A new elite hotel in the centre of Berlin has selected vintage photography as its central motif – with a permanent exhibition of original 20th century fashion classics and portraits created by seminal masters of the camera art.
Text: Mike von Joel | Images: The Aurore Collection, Berlin
HIDDEN FROM the tourist bustle of Berlin, although even that is refined by New York or London standards, is the Tiergarten district – a quiet backwater in the very centre of the city and home to a collection of sedate foreign embassies and diplomat housing. The expansive Tiergarten public park – the second largest open space in Germany after the Englischer Garten in Munich – borders on the internationally renowned Berlin Zoo. Edging the zoo itself are some architectural survivors of the destructive fall of Berlin (1945) that have enjoyed checkered careers since, but are now much sought after properties. One such is the former Royal Danish Embassy on Drakestraße.
Originally constructed in 1938 by Johann Emil Schaudt, the architect to the KaDeWe department store, Berlin's equivalent of Harrods, Albert Speer allegedly told Schaudt to ‘build in a neo-classical style’. The result was not popular with the Danes and the King himself never stayed in the royal apartment, most likely as a snub to Hitler. Denmark reclaimed the building after the war but sold it on by 1978; five years later the city itself took control, leasing it to the German postal system. Today this former embassy has been recreated by Axthelm Architects on behalf of a group of Latin investors, and it greets the world as Das Stue – a chic two-year-old boutique hotel that sets out to recreate the grandeur and style of La Belle Époque with a decidedly 21st century infrastructure.
MODERN EMBRACES TRADITION
Modernism and tradition go hand in glove at Das Stue, which is itself a Danish word meaning ‘living room’. Overlooking the ostrich enclosure of the zoo opposite (a fact that enchants first time guests) the interior design makes witty recurring references to its famous neighbour. In the entrance is a striking, oversized crocodile-head sculpture in bronze by Paris-based artist Quentin Garel; a chicken-wire gorilla by Milan artist, Benedetta Mori, lurks in the lobby; footstools in the form of leather animals (buffalo, rhinos, bulls) handmade in the UK by the Omersa company are dotted around. Multicoloured textile birds, handmade by artist Abigail Brown, nest in indentations throughout the building. LVG Arquitectura realised the interior design of the 80 rooms and suites, most with panoramic views over the zoo and Tiergarten park and notable for their complex digital and electronic lighting and entertainment facilities.
The Spanish architect and interior designer Patricia Urquiola, now based in Milan, is responsible for the public areas and a Spanish accent pervades the ambience at Das Stue. Coincidentally, its next door neighbour is the Spanish Embassy. The keynote restaurant Cinco (referencing the five senses) earned a Michelin star within a year of opening – Catalan chef Paco Pérez already has a four star accolade at his Miramar restaurant on the Costa Brava. The cuisine is a modern interpretation of Mediterranean and the traditional tapas have a twist towards the experimental. There is also a less formal dining space (the Casual) and a bar popular in the evenings with on-trend Berliners who look every bit as glamorous as the hotel staff. Adaptations of forgotten 1920s and 1930s cocktails are an option. In the evening the floor to ceiling window behind the bar (looking out on to the zoo) is covered by a drop screen that shows outsize old black & white movies to great atmospheric effect. You are never alone with those old comediantes, Laurel and Hardy! Weekends offer live music provided by local cult heroes.
A LATIN BEAT AT ITS HEART
All this is not so surprising, the owners of the hotel, Aurora Fierro, Daniel Aristot and Juanjo Gimeno, are based in Andorra, Panama and Spain. To aficionados of the history of Spanish photography in the latter half of the 20th century, the name Aurora Fierro will immediately stand out. The philanthropist, photographer, collector – and former Madrid gallerist and publisher (Spanish version of Zoom) – has apportioned some of her key holdings to be on permanent display at Das Stue, where it is referred to as the Aurora Collection. And it is this museum quality exhibition that makes the hotel unique among Berlin’s other high-end destination venues.
The Aurora Collection at Das Stue features vintage, original images by predominantly American masters, but also includes instantly recognisable classic photographs by many others, including Horst P. Horst (Mainbocher Corset, 1939); Jacques-Henri Lartigue (Anna La Pradvina, Bois de Boulogne, 1911); George Hoyningen-Huene (Divers: Horst & model, 1930); Henri Cartier-Bresson (Hyde Park, London, 1945) and Inge Morath (Mrs. Eveleigh Nash, The Mall, 1953). As you enter the lobby/reception area there are two studies of Marlene Dietrich in her prime (Horst 1942 & Irving Penn 1948) and one of Bert Stern’s famous ‘last sittings’ with Marilyn Monroe from 1962. There is an accent on fashion and glamour as befits the environment of an ultra-cool hotel, and, indeed, this selection (co-curated by Patricia Urquiola) is reminiscent of the recent blockbuster exhibition of Vanity Fair photographs in London’s National Portrait Gallery. The difference here is that it is possible to get up close and personal with each (mostly) signed vintage print in an unhurried and casual way. Even the overtly commercial magazine images have been selected for excellence: for example, William Klein’s memorable picture of models in striped dresses on a zebra crossing (Piazza di Spagna, 1960) where Klein had the girls walking backwards and forwards for hours until he captured the definitive juxtaposition. Much to the annoyance of the local traffic.
The use of original art to substitute for decoration in both hotels and corporate spaces is nothing new. And the New Germany was at the forefront of commissioning impressive large-scale works to fit the purpose. Most prefer bold statements from young contemporary painters and sculptors. To choose vintage classic photographs is an unusual and interesting departure. This Berlin member of Design Hotels has positioned itself to receive the new international jet-set who want discreet service, peace and quiet, in the heart of Germany’s bustling capital. The Aurora Collection is the icing on the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte.
+4930 311 7220
DIANE ARBUS 1923 – 1971, American
RICHARD AVEDON 1923 – 2004. American
ATIN AYA 1955 – 2007. Spanish
SERGE BALKIN 1905 – 1990. Russian
LILLIAN BASSMAN 1917 – 2012. American
HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON 1908 – 2004. French
LOUISE DAHL-WOLFF 1895 – 1989. American
WILLEM DIEPRAAM b.1944. Dutch
LOUIS FAURER 1916 – 2001. American
BURT GLINN 1925 – 2008. American
F.C. GUNDLACH b. 1926. German
PHILIPPE HALSMAN [Filips Halsmans] 1906 – 1979. Latvian
HORST P. HORST [Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann] 1906 – 1999. German-American
FRANK HORVAT b.1928. Italian
GEORGE HOYNINGEN-HUENE 1900 – 1968. Russian
DORA KALLMUS [Madame D'Ora] 1881 – 1963. Austrian
WILLIAM KLEIN b. 1928. American
KARL LAGERFELD [Karl Otto Lagerfeldt] b. 1933. German
JACQUES-HENRI LARTIGUE 1894 – 1986. French
ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE 1946 – 1989. American
LASZLO MOHOLY-NAGY 1895 – 1946. Hungarian
SARAH MOON [Marielle Hadengue] b. 1940. French
INGE MORATH [Ingeborg Hermine Morath] 1923 – 2002) Austrian
CATHLEEN NAUNDORF b. 1968. German
HELMUT NEWTON [Helmut Neustädter] 1920 – 2004. German
NORMAN PARKINSON 1913 – 1990. English
IRVING PENN 1917 – 2009. American
MAN RAY [Emmanuel Radnitzky] 1890 – 1976. American
CINDY SHERMAN [Cynthia Morris Sherman] b. 1954. American
MELVIN SOKOLSKY b.1933. American
EDWARD STEICHEN 1879 – 1973. Luxembourgian
BERT STERN 1929 – 2013. American
WEEGEE [Arthur Fellig] 1899 – 1968. Ukrainian