You know this hotel—it conjures a memory for you. I promise.
I’ll prove it to you with five words: Michael Jackson dangling a baby. Yeah, it’s that hotel. But, there’s a whole lot more to the Adlon Kempinski than one infamous afternoon. So much more that we named it one of our Fodor’s Finest hotels, making it one of the top 100 in the world. The Adlon is also a personal favorite. It’s where I always want to stay whenever I’m in Berlin. Here’s why I’m completely obsessed.
A Private View Where You Can Contemplate a Whole Lot of History
The Adlon sits on Pariser Platz in the center of Berlin. It’s opposite the Brandenburg Gate and from its west-facing rooms, you’ll get perhaps the best view in the city: a sweeping vista that encompasses the Gate, the Tiergarten, and the Reichstag. When you gaze out your window, you’re staring right at the ugly-beautiful face of history. The Brandenburg Gate was constructed under the direction of the King of Prussia in 1791 as a monument to peace. When Napoleon took Berlin, he marched his victory procession between its Doric columns, and when Hitler seized power in 1933, Nazis followed suit. It survived the bombings of World War II. The Berlin Wall was built just on the other side of it. Reagan used it as his background when he demanded, “Mr. Gorbachav, tear down this wall.” It was a symbol of a divided country and also of its reunification. Now, Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Gate are often crowded with tourists or buskers, but from your hotel window, you can feel alone with history.
Chaplin Loved It, Hitler Hated It
Name a famous person and they’ve probably stayed at the Adlon. From the day Lorenz Adlon opened it in 1907, with the goal of making it the most opulent hotel in the world, it was where the elite mingled. It’s been written about by Christopher Isherwood, it was the hotel that Grand Hotel was based upon and at which it was filmed–Greta Garbo uttered the words “I want to be alone” here. Charlie Chaplin routinely booked into suite 101-114. The last tzar of Russia, Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker—they were all guests—so were Einstein, Edison, and FDR. As Pariser Platz was also the address for the American and French embassies, it became a hangout for diplomats. In fact, some embassies even based their headquarters within the Adlon. Soon, the hotel began to get a reputation as a neutral ground—Switzerland in hotel form. As a result, Hitler was said to feel unwelcome. And what better endorsement can there be than the fact that the 20th century’s greatest monster, Adolf Hitler, apparently hated the place?
The Russians Accidentally Burned It Down, But It Came Roaring Back to Life
Call it luck or call it a miracle—the Adlon survived the War, despite the destruction of 80 percent of the city center. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive marauding Russians hell-bent on looting the hotel’s legendary wine cellar (rumored to house up to 1 million bottles). A fire broke out and that was that. The Adlon was destroyed—and what remained was eventually bulldozed. But in 1997, it was reborn.
While so many buildings that are ruined by war and misfortune are rebuilt in contemporary fashion—if rebuilt at all—the Adlon was designed to faithfully resemble the original, though with modern conveniences. It was renovated again in 2017—this time, the lobby was reimagined, though still with a nod to the pre-World War II Weimar-era glitz and pre-World War I Kaiser-era ritz.
It’s Still the Berlin Home to Celebrity and Diplomatic Guests
If you can swing it, book room 512: the presidential suite. This is the Michael Jackson room. For those who don’t know the infamous tale: In November of 2002, Michael Jackson waived to his fans from his sixth-floor Adlon suite, before withdrawing inside momentarily and reemerging with his nine-month-old son, Blanket, whom he then dangled over the ledge. But Michael Jackson isn’t the only one to call room 512 their temporary home. Barack Obama stayed here twice, once as a candidate when he made his much-lauded Berlin speech in 2008, and once as the president in 2016.
A couple floors down is the Royal Suite, so named as this is where Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip stay while in town. Their portrait even hangs here, right smack over the piano.
INSIDER TIPThe Adlon’s proximity to the Reichstag and the Chancellery, as well as the American, French, and British embassies, continues to make the hotel the place for the diplomatic set. In fact, newly appointed diplomats routinely have breakfast on the Adlon’s second floor prior to the meeting in which they’re presented to the chancellor.
There’s so Much Good Food to Stuff Down
Germany gets a bad rap when it comes to cuisine—“bland” is the word that’s usually unfairly bandied about. But, that’s simply not true, especially in the capital city, and the restaurants at the Adlon prove it. For one, they have Sra Bua by Tim Raue. You may know Tim Raue from Chef’s Table’s third season, or have heard of his namesake Berlin eatery, Restaurant Tim Raue, which currently ranks as the 37th best in the world. He brings an Asian influence to European fare, and it’s mighty tasty. And then there’s the hotel’s signature restaurant: the two-Michelin starred Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer, which offers impeccable pan-European cuisine, and also has that dazzling view of the Brandenburg Gate.
INSIDER TIPHotel breakfast buffets are usually a vile morning rite for the frequent traveler, compelled by a necessity to add fuel to the body. But the Adlon serves what may be one of the finest breakfast buffets anywhere. Come for the fuel, stay for the pastries, the champagne, the dumplings, the caviar. Gorge yourself!
Those Little Things That Remind You of a Luxurious Past and Make You so Damn Happy
It’s almost always the little things that do it—the touches that push a hotel from “It’s a nice place to stay” to “I want to abandon my home and move in here.” At the Adlon, as with most impossibly lovely hotels, it starts with the service. Old-school luxury hotels can have varying degrees of courtesy—from the obnoxiously stuffy to the obnoxiously solicitous. Excellent service should fall somewhere in between: refined, yet genuinely kind. You’ll find that here.
Then there are the little design details: the lobby fountain that’s an exact replica of the one the Maharaja of Patiala gave to Lorenz Adlon in 1930, the antique elevator dials, the arched coffered ceiling in the lobby that beckons toward the bar, the wistful vine-covered atrium–it goes on and on. And then there are the in-room details that just make you smile: the logo-embroidered laundry bags that you’ll most certainly snatch; or the small statue of the hat-wearing Ampelmann, a nod to old East Berlin, placed next to the bed at turndown that you’ll also most certainly snatch.
Here, at the Adlon, the past and present collide all around you. So much so, that at the end of the day, when you take to those high thread-count sheets and rest your head on your impossibly soft feather pillow as if you were sleeping on a duck’s stomach, you’ve now become a part of the history of this landmark hotel, cohabiting with its ghosts and snoring your way into its legacy.