250 years: Grand Hotel in London: A monument to the contemporary history of travel for luxury lovers and nostalgics

A warm brick in the down bed and a bowl of fragrant water in the room: for travelers in the late 18th century in Europe, this is pure luxury.

250 years: Grand Hotel in London: A monument to the contemporary history of travel for luxury lovers and nostalgics

A warm brick in the down bed and a bowl of fragrant water in the room: for travelers in the late 18th century in Europe, this is pure luxury. This feeling of well-being was invented by the wig maker David Low, who opened a "Grand Hotel" in London 250 years ago this Thursday (January 25th). The house on King Street in Covent Garden is considered to be the first luxury hostel under this name.

According to legend, for his business idea, Low listened to his wealthy customers while they were doing their hair, who were upset about lice, bed bugs and smelly toilets in inns. Back then, Low was probably what is called a trendsetter today: Around 1800, an era began in Europe in which traveling was slowly becoming a pleasure again - although not for everyone.

“Everyone travels,” wrote the writer Theodor Fontane, a century after David Low. "As certain as it was in the old days that it was a weather-related entertainment, it is now just as certain that it was a travel-related entertainment."

It's a passage that makes sociologist and historian Hasse Spode smile. “The “Alle Welt” of course only corresponded to Fontane’s own upper circles,” says the head of the Berlin Historical Archives on Tourism. Nevertheless, Fontane's travel chat is an indication of the speed at which pleasure trips, following the "Grand Tour" of the nobility - a kind of educational obligation befitting their status - also became established among the middle classes in the 19th century. Spode estimates that there were no more than ten percent of the population until the Weimar Republic.

Traveling won't be as commonplace as it is today. “If you didn’t have to be on the road, you didn’t have to,” adds Spode. He assumes that, especially in the Middle Ages, less than one percent of the population traveled voluntarily. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the once excellent transport infrastructure also collapsed. “There were hardly any paved roads, even fewer bridges and no more spring-loaded carriages,” he adds.

Traveling was dangerous back then. In the forest, there are the robbers - until the late 17th century, that was neither a joke nor a fairy tale. “It was only around 1800 that more peaceful times began in Europe,” reports Spode. Stagecoaches run regularly and soon, as in Roman times, there is an inn every 30 to 50 kilometers for changing horses with overnight accommodation.

The simple accommodations and shared meals with the common people do not suit the tastes of wealthy travelers. “There was advice to arm yourself and take padlocks for the rooms,” says Spode. He believes it is credible that David Low invented the term grand hotel in this mood at the end of the 18th century. At that time, more and more unfortified aristocratic palaces with large windows, called "hôtel" in French, were being built in the cities. Low rents such a house, has it remodeled and probably gets too much into debt in the process. Despite his good business idea, he is said to have died in poverty.

The London palace still stands today and currently houses a luxury cosmetics brand and outrageously expensive apartments. Low's neologism for luxurious accommodation also survives. Grand hotel - this term quickly stands for new buildings with a certain grandeur. The Badischer Hof in Baden-Baden opened in 1807 as one of the first houses of its kind in Germany. The Belle Époque of the German Empire is considered the heyday of grand hotels.

“These were houses that reflected the luxury and taste of their time with palatial architecture,” says Tobias Warnecke, managing director of the German Hotel Association (IHA). The amenities at that time included a gourmet kitchen, hot and cold running water in the rooms for the first time and sometimes a private bathroom and toilet. This is more comfort than in many castles of that time. Kaiser Wilhelm II is said to have been impressed by the showers in the Berlin luxury Hotel Adlon, which opened in 1907.

For Warnecke, grand hotels are also the site of a small revolution in the hierarchically structured class society. Because there the class barriers opened up, the nobility and the well-heeled middle class stayed together. Grand hotels with their ballrooms, baths and gardens become a center of upscale social life, a place for business, seeing and being seen, gossip and even many criminal acts. The hotel as a fascinating stage soon leaves its mark in literature - in Hotel novel. Movies and TV series followed in the 20th century.

Tourism researcher Spode can well describe how grand hotels are still able to pull off a skilful balancing act: "They manage to give the guest the illusion of individuality and care, even with hundreds of rooms - in reality it is an industrialized operation like a factory." Technicians, cooks and chambermaids often remain hidden. Spode calls the wealthy travelers of the 18th and 19th centuries the “tourist class.” With new infrastructure such as the railway, a different rhythm of life has emerged for them - with summer resorts and winter quarters. The offering has largely remained the same to this day: beach or mountains, adventure or relaxation, and sometimes you can look at art. Although there are other quarters than a grand hotel.

The First World War is a sudden turning point in this world of experience. Grand hotels seemed out of date back then. The idea of ​​“vacation” is slowly gaining acceptance among broader sections of society; the National Socialists are luring people with mass accommodation like in Prora on Rügen. After the Second World War, half of Germans soon traveled; today, according to calculations by the European Union Statistics Office, it is almost 80 percent.

What do grand hotels stand for today? Tobias Warnecke combines historical architecture, individual service and high-quality cuisine. However, the term is not protected, he says. In Germany today there are 119 certified luxury hotels with 5 stars, 78 of which are in the upper league 5 star superior. But only a few still call themselves a grand hotel. For Karina Ansos, director of the rebuilt Berlin Adlon Kempinski at the Brandenburg Gate, a grand hotel includes a vision, a history, a striking building, exclusive furnishings and first-class service with a high staff ratio.

The concept of luxury has changed in Anso's eyes. “Today, this is not just defined by the equipment, but by personalized service,” she says. "The great art is to anticipate wishes before the guest even knows them." In the Adlon there are still jobs that are becoming increasingly rare: butlers like Ricardo Dürner, car masters like Sebastian Großmann and bell boys who take care of the suitcases. The boss lives on the sixth floor.

State guests and celebrities have different security criteria and procedures - but otherwise every guest is king, assures Ansos. It wasn't just wealthy people who treated themselves to a night at the Adlon today. There are also guests who want to do something special for their wedding anniversary, for example. Scientist Hasso Spode sees it very similarly: "250 years of Grandhotel - that also tells the story of the democratization of travel," he says.