Ellington Hotel Berlin
Reuter Schoger knowingly injects a soigné minimalism into a hotel converted from a former 1930s office building and dance hall.
Berlin’s history still permeates the city, today in constant flux. The long, white interior of the newly redone Ellington Hotel Berlin, open since May 2007, tries to trade on that dynamic. It’s too soon to call it a success, but the Ellington’s owners clearly hope the facelift marks a return to fashion for formerly chic West Berlin, now that the energy of the city has for years resided farther east.
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It’s impossible to miss the heft and scale of the hotel: It takes up an entire city block. Its tan travertine-and-brick facade stretches 560 feet down Nürnberger Strasse, a quick walk from Zoo Station, and parallel to the faded Kurfürstendamm.
First called the Haus Nürnberg, and later the Feminina-Palast, then the Tauentzienpalast, it opened in 1931 as a glittering and gilded, glass-roofed dance hall that catered to guests who telephoned each other from their tables and sent notes back and forth through pneumatic tubes. Two massive bars fueled revelers dancing to the Juan Llossas tango band. The street level showed off a row of boutiques; offices filled the upper floors. Designed by architects Richard Bielenberg and Josef Moser, the block is done in Weimar-era New Objectivity style. The long horizontal lines emphasized by strip windows glide down the street, interrupted by towers, nodding to the sleek Modernist Siedlung estates of Bruno Taut. The use of curving glass in rounded corners in the building, however, also recalls the more Expressionist architecture of Erich Mendelsohn (which the Modernist New Objectivity reacted against).
Since that time, this steel-framed place has been bombed; served as a jazz hotspot in the 1950s and ’60s for Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington; and hosted rental offices, a teaching academy, and the anything-goes Dschungel Club frequented by David Bowie in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Even the local finance authority had its headquarters there.
The developers, including hotelier Ekkehard Streletzki, decided their $55 million renovation needed to capture this building’s notorious and varied past while delivering a fresh look and 10,750 square feet of retail space. Four floors now feature 285 rooms along lanky central corridors; a white, 100-foot-long sitting lounge stretches along rows of oversize windows that open on a summer garden. Next to the lounge is the new Duke restaurant and bar on the ground floor, which is lined outside with shops. The 217,969-square-foot horizontal structure means unbroken, block-long
hallways, which interior architect Wencke Katharina Schoger says was only one of the bigger challenges posed by the hotel redesign. The central issue, common to Berlin, is interpreting the past. To create rooms within that context yet offer new, simple, bright spaces made things much more complex, she says.
The ballroom, its glass roof long ago shattered by bombs, was turned into a conference center. Little radical reconstruction took place, so offices provided the starting point for room design. Aside from suites, the rooms are on the small side — beginning at 170 square feet — so they rely on open plans with few internal walls. Since none came with fixtures such as showers and sinks, the showers are in alcoves. Some rooms feature beds pulled away from the walls, with sinks placed in counters on the perimeter.
The architects stayed within original boundaries throughout while seeking to say something new. Just beyond the restored frosted-glass-paneled entrance is the hotel reception area — the curtain-raiser for the redesign. Schoger and architect partner Johannes Reuter defined the white room with organic shapes, the most apparent being the sleek and curving desk. Its brass finish alludes to the old facade and original railings, but with an inventive twist: The construction is a millimeters-thin brass patina over undulating wood. Another playful touch is the hotel’s prize wine cellar located in the old finance office’s basement safe.
Social dialectics operating in Berlin after the Wall fell ensured the rise of the city’s eastern quarters — rocking Freidrichshain, Prenzlauerberg, and swank Mitte — as the once-throbbing west looked increasingly dowdy. The beat was gone, as was the Dschungel. The remade Ellington now features a small radio studio for live broadcasts from the lobby, and jazz all weekend. Radio is not new. This music is not German. But it is a charmer. And wrapped in the sweeping, massive travertine facade, perhaps this part of Berlin is starting to swing again.
Formal name of project: Ellington Hotel Berlin
Nürnberger Straße 50-55
Gross square footage: 20.250 m²
Total construction cost: 17,4 Mio € incl. interior
Completion Date: May 2007
NOG Nürnberger Straße Objektgesellschaft mbH&Co.KG
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