Finding Bogota

by Andreas · 17.06.2013 · Places · 5 comments

One of the reas­ons I love Ber­lin is because I can feel Germany’s change­ful his­tory (par­tic­u­larly the past 100 years) in almost every nook and cranny of this city. Right on the corner of Kur­für­sten­damm amidst inter­na­tional soul­less lux­ury shop­ping stores there is a build­ing that stands as a true wit­ness of our tur­bu­lent past: Schlüter­straße 45. Step into the five-story house, in which Hotel Bogota wel­comes guests from near and far since 1964, and you enter another era.

Built in 1912, it ori­gin­ally served as the res­id­ence for suc­cess­ful artists and wealthy busi­ness­men. One of them was Oskar Skaller, an entre­pren­eur who made a for­tune with the man­u­fac­tur­ing of med­ical dress­ing and pros­theses dur­ing WWI. Dur­ing the roar­ing 1920s Skaller, an avid art lover and col­lector, threw glam­or­ous parties in his par­terre apart­ment (today the hotel’s break­fast room) for which he hired musi­cians, such as Benny Good­man, the “King of Swing”. Being a mem­ber of the Ger­man Social­ist Demo­cratic Party, Skaller was sub­ject to polit­ical oppres­sion when the Nazis came to power and forced to sell his com­pany. He emig­rated to South Africa where he died in 1938.

Another res­id­ent was Else Ern­estine Neuländer-Simon, called Yva, one of Berlin’s most sought-after fash­ion and por­trait pho­to­graph­ers dur­ing the Wei­mar Repub­lic. In 1933 the Nazi gov­ern­ment estab­lished the Reichskul­turkam­mer (“Cham­ber of Cul­ture”), which basic­ally only allowed Aryan mem­bers to prac­tice their cre­at­ive pro­fes­sions. Because of her Jew­ish ori­gins Yva was one of the vic­tims of this oppress­ive legis­la­tion. Des­pite this and grow­ing anti-Semitism she still had hope that Hitler’s gov­ern­ment would not rule very long thus she did not leave Ger­many. Instead she found a way to cir­cum­vent her employ­ment ban and even expan­ded her thriv­ing busi­ness. As she needed more space, Yva moved to Schlüter­straße 45 in 1934 and used the building’s two top floors as stu­dio and home. In the very same year she mar­ried Alfred Simon. In 1936 the 16-year old Helmut Neustädter became her appren­tice and later glob­ally known as Helmut New­ton. Only in 1938 the Nazis man­aged to close down her stu­dio and force Yva and her hus­band to leave Schlüter­straße 45. She found work as an x-ray assist­ant in Berlin’s Jew­ish Hos­pital. On the brink of leav­ing the Reich, the couple was arres­ted, depor­ted and killed in 1942.

Cyn­ic­ally enough in the very same year the very same Reichskul­turkam­mer that banned Yva from work­ing not only seized Schlüter­straße 45 from its Jew­ish owner, but also moved its admin­is­tra­tion (together with the Min­istry of Pub­lic Enlight­en­ment and Pro­pa­ganda) to the very same build­ing. Their ori­ginal premises had been heav­ily bombed and they were in need of a new site. This time Skaller’s former apart­ment was used as a pro­jec­tion room to review and approve the weekly news­reel while the building’s cel­lar served as stor­age room for Nazi plun­ders. In 1945 the tyranny was finally over. Schlüter­straße 45 had remained mira­cu­lously unharmed by Allied bomb­ings — con­sequently its cul­tural saga could go on.

Only weeks after the war is over the house is home to Berlin’s first exhib­i­tion of uncensored art. It also hosts the found­a­tion speech for the Kul­tur­bund zur demokrat­ischen Erneuer­ung Deutsch­lands, which later becomes the Cul­tural Asso­ci­ation of the GDR. And last but not least it serves as a denazi­fic­a­tion panel for media pro­fes­sion­als and the cul­tural class, through which Axel Springer obtains his print­ing permit.

Then the City West saw a rise of Pen­sionen because hotels were simply lack­ing. At one point, Schlüter­straße 45 was even home to four such gues­t­houses. One of them was called Bogotá and run by Hans Rewald who fled Nazi Ger­many in the 1930s, took refuge in Columbia and returned to Ber­lin. After hav­ing acquired the other three gues­t­houses he sold Hotel Bogota to Stef­fen Riss­mann in 1976. Joachim Riss­mann, his son and cur­rent man­aging dir­ector, has man­aged to pre­serve the his­tory of Schlüter­straße 45 and the many fates of its former res­id­ents until today. He also pur­sues the building’s cul­tural her­it­age by host­ing pho­to­graphic exhib­i­tions and tango soir­ees. This hotel is simply unique, not just because of its wood pan­el­ing and plushy grandma interi­ors, but because of its authen­ti­city. When you enter Hotel Bogota the hustle and bustle of Kur­für­sten­damm sud­denly dis­ap­pears. You enter a dif­fer­ent world and imme­di­ately sense an informal and wel­com­ing atmo­sphere. Guests of all ranks love this hotel, from loc­als to Hol­ly­wood act­ors such Rupert Ever­ett to trav­el­ing salesmen.

Unfor­tu­nately, Hotel Bogota will need to shut its doors this year because of out­stand­ing bills. This news and the landlord’s plans to replace the 115 rooms hotel with office space and apart­ments have caused an out­cry by a group of local celebrit­ies and politi­cians who are big fans of the hotel, but seem to care more about their own pub­li­city instead of dig­ging into their pock­ets or using their net­work to keep the hotel afloat. In an ever-growing world of homo­gen­ous and face­less estab­lish­ments it is more than a pity that such a rare breed of hotels dis­ap­pears. It is cer­tainly easy to blame the rising cost and fierce com­pet­i­tion, but run­ning a hotel any­where in the world is a tough busi­ness and requires to go with the times. Hotel Bogota actu­ally has everything to set itself apart from the crowd and be prof­it­able: Its his­tory, local integ­ra­tion, pop­ular­ity and authen­ti­city simply can­not be duplic­ated. Many hoteliers would kill to have such a unique product in such a cent­ral loc­a­tion and a city with rising num­bers of overnight stays.

One can only hope that future ten­ants will uphold the leg­acy of Schlüter­straße 45 for future gen­er­a­tions. Lest we forget.

  1. Hallo David, wie in meinem Text bes­chrieben helfen “out­cries” wie z.B. auch diese Peti­tion nicht wirk­lich weiter, v.a. wenn die Begründung sehr weit herge­holt ist und nicht den Tat­sachen ents­pricht. Es ist immer ein­fach, die Schuld bei Anderen zu suchen, sprich beim “bösen” Eigentümer und der Konkur­renz. Fakt ist, daß ein Hotel wie das Bogota alle Voraus­set­zun­gen erfüllt, um auf dem Ber­liner Markt wettbe­w­erbsfähig zu sein — diese Chance wurde leider nicht gen­utzt. Hotel Bogota ist ein­z­igartig (was die meisten Hotels ja gerade nicht sind), ein Unikat für Ein­heimis­che und Gäste aus aller Welt, aber was es jetzt zum Über­leben wirk­lich bräuchte sind eine Fin­an­z­s­pritze und das nötige Know-how, um ein Hotel im 21. Jahrhun­dert zu führen, und kein Appell an die Politik.

  2. Hey Andreas, schon auch richtig was du sagst, aber aufjeden­fall ein Ver­such wert…kenne den Eigentümer per­sön­lich und gegen grosse Hotelketten die in Ber­lin Dump­ing­pre­ise anbi­eten kommt er leider nicht an!

  3. Hi David, ich habe beru­f­lich mit der welt­weiten Ver­mark­tung von privat geführten Hotels zu tun und kenne die inter­na­tionale Hotellerie und auch den Ber­liner Markt. Dieser ist im Ver­gleich mit anderen Met­ro­polen auf alle Fälle schwi­erig, aber aus eigener Erfahrung kann ich nur sagen, daß man vor Hotelketten auch hier in Ber­lin keine Angst haben muss. Ich bedauere es wirk­lich sehr, daß beim Bogota die Zeichen der Zeit nicht erkannt worden sind, sonst hätte man noch gegen­steuern können.

  4. So sorry to hear of the clos­ing. As a 19-year old col­lege kid in 1977, I could not have vis­ited Ber­lin without the inex­pens­ive hos­pit­al­ity of the Bogota. The world of Chris­topher Ish­er­wood became real for me there. Too bad that this world will be lost to future English-speaking youth.