The Grand Hotel on Friedrichstraße celebrated its grand opening almost exactly 30 years ago on 1 August 1987. A high-end property by contemporary standards, the hotel’s unique architectural style and location enriched the local hospitality scene, offering a memorable experience to well-heeled visitors to East Berlin.
Design and Location
The magnificent building on Friedrichstraße occupies the former site of the Kaisergalerie (“Emperor’s Gallery”), which was destroyed by bombs during WWII. Built by a Japanese company in collaboration with a number of sub-contractors, the classicist building offered a total of 359 rooms and suites in a prime location.
Grand Hotel Berlin 1987; source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1987-0812-301 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
The centrepiece of the lobby is an impressive free-standing stairway connecting the ground floor to the first floor. Natural lighting is provided by a glass dome that takes its inspiration from the Kaisergalerie.
Although the East German government did not make the figures public at the time, construction costs are rumoured to have run to the equivalent of about 100 million euros.
The luxury hotel was built in a top central location on East Berlin’s premier shopping street in the immediate vicinity of Brandenburger Tor and only a stone’s throw away from the Unter den Linden boulevard, offering visitors easy access to the historic city centre. Strolling towards Alexanderplatz, they would pass a number of historic buildings including Humboldt University, Französischer Dom and the famous Palace of the Republic.
Pure Luxury – Out of Reach for Ordinary Working-Class Citizens
The Grand Hotel was a place of luxury, fine food and an international ambience, none of which benefitted ordinary East German citizens. Catering and accommodation were payable in western currency at prices that were steep even by West-German standards. Single rooms cost 275 Deutschmarks (approx. 137.50 euros) per night, while the cheapest double rooms were DM 350 per night and a night in a suite would set discerning travellers back between DM 2,500 and 3,600.
Prices in the on-site restaurants were no more affordable. DM 790 for a bottle of wine, DM 48 for a glass of whisky and DM 21 for a bowl of tinned fruit cocktail was far out of most East Germans’ financial reach.
Working at the Hotel
However, many ordinary East Germans did get to see the Grand Hotel from the inside. The hotel employed a staff of up to 900 to keep the rooms spick and span, man the reception desk, work in the kitchens and restaurants and otherwise cater for the guests’ every whim in return for coveted tips in Deutschmarks, dollars and yen.
The Grand Hotel Today
Post-reunification, in 1992 the Grand Hotel was taken over by the Westin Group, which continues to manage it to this day. Current prices reflect the five-star property’s standing as the equal of well-known luxury hotels in West-Berlin such as the Adlon and the Ritz Carlton, while the number of staff has fallen to fewer than 200. While the service quality provided is as high as ever, the unique ambience of East Germany’s premier luxury destination has been lost.
Westin Grand Hotel Berlin today; source: von Mklreg (Eigenes Werk) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The former GDR’s legacy lives on most visibly in the buildings constructed during its forty-year reign. As well as the Grand Hotel, these include the “workers’ palaces” along Karl-Marx-Allee, designed in the distinctive Eastern European wedding-cake style. For anybody who would like to stay for more than a few nights, owning a refurbished apartment here is a unique opportunity to experience state-of-the-art living standards in a historic building in the heart of one of Europe’s most exciting cities.