© Dresdner Bank, picture source Dresdner Bank Historical Archive
From bank to five-star hotel
The Rocco Forte Hotel de Rome
The Rocco Forte Hotel de Rome on Berlin's Bebelplatz has interesting tales to tell and not only from within its own walls. The name itself goes back over more than two centuries and is part of Berlin's history.
Not just the name - "Hotel de Rome" - has a history, but the present-day hotel building tells its own peculiar and exciting story. The building in its basic form was built in 1887 - 1889 from a design by the architect Ludwig Heim. The owner was Dresdner Bank, which had its headquarters here until 1945. In the time to 1910, a few changes were made to the structure which helped to define the building's character. One of the additions in this period was the creation of a generous, stylishly appointed banking hall over two floors - today the 276 sq m ballroom with its original sandstone balustrades, stucco ceiling and terrazzo floor with mosaic inlay. Dresdner Bank's four main offices (Dresden, Bremen, London and Berlin) are immortalised in the four corners of the hall.
Two staircases were also added, which have survived in almost pristine condition. These were the then new double-flight staircase with granite steps, light-coloured skirting area of ornamental glazed tiles and wrought iron handrail and the marble-clad staircase with steel steps. The corridors of the first and second floors feature large stucco panels with figurative decoration, while in the former directors' rooms leading off from here there are the original wall cabinets, wooden panelling, original doors and some magnificent wooden coffered ceilings. Today, the hotel's executive suites, which also bear witness to the Second World War, are here. Damage to the walls and wood panelling and shrapnel fragments have been preserved with painstaking care. A truly historic home from home.
History of the building
In 1887-1889, Dresdner Bank commissioned a richly decorated building in the style of the Italian High Renaissance from the architect Ernst Ludwig Heim (1844-1917). The building originally had three floors only.
The building gained three additional floors in 1923, somewhat disrupting the architectural harmony of its surroundings on the Bebelplatz. After the Second World War, in 1952, the damaged bank building was renovated and its original three-storey design was restored.
In 1945 the assets of the Dresdner Bank were seized by the communists: its headquarters and all its branches in the Soviet zone of occupation were closed.
Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the building was used by the Berlin district administration of the East German Communist Party and the East German state bank. For a while after the Wall came down, the building stood largely empty and unused.
Refurbishment commenced in 2003 and the Hotel de Rome was opened on 12 October 2006 after a three-year remodelling programme. The building's owner is CommInvest.
The Hotel de Rome occupies only one part of the former bank building: this formerly stretched over the whole of the present-day structure now known as the "Opernkarrée".
The building complex is characteristic for Berlin, grouped as it is around three courtyards.
Tommaso Ziffer, a prominent Italian interior designer (who also worked on the interior of the Hotel de Russie), was commissioned to prepare the general design for the building's interior. He was assisted by Olga Polizzi, sister of Sir Rocco Forte, and her design team. The underlying concept for the renovation work was: "What's old stays old, what's new is new".
History of the hotel's name:
The name "Hotel de Rome" or, alternatively, "Hotel Stadt Rom" can be found in records dating back to 1775. The reference here is to an inn on Unter den Linden, one of Berlin's nine first-class inns and today No. 10, Unter den Linden.
At the end of the 1850's, the hotel was acquired by Adolf Mühling who had the building remodelled and extended to create a five-storey hotel with 200 luxurious guest rooms, a ballroom and elegant restaurant. For many years the Hotel de Rome was one of the city's most prominent hotels. Until the end of the 19th century it provided a meeting place for German aristocracy and the setting for grand social events such as the annual "Presseball".
By this time, Adolf Mühling had been appointed a supplier to the imperial court. Kaiser Wilhelm I regularly ordered a bathtub to be brought to him from the hotel as his palace at that time did not yet have bathrooms. The special "Kaiser tub" is still a well-kept secret today.
The location of the Grand Hotel de Rome Unter den Linden, between Friedrichstrasse and Charlottenstrasse, was an incalculable advantage. Then as now, the Hotel de Rome had all the latest technical innovations. In 1867, the first hydraulic elevator was installed in the building - the system had only just been exhibited for the first time to a small circle of people at the Exposition Universelle in Paris held the same year. Guests were also able to check their bill in the comfort of their own rooms. The current price list could be made available to them using a system of telegraphs, speaking tubes and the hotel-internal pneumatic tube postal system. Nowadays this service is provided through the interactive television in every room. As Mühling had no official heir, an application to demolish the hotel was approved in February 1910.
ART AND HISTORY IN THE CURRENT HOTEL DE ROME
Four hand-coloured copperplate engravings by the Italian baroque artist Giuseppe Vasi (1710 - +1782) show prominent sights in Rome: the Castel Sant'Angelo, the Tiber, the Forum Romanum and St. Peter's Square
The pillars in the lobby and in the Opera Court (marble and granite, solid, load-bearing) were painted over while the communist regime was in power because the marble and granite were considered too ostentatious and hence inappropriate to the spirit of the times.
The four red vases are cast iron copies of pieces from the garden of the Villa Farnese (one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance, built around 1550 on Monte Cimini, the treeless volcanic hill about 60 kilometres northwest of Rome).
A total of 1.2 kg gold was required to regild the ceiling of the Opera Court during renovation. It now has its original appearance once again. The stucco decoration on the ceiling was never completed.
The Opera Court serves as a tea room, the "lounge" of the hotel, where in the afternoons high tea is served to accompanying classical piano music. In the evenings, it is a quiet place where guests can enjoy a nightcap. The room seats 40 people.
The glass ceilings in the lobby and the Opera Court are original features.
The brass in the lobby has been treated with acid in order to give it an "aged" effect. The dents in the metal are original shrapnel damage.
The mirrors above the sofas are of Venetian manufacture and have been specially designed to appear antique.
On the walls there are two monumental graphic works by Alexander Wolf (born1965), a photographer who lives and works in Berlin. "Italian Coffeehouse" and "Woman in red corridor" are both based on digital images that have been deliberately manipulated by the artist using techniques including pixelisation and colour value rasterisation.
A cast of the central panel of the so-called "Ludovisi Throne" (sculpted Greek marble with bas-relief decoration, 470–460 BC, discovered in the park of the former Villa Ludovisi in Rome in 1887).
It is claimed that it depicts the birth of Aphrodite. The original is in the Musée des Thermes in Rome; the cast was made by the cast collection department of the Basle Museum of Antiquities.
In addition to the 120 covers in the restaurant itself, there are also an additional 60 seats in the inner courtyard garden in the summer months.
Chef de cuisine is Raffaele Cannizzaro, whose speciality is light Mediterranean and Italian dishes.
The only non-original pillars in the building are those in the restaurant.
The four collages by Esther Schwarz were specially commissioned for the restaurant. Taking as her inspiration works by Kurt Schwitters, the artist has put together elements from very different origins and from different decades of the 20th century.
On the restaurant's mirrors and on the folding screen there are also three photographs by photographer Nataly Maier (born 1957) who lives in Milan . "Tassen" (Cups), "Kekse" (Biscuits) and "Teller" (Plates) are the titles of the pieces. After the photos had been taken, these artful arrangements were dismantled or destroyed. As part of the creative process, the artist subsequently used chemicals to influence the photographic development, giving the finished images the appearance of having been painted.
Foyer Restaurant connecting corridor
Four digitally processed photographs by the Roman photographer Daniele Colarieti are used to offset the blackness of the walls in this short section of corridor.
The bar is divided into two halves. The design is based on that of an Italian loggia, the purpose being to give guests the impression of sitting outdoors. The rear, darker section can be opened to admit the outside air through the arches. The outside wall of the bar is the same shade as the exterior walls, giving colour to the feeling of being outside.
The wood panelling above the door and the stucco ceiling were exposed during renovation.
The bronze vase on the bar comes from a very small but exclusive Italian antiques dealer. The owner of the business was so thrilled by the "honour" that one of his articles had been selected that he and his family transported the vase all the way to Berlin themselves by car to ensure that it arrived in perfect condition!
On the left-hand wall there are two representative works by the Cologne-based painter Franziskus Wendels (born 1960) with the titles "Westen" (West) and "Süden" (South). They show a city illuminated by night with tower blocks, streets and vehicles, each defined by just a trace of light with their actual substance remaining in the intangible, the dark.
Another piece in the bar is the larger-than-life-size marble sculpture that formally echoes a work by the Russian-American sculptor Alexander Archipenko - one of the trailblazers of abstract sculpture at the beginning of the 20th century.
There are bats living in the stone cladding on the ceiling in the bar's entrance area which were only discovered during renovation work. These have not only given the bar its nickname of "The Batman Room" but have been the cause of some rather wild speculation about the former use of the building!
As you enter the room, your eyes are drawn to the "Mensch im Holozän" (Holocene Man), a painting by Berlin artist Stefan Hoenerloh that depicts a fictitious street scene and helps foster the impression of being out of doors. The painter gives the facades of his buildings form with a meticulousness which conjures the atmosphere of a time now past into which the observer is permitted one frozen glimpse.
As a contrast, in the same room are three photographs by the Paris-based photographer Sandy Blond-Fleury who shows everyday objects in extreme close-up. This changes the actual character of the objects so that they become abstract patterns and effects of colour play. The titles of the works are (starting on the right, going anticlockwise) "FEU", "PRISME A2" and "PRISME A1".
The walls are covered with a brown velvet fabric.
The relief above the concierge desk shows Mozart (1756-1791). It was created in 1905 in the studio of Reinhold Felderhoff in Berlin to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mozart's birth. It was modelled in plaster of Paris after a silverpoint drawing made by Doris Stock in 1789 while the composer was staying in Dresden; it is believed to be the last portrait made of Mozart during his lifetime.
This is the only version in the form of a marble relief and is on display to the public for the first time at the HdR.
The cast is of the central panel of the "Ludovisi Throne" with its depiction of the "birth of Aphrodite". The original is in the Musée des Thermes in Rome; the cast was made by the cast collection department of the Basle Museum of Antiquities.
Dresdner Bank moved into the building in 1889, but the first lifts were not installed until 1905. This is why such an imposing staircase was designed to provide access to the directors' rooms on the first floor (which used to be the "piano nobile" of any high-class building, with the highest ceilings and best decoration).
The landing is a steel construction on which can be seen the early influences of Art Nouveau (floral elements). The black balustrade was added during renovation work because the height of the original balustrade did not meet current building regulations.
The marble cladding and parquet flooring are original and have simply been reconditioned.
Foyer - Banqueting Hall connecting corridor
On display here is Kiki Kausch's photographic piece "Man at Work". The triptych shows Karl Lagerfeld (who is not only a fashion designer but also a photographer) during the shoot for a Chanel campaign in New York's Soho where he photographed top Canadian model Daria Werbowy.
In November 2006 "Man at Work" was shown in Karl Lagerfeld's own photographic exhibition "one man shown" at Berlin's C/O Gallery. In 2007, a set of prints of the ten-part series "Man at Work" was auctioned at the major "Cinema for Peace" gala held during the Berlinale international film festival. "Man at Work" formed part of the exclusive exhibition "Fashion", a history of fashion photography , which was held at the Camera Work gallery in Berlin in autumn 2008.
This series of prints is the only art work in the building which is for sale. Should you be interested in acquiring any of these works, please contact the manager's office.
In keeping with the motto "What's old stays old, what's new is new" the wall niches with the gold decoration that were hidden behind board panelling were revealed and conserved rather than restored as they are listed features. The original stucco ceiling was already lost and was replaced by a multi-level ceiling which is one of interior designer Tommaso Ziffer's signature elements.
For this area the painter Franziskus Wendel (two of whose works can also be found in the bar) has produced three large format pieces that are part of his "große Brüder" (Big Brothers) series. In this group of images, the artist depicts candleholders, chandeliers and candelabras which emerge like glowing symbols from the dark background, suggesting space and depth with the most sparing of techniques.
The present-day ballroom used to be Dresdner Bank's banking hall and has a ceiling height of 8 - 10 m.
The original sandstone columns and balustrades have been retained. On the first floor, the arches have been filled in as guest rooms now lie behind them. The bank's directors used to be able to stand here and observe the busy goings-on in the hall below.
The wall that now conceals the master technical station was destroyed in the Second World War and has been rebuilt. The wall has acoustic insulation. Mirrors have been fixed to the sides to give the impression that the room extends further.
The floor is terrazzo with mosaic inlay (the technique involves mixing marble chips with cement on site, laying the floor and grinding it smooth once dry).
Four mosaics are inlaid into this elaborately designed floor. They show the locations of the four main offices of the Dresdner Bank as they were then (Dresden, Bremen, London and Paris).
You will be able to perceive light coloured, perfectly round dots if you look at the floor more carefully. These originate from the days of communist East Germany when the ballroom was briefly used as a cinema.
The seats were screwed to the floor and the resulting holes were patched during renovation.
Französische Straße entrance
This was formerly the entrance for customers of Dresdner Bank, which is ostentatiously designed, befitting the prestige of the bank, with a Renaissance coffered ceiling (embellished with Tudor roses).
One of the roses had to be copied and replaced, the rest are original.
Today, this is the entrance to the banqueting area, making complete separation from the rest of the hotel's public areas possible.
Stop to consider the two pictures on the walls at the bottom of the staircase and you will realise that the picture on the right is not quite flush with the wall. This is the result of tremors caused by bombing during the Second World War.
Guest floors, ground floor hallways
All of the photographs show details of Roman architecture collected by Daniele Colarieti on his numerous expeditions through the city. Clipped images which succinctly sum up Rome's various stages of development - beginning in antiquity, through the Renaissance period and forward to the Baroque - have been put together in the hotel and these selected views allow the observer to step back into the history of the city's development.
Sir Rocco travels extensively himself and values certain things very highly - an adequate place to work, with internet access (3m long cable provided if W-LAN not an option), a comfortable place to sit and relax, a good shower and a very good bed. Simple things perhaps, but these need to be of outstanding quality.
The interior design concept is based on three colours: clay, pigeon blue, Pompeii red.
The history of the building has been incorporated into the design of the rooms in many different ways. For example, the design of the room doors calls to mind vault doors and the decoration on the beds resembles coins.
All bathrooms have a separate bath and shower.
If you stand close enough to the mirror in any of the bathrooms you will notice that the pupils of your eyes appear to take on a quadrangular shape - a little interior design highlight.
All bathrooms with natural light are lined with marble, the others are granite or sandstone. The special Rocco Forte Collection mosaic is in all of the bathrooms.
The former directors' floor has a very extravagant decor with mahogany veneer doors and stucco mouldings on the ceiling. The ceiling height is approximately 4.20 m, the floor was covered with linoleum during the communist era as the lavish terrazzo flooring was considered insufficiently modest at the time. Wherever the mosaic floor survived, it has been retained. The rest has been covered with carpet. The linoleum originally made the floor higher and so after the floor was exposed the doors were found to be too short. This was balanced out by adding higher door sills.
The directors of the bank were permitted to have their rooms decorated in accordance with their personal preferences. In keeping with this principle, the design of each of these suites is different. Original cabinets, wood panelling, original doors and the occasional sumptuous coffered wooden ceiling have been preserved.
The doors are restored originals covered with leather.
The bathrooms are all Carrara marble or travertine and are embellished with mosaic work. The bathrooms are all differently sized; this is because the building is listed, meaning that many existing dimensions cannot be changed.
101 Renaissance Suite
Former conference room There used to be a telephone cabin on each side of the door. The concealed door in the bookcase once provided access to the administration department. Next to the left-hand window there is a secret compartment. The lever which operates it is in the window surround.
104 Opera Suite (View over Bebelplatz)
A reminder of the Second World War can still be seen in the form of damage to the oak panels on the walls near the bed. The damage was caused by a bomb which fell in this part of the city towards the end of the war.
The wall cabinet in the right-hand corner of the room previously contained a cocktail cabinet.
From the bath, you can observe the goings-on below on Bebelplatz.
105 Behren Suite - panelled with mahogany veneer. Adjoins and can be combined with suite 104.
109 Humboldt-Suite - oak panelling on the ceiling.
The 4th and 5th floors of the hotel were added to the building during the restoration. As the whole complex is a listed building, the two storeys were set far enough back that they cannot be seen from Bebelplatz and do not spoil the overall appearance of the square. The furniture has been sourced from DEDON.
In the spa area, as elsewhere, echoes of the former bank building were retained during renovation work. The treatment room is situated in a former bank vault that has been preserved in its original form. When found, the vault was still locked and as no key could be traced, a hole had to be drilled into the wall from outside and the metal bars cut with a welding torch, providing access to the vault so that the door could be opened from the inside.
The cupboards in which we now store towels and other items are also original.
In the days when this building was still a bank, the window opening was used by couriers who would deposit their bags of cash through it. The cash was then counted in the vault itself.
The former jewel room, where society ladies kept their treasures in 400 safe deposit boxes, today houses the swimming pool. The size and shape of the tiling on the walls reflects the size and shape of the old safe deposit boxes.
The golden Bisazza mosaic and the indirect lighting work with the movement of the water's surface to create a glittering effect not unlike that of the jewels which were once kept here.
Although the columns in the pool are load-bearing, one of them had to be replaced only a few weeks after opening because Sir Rocco, as a sportsman, wanted a longer swimming lane and found the pool too short. The already completed pool (1.35 m deep) was thus extended by 5 m to a total length of 20 m.
The spa offers a wide variety of treatments such as classic or tropical and Asian massages, facial and body treatments.
Exclusive products from The Organic Pharmacy that contain no chemical substances are used in the treatments. The botanical ingredients are 100% organic.