of the building was renovated and the facade was redone, but in 1984 the building was demolished. With the reunification of Germany, on the same site, a new building, only very loosely inspired by the original, was built and opened in 1997 under the same prestigious historical name.

The famous avenue, Unter den Linden; beyond the Brandenburg Gate and the Pariser Platz, the ruins of the Adlon, circa 1945-46.


  1. Spectacular book. The Adlon plays rather a substantial role in one of my favorite books of the War era - Marie Vassiltchikov's marvelous Berlin Diaries in which the author-princess regularly lunches at the hotel in the hope (sometimes fulfilled, sometimes not) of a decent meal in the increasingly beleaguered city.

    1. Yes, I know it well! (I - think - I even own a copy of it...?) : )

  2. I would have loved that album. Not only was Berlin one of the most cultured cities in Europe in 1907, but Lorenz Adlon had the patronage of Kaiser Wilhelm II! (I love his portrait, by the way).

    In real estate, there are only three priorities - location, location and location. Unter den Linden has to have been the best location in Berlin. The WW2 bombing in the centre of town was hideous :(