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.