There are still bars on the windows and the hallways still look a lot like jail. Otherwise, the former prison has received a radical cure, after all it should no longer be escape-proof, but inviting – after all, it’s now a hotel. The windows have been enlarged, the spartan cells transformed into stylish rooms, the sober brick building from the Wilhelmine era has been entwined with greenery, and secluded gardens have emerged in the courtyards.
The Hotel Wilmina, a former women’s prison and courthouse in Berlin Charlottenburg, has been attracting guests even before it officially opened in early April. City travelers and business travelers are now stepping in the door here. And many architects too, because: The hotel received the audience award from the Association of German Architects BDA for its successful transformation in 2021. The local crowd meets in the hotel restaurant Lovis, which belongs to the Wilmina, where the Berlin cook Sophia Rudolph prepares contemporary German cuisine with regional and seasonal ingredients.
So business as usual in the capital’s hotel market? Another chic hotel that you have to see before the next one opens? It would be nice. Thomas Lengfelder, Managing Director at the German Hotel and Restaurant Association Dehoga Berlin, says the industry is in a serious crisis. About ten percent of the accommodation establishments disappeared from the market during the pandemic. While the Berlin-Brandenburg Statistics Office listed 787 hotels, guesthouses, hostels and inns in December 2019, it was only 695 in January 2022. The number of beds shrank by 12,000.
New ideas: Career changers often open hotels for very specific target groups
In particular, many smaller, often owner-managed houses had to close, says Lengfelder. Some had too little equity to bridge the long Corona period, others gave up because they didn’t have the money for upcoming modernizations. But well-known hotels also had to close, such as Hecker’s on Kurfürstendamm, the Golden Tulip, the Ellington on Nürnberger Strasse and the Sylter Hof on Kurfürstenstrasse – all four-star establishments. Some of these hotel properties have been repurposed into apartments, flats and offices.
For Burkhard Kieker, the glass is still half full rather than half empty. He is the managing director of Visit Berlin, the capital’s marketing agency. And as such, of course, it’s his job to spread optimism, after all bad news doesn’t attract new visitors to the city. Kieker compares the Berlin hotel market to a fertile jungle: “There is constant growth and decay. Old things go, new things come.” There are currently between 30 and 40 projects under construction or in the planning stage in the capital – from very cheap to luxury hotels, everything is included.
The accommodation industry is also subject to trends. “We are observing that the hotel market is becoming more and more individual, individual hotels are tailored to specific lifestyles and clearly defined target groups,” says Christian Tänzler, spokesman for Visit Berlin. Whether fashion, fast cars, expensive bikes – the preferences of these target groups are reflected in certain houses. This means that the offer is becoming more and more diversified and segmented. Tänzler says it is not uncommon for lateral entrants from other disciplines, people with ideas, money and a feeling for the spirit of the times, to realize their projects together with professionals.
Every house is different and suits the city
But hotel groups have also recognized this trend. With the Hotel Luc on Gendarmenmarkt, Marriott has opened a hotel from its exclusive Autograph Collection. This collection has nothing in common with the eternally same chain hotel. Each of these houses is different, each is individually furnished with fine furniture and a design that suits the city. The interior of the Luc is reminiscent of the Prussian heritage, but with a modern twist, without its severity. Of course, the prices are then no longer those of a chain hotel: Little Luc, the smallest room in the house, is around 300 euros and up. The boutique hotel “Château Royal”, which is scheduled to open in late summer, is also moving in this direction. Victoria Elíasdóttir, the sister of the artist Ólafur Elíasson, will be the chef in the kitchen of the Dóttir restaurant. There are plenty of reasons to travel to Berlin – even for vacationers for whom the hotel is the destination.
But a few chic new openings will not be enough to build on the success figures of the past. “Before the pandemic, Berlin had an annual occupancy rate of 84 percent and 35 million overnight stays,” says Christian Tänzler. A top value that one can only dream of in other cities – and now also in Berlin. “We had growth for ten years, then Corona came.” With Corona, the guest structure has also changed: before the pandemic, half of the visitors came from overseas, now the German share is 70 percent, and the trend is rising.
But the hotels in the five-star category cannot be filled with German guests alone. Sebastian Riewe, Sales and Marketing Director at the Hotel Adlon, says that guests from Russia, Asia and the USA are missing. He recognizes a positive development towards 50 percent occupancy. “But in the end, a hotel like the Adlon needs an occupancy rate of 70 to 80 percent to be profitable.” Two new direct connections to the USA give Sebastian Riewe reason to hope that at least business with the USA is slowly returning: Since the beginning of March there has been a Berlin – New York flight again, and at the beginning of May there will be a direct connection between Berlin and Washington, DC.
However, guests should expect hotel rooms in the city to become more expensive, says Thomas Lengfelder from Dehoga. The reason is inflation, the drastically rising energy and food prices and an acute shortage of staff. How high the price increase will be is difficult to predict, says Christian Tänzler. The prices for overnight stays have already risen, but compared to other cities, Berlin still offers very good value for money.
“Berlin is still the showcase of the republic – and a gathering place for creative and restless spirits,” says Berlin’s chief marketer Burkhard Kieker. The German capital has lost none of its attractiveness as a travel destination – for visitors with both large and small travel budgets. Your hotel market has always developed according to its own laws and is constantly reinventing itself. That was the case after the Wall came down, and it’s still the case now, in what feels like the post-Corona period.