Stopping (the time) at the Savoy Hotel Berlin
Golden rays of the morning sun cast long shadows on the wood-panelled walls and round tables. The bar’s long and waxed counter top is partly covered with white linen; hanging from an octagonal pillar in the center of the room, morning’s newspapers are still waiting for their readers.
I sit down on a soft and comfy armchair in The Times Bar at Savoy Hotel Berlin; the smell of cigars from previous night still linger in the air softening the contrast between light and shadow. Berliners whizz past on the other side of the big windows on their bicycles. The world renown lobby bar favoured by German and foreign cultured elite is still closed for few more hours but the staff has politely urged me to have one more cup of coffee here – on top of the tree ones I had just enjoyed in the breakfast room.
“I never can understand how anyone can not smoke, it deprives a man of the best part of life. With a good cigar in his mouth a man is perfectly safe, nothing can touch him, literally.” – Thomas Mann
Casa del Habano, one of the ninety shops selling Cuban cigars around the world, is located in the Times Bar, and a faint scent of cigars is still tangible in the air. The anecdote goes that this would have been a spot Hemingway would have enjoyed while in Berlin – and you can never know even if he did: the author was too tipsy to remember all the details of his visit. But regardless the cigars and the masculine leather chairs, Savoy Hotel Berlin has also been favoured by many feminine world stars, and while I keep sipping on my coffee I can easily imagine how Greta Garbo flung herself on the soft chairs when wanting a moment’s peace from being a film star.
Savoy Hotel Berlin is located in western Berlin’s Charlottenburg district. The address in Fasanenstrasse is good: along the same road is situated a sophisticated Literaturhaus with winter garden café, and around the corner, you step onto the famous Kurfürstendamm shopping street. Many houses lining the streets survived the second world war bombs, and an old-fashioned yet intelligently elegant atmosphere prevails in the area. And even though the Savoy was momentarily a base for the British troops after the war, the militant presence has not charred the subtly luxurious feel of the hotel.
In the lobby, you are greeted by a harmonious whole of shiny marble, stately leather sofas and glittering chandeliers, but despite these grandiose elements, the atmosphere is elegantly light. On the right-hand side you enter into the airy dining and breakfast room, where one of Berlin’s best breakfast brunches are served: in the space governed by white table clothes and shining chandeliers the breakfast easily stretches both your leisure time and the waste line, and I see many a traveller skimming through morning papers while sipping on their coffees. It is eight o’clock, and no one seems to be in a hurry. The Times Bar is located opposite the dining room, on the left-hand side of the reservation desk, behind glass doors. But even though the ventilation system is highly effective in the bar, the scent of cigars, suggesting of the olden times, sneaks up on me and throws me into an old-fashioned mode while I am checking into my room.
“A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries.” – Thomas Mann
Because I have come here not only as a guest but to work, Julia T., who sees to the hotel’s press relations, is welcoming me to The Savoy, and offers a little tour with historic background. But as we stroll along the corridors it is more and more hard to concentrate on Julia’s information: the charming atmosphere has already thrown me into a dreaming mode. And no wonder: The Savoy is Berlin’s oldest building continuously used as a hotel. Its history started in 1929, and due to many skillfully conducted renovations, the hotel has kept loyal to its roots elegantly and with a well-deserved pride of a long tradition.
The guest list in Savoy is long and esteemed: here have rested many Hollywood actors and world-class writers, such as Henry Miller, Thomas Mann and Heinrich Böll. Behind a door decorated with big golden letters forming the name HENRY MILLER, opens one of the hotel’s most esteemed rooms, the Henry Miller master suit. Julia tells me (a little peek inside is not possible at the moment, believe me, I asked) that the room’s prevalent colour is black, whereas in Greta Garbo’s room, the shades of lilies dominates.
From the first moment on I am taken aback with the modern bathrooms’, with straight bright ceramic lines, contrast to the rest of the rooms’ decoration, and Julia mentions that, in fact, Savoy was one of the first hotels in the world to offer private bathrooms in each room. She tells a story of a traveller arriving from Paris. After checking in, he went up to his room but hurriedly came downstairs again: oh no, he in no case needed a private bathroom in his room! He could easily settle for a less valuable room.
But in Savoy, each customer is equal, and the traveller kept his extravagant room with private bathroom – an element now a fixture in hotels around the world.
“Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.” – Thomas Mann
Since a teenager, the early 20th-century literary travellers have enthralled me: the wood-panelled smoky bars, bohemian yet intelligent glamour and the brilliant ideas sparkling in the air later to be transformed into works of art. The Savoy Berlin with its Times Bar gives me a glimpse of this, bygone world. It offers a safe haven in urbanized, designer boutique hotel grazed Europe; a safe-haven where sophistication and appreciation of old world glamour are esteemed and nurtured.
I keep postponing my departure from the corner table where I am dreaming with my coffee and notebook. Opposite side of the road Delphi Filmpalast cinema, also from the 1920s, advertises its latest shows, and around the corner I spotted the legendary Theater des Westens, which big stage has carried on the performances of Anna Pavlova and Josephine Baker alike. Marlene Dietrich performed in its cellar stage, as did, for example, Bertolt Brecht.
But eventually my morning moment in the Savoy reaches its end: a waitress arrives to organize the bar for yet another lot of cigar-loving travellers, and I have to start heading towards the airport, Finland and Naantali. I step to the streets of Berlin refreshed, knowing that I am not the only customer leaving Savoy with a rested body, stomach full of tasty breakfast, mind inspired and soul full of atmospheric memories.
Later, on my AirBerlin flight, I smell the faint scent of cigar of my shirt, and for a moment, I am hurled back to Savoy’s leather arm chairs.
On top of a physical trip, the visitor gets to travel in time when stepping into Hotel Savoy Berlin.
P.S. I wish to thank Hotel Savoy Berlin for this opportunity to stay in and get information on their historic hotel. Hotel Savoy Berlin is part of my series exploring Europe’s historic hotels. The collaboration does not affect the content of my writing, as I choose only culturally or historically significant hotels for the series. By this, I wish to ensure inspiring and atmospheric moments not only for myself but for my readers on their travels. Historic hotels are an integral part of European history of travel, and with this series I wish to support this part of our travel history.