The Hotel that didn't want Hitler

Behind a haze

You can’t see it on Google Streetview. The towering monolith of 1960s concrete design is hidden behind a digital haze. If only this was possible in real life. A blemish on Berlin’s skyline, even the “art installation” of pixelated sky that adorns its walls does nothing to hide the monstrosity. It does not deserve the name Excelsior Haus, a name taken from the largest hotel on the continent that once occupied the same site, The Hotel Excelsior.

Hotel Beginnings

The Hotel Excelsior was constructed from 1906 to 1913. It opened with initially 200 rooms but quickly expanded becoming so large it had two grand entrances. One grand entrance looked out onto Anhalterstraße and the land of the Prinz-Albrecht-Palais where the SS would in future have their headquarters. The other, much grander entrance faced onto Königgrätzer Straße, today’s Stressemanstraße and the magnificent Anhalter Bahnhof. 

In contrast to the other Grand Hotels of Berlin, it was built rather for business, and catered to many levels of a divided society. It even offered special room rates for servants. 

In 1918, after World War One had ended with an armistice, the Kaiser had fled into exile, Berlin was gripped by a wave of troubles. A starving population was ready for revolution. The far-left wing group, the Spartacists, led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, founded their movement within the walls of the building. However, their movement, that threw Berlin into revolution and destroyed buildings such as the Mossehaus, (you can read more about the Mossehaus here,) was quashed. In 1919 a man who had worked his way up the ladder of the hotel business took over the hotel. This was Curt Elschner.

Expansion

Curt Elschner had a plan for the hotel, to keep expanding and also to make it the most modern of hotels. During the 1920s Elschner added bakeries, butchers, hairdressers for both men and women, tailors and music rooms. The kitchen was modernised to an electric operation, and Sekt even had its own fridge. The old coal burning furnaces were torn out and replaced with gas central heating. Even a spa was briefly added. However the spa was not one of Elschner’s most successful plans and instead it too was replaced. In the spa’s place the Thomas Bräu Bierkeller was installed that occupied half of the entire building’s basement. 

Above the basement on the ground floor things continued in much the same vein. There was a cafe on Königgrätzer Straße and a restaurant at the Anhalter entrance. A wein restaurant and another restaurant lay at the centre of the building. The hotel could boast serving between 10,000 and 15,000 guests a day in restaurants.

Still Elschner continued to expand. From Anhalter Bahnhof a special tunnel was installed with elevators for ease, that allowed for guests who had arrived to the train station from all over southern Europe the ease of access to the hotel. Access was granted via an art-deco chromium box labelled “Excelsior Tunnel” that shone like a beacon in the grandiose station.

The Third Reich

Old postcard of Moses window

However some designs were not to everyone’s tastes. In the pageantry hall were stained glass windows depicting Budha, Martin Luther, a Pope, and Moses. With the arrival of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Regime came the rise of anti-semitism and the Moses window had to go. 

Elschner however had already formed a strained relationship with the Nazis even before they came to power. Famously he had refused use of his hotel both personally to Hitler and his party. In the hotel’s brochure from 1936 the window was still depicted, but the text describing it was blacked out. Ultimately, however, Elschner had little choice and the window was destroyed. 

During Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, of November 9/10th 1938, the great German boxer Max Schmelling was staying in the hotel. Max Schmelling during this horrendous night hid two jewish brothers, Henry and Werner Lewin protecting them against the Nazi thugs.

Wars End

The hotel, like so much of Berlin was destroyed during the Second World War. It was bombed from the air by the British and American air forces and it was pelted by Soviet artillery from the ground. The facade on Königgrätzer Straße where some of the most luxurious rooms were once held, was a pile of rubble on the ground. Curt Elschner would visit to look up on his ruins. He had fled from the Nazi’s to his home in Thuringia at the beginning of the war and the Hotel had been nationalised by the Nazi government. Now there was little left. 

The ruins stood for another nine years. Nature growing from the walls, and looters taking the little there was left. But in 1954 it was all too go. The building was blown up, and the plot flattened. The largest hotel on the continent was no more. 

In 1966 a new building started to rise. Built in the supposed New York Style, the Excelsior Haus came to dominate the skyline near the now border within the city, the Berlin Wall. It was to house 500 apartments and businesses and eventually a bunker that could supply over 1500 people with food, water and shelter for 14 days in the case of an emergency. This Excelsior Haus still stands today. 

The last remnant of the Hotel Excelsior was finally to disappear in the 1980s. Six years after the Excelsior was destroyed the train station that stood opposite, the Anhalter Bahnhof, no longer needed in a divided city, was also destroyed. The entrance to the Excelsior tunnel was destroyed, the subterranean tunnel left to collect water. It was this tunnel, during roadworks in the 1980s, that was finally destroyed. Now no part of the Excelsior is left.

Where next?

Don’t forget to check out our previous blog post here and if you wish to learn more about Berlin during the time of the Nazis, the difficulties of life under the regime, the laws which they brought in, and the Battle of Berlin, book a private Third Reich and Second World War Tour with The Berlin Tour Guide. Or if you are interested in similar stories to that of Max Schmelling, book a Jewish Tour with The Berlin Tour Guide.

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