Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
On June 1 1888 Berlin reporters gathered on the corner of Wilhelmstraße and what was then known as Verlängerte Zimmerstraße No. 4-5 to witness the long-awaited opening of Berlin’s first luxury spa-hotel, the “Römerbad-Hotel” – a jewel of Wilhelminian “hospitality industry”.
The “Extended Zimmerstraße” where it stood was just what the name promised: an extension of Zimmerstraße, a street in today’s Berlin-Mitte, and one of the city’s Privatestraßen, or private streets. It was built along the edge of an elegant park stretching behind the Prinz-Albrecht-Palais, a palace originally built by Baron Vernezobre and since 1830 in the hands of the youngest son of King Friedrich Wilhelm III and Queen Luise, Albrecht von Preußen.
The “Römerbad-Hotel” wooed its clientele with a promise of genteel comfort and healthy pleasures. Its guests could choose between a whole range of baths (the name Römerbad stands for Roman Baths): from Russian, Irish, Roman, steam, to medical baths, electric baths (!) and highly-popular bubbly CO2 baths. Special rooms known as Inhalatoria invited visitors to improve their health by breathing in a variety of substances (most of them indeed harmless). The hotel-and-spa also provided small cosmetic surgery procedures.
After a busy day of having their flesh cleansed, pampered and optimised the hotel guests partook of a meal at the local restaurant and/or headed for the Wiener Café whose delicious, intricate cakes soon became the talk of town.
Located in Berlin’s very centre – with Unter den Linden, Friedrichstraße and Wilhelmstraße to its east and Potsdamer Platz as well as two world-famous railway stations, Anhalter- and Potsdamer Bahnhof, to its (south-)west – Hoffmanns Römerbad, as its was also called, was bound to succeed. Still, by 1891 it had already changed its owner and was eventually sold to be refurbished and re-launched as the “Hotel Zu Vier Jahreszeiten” (Four Seasons Hotel). At the same time the street where it stood was re-named, too, and came to be known as Prinz-Albrecht-Straße. The hotel occupied a plot at No. 9.
Ten years passed and another chapter in the history of the old “Römerbad-Hotel” began: in 1902 the yet-again re-designed establishment opened under a rather familiar-sounding name “Hotel Prinz Albrecht”. Anyone interested in the history of Hitler’s rise to power or who visited Berlin’s Topography of Terror – a Second World War memorial site created where the Nazi centre of power (the Gestapo and SS headquarters) used to be – will surely know that name.
It was here that in the 1920s Adolf Hitler and Berlin’s branch of NSDAP organised their first strategic meetings and entertained as well as were entertained by co-operative members of German nobility and helpful industrialists. On November 8, 1934 the Kreuzberg “Hotel Prinz Albrecht” (the southern side of Zimmerstraße belongs to Berlin-Kreuzberg, only the northern one is part of Mitte) mutated into the main administrative building for Heinrich Himmler’s paramilitary troops, the Schutzstafel, better known as the SS. A little more than a year later the building was directly connected to its next-door neighbour: the former seat of Berlin’s Kunstgewerbemuseum at 7a-8 Albrecht Straße which by then had become the seat of the Gestapo (Geheimschutzpolizei). Together they formed a vital part of the Nazi centre of power focused around Wilhelm- and Voßstraße.
Today the site of both buildings houses one of the most important memorials and education centres teaching about the rise of Nazism and its consequences: the Topography of Terror. Since May 10, 1951 the street, former Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, has been known as Niederkirchnerstraße – named in honour of Käthe Niederkirchner, a German Communist and anti-Nazi activist murdered in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp in 1944. The elegant Roman Baths Hotel with its Viennese cakes, bubbly baths and massage parlours has long been forgotten.