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1812 history

Dusseldorf’s Breidenbacher Hof is 200 years old, or is it?

In 1812, a luxurious hotel was opened in Dusseldorf by the name of Breidenbacher Hof.  Once the most expensive hotel in Germany, it is still among the best known hotels in the world.

The Original Breidenbacher Hof was designed by Adolph Anton Von Vagedes in 1806 and took six years to complete. It was built when Dusseldorf was part of the Duchy of Berg; when the Duke of Murat, Napoleon’s brother in law.  The Hotel’s owner, Mr. Breidenbach, held a grand opening on the 19th of May, 1812.

War soon broke out and Dusseldorf changed hands.  The Breidenbacher Hof became Prussian, and then made a name for itself in the English speaking world.

William Allen portrait
William Allen

When pharmacist William Allen went to Prussia in 1840, (to share Quaker tracts and to visit the oppressed Mennonites), he seemed to know the Briedenbacher Hof well. In October of that year he called the hotel “our old quarters.”

Allen spent a few nights at the Breidenbacher Hof before meeting with Emperor Wilhelm. On hearing the early history of the hotel, among other things, Allen felt “deeply impressed with the evening, with a sense of my own unworthiness.”

(Unfortunately, I have found no record of what Allen learned of the hotel’s early years.  However, his visit to the Mennonites in Germany is fascinating, and it’s also interesting to note how well Allen was received by other non Quakers, including a librarian who thanked him for “the promotion of pure Christianity.”)

In the late 1840’s, the Briedenbacher Hof was called “good, but far from the Rhine.” However, a shuttle service was already in existences, as travellers could get an omnibus from the steamboats or the trains to the hotel.

In August of 1858, when Queen Victoria went to Prussia to see her daughter, the Breidenbacher Hof is where she stayed.  On their way to the hotel, the citizens of Dusseldorf packed themselves in the streets, cheering the Empress of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.  A band played her national anthem.

By day roses lined the roads and by night multicolored lanterns adorned the town.  And so, as the royal suite was delayed by the adoring public, the hotel would have to wait.

Other well known guests include Alexander II, Csar of Russia, Robert Schumann, and Strauss, the musician, who came there in 1902.

Strauss had sung a duet the previous night and apparently stayed up all night joking with his singing parter. On that same Monday morning that “the great Strauss” chatted away with the singer Scheidemantel, Arthur Johnstone discovered an Englishman who liked to listen to Liszt, one who hummed along to the tune of “Faust” no less. This Englishman later wrote about his visit to the Manchester Guardian.

During World War II, the hotel received damage and became unsafe. It had been rebuilt in an American style, when it became the most expensive hotel in Germany and one of the most expensive in Europe.

One January 28th, 1953, “Germany’s Honest Broker”, as the Guardian called him, Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, held a meeting at the Breidenbacher Hoff to promote his return to the finance industry.

Dr. Schacht had once been Finance Minister in the Third Reich, and had trouble getting permission to open a new bank.  Now that Dr. Schacht found a small town willing to host his bank, Schacht invited deligates from Indonesia, Syria and elsewhere to promote his bank, and trade with Germany, to them.

Other notables who visited the Breidenbacher Hof during its second incarnation included the Shah of Persia, and two homesick representatives of the Australian wool trade (who noticed Kangaroo on the Hotels menu.)

Some repairs had been made over the years, but by the late 1990s the building was unsafe and no longer met modern standards.  In 1999, the Breidenbacher Hoff was demolished.  It was rebuilt, and re-opened, on the 19th of May, 2008.

The third Breidenbacher hoff made “reference to the legendary Breidenbacher Hof” designed by Vergedes, and the new architects made sure the New Briedenbacher Hoff would fit in with other buildings in the area, both old and new.

Although the name and location hasn’t changed for 200 years, the current Breidenbacher Hof is a thoroughly modern hotel, and Queen Victoria and William Allen would probably not recognize today’s “Breidenbacher Hof.”

So, how old is that hotel Breidenbacher Hoff, four years or two hundred?

Sources:

Books

Insight Guide Dusseldorf

Life of William Allen (Volume 2); With Selections from His Correspondence

Web pages

200 Jahre Kultur der Gastlichkeit – Der Breidenbacher Hof feiert Geburtstag

Jobs at the Breidenbacher Hof

Newspapers

Back issues of the Manchester Guardian, The Guardian, the Observer, The Times of London, The Advertiser (Adelaide, Australia) and others.

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