Berlin’s Hotel Adlon, in fact and fiction

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“I walked west down Unter den Linden towards Pariser Platz and the Adlon.

“I went through the hotel’s handsome doorway and into the sumptuous lobby with its square pillars of dark, yellow-clouded marble. Everywhere there were tasteful objets d’art; and in every corner there was the gleam of yet more marble. I went into the bar, which was full of foreign journalists and embassy people, and asked the barman, an old friend of mine, for a beer and the use of his telephone.”

    — From “March Violets” by Philip Kerr


It is just down the street from the Brandenburg Gate, this place where spies met and and covert deals were cut and reporters gossiped and secret sex was consummated, an oasis in Naziland. It was damaged at the end of the war, not by bombs but in a fire set by drunken Russian soldiers taking a break from raping the women of Berlin. It had various incarnations under the Communist government of East German before being knocked down in the early 1980s. It was rebuilt after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now it looks out across the street at a Starbucks and a Hagen Dazs store that pretty much have perpetual lines of American tourists snaking out of their doors.

But in the fiction that is set in prewar Germany, it was a place that was situated within a few hundred feet of the American and British embassies, and of the German chancellery. It was where all of the players met — government officials, journalists, visiting businessmen, spies, hookers, spies who pretended to be hookers. Sometimes they ate. Mostly they drank at the lobby bar.

It is still there, in the Adlon’s rebuilt incarnation.

But there is a sign when you walk in:

“Bitte keine fotos

“No photos please.”


“The Adlon Bar was not exactly hopping — a party of lugubrious-looking Swedish businessmen, a mixed group of SS and Kriegsmarine officers, a spattering of lone foreigners staring into their glasses and pining for the days when a night in Berlin spelled entertainment. And in the corner, playing rummy, Dick Normanton and Jack Slaney.

“Their steins were full, so Russell took them a couple of chasers.”

    — From “Silesian Station,” by David Downing


You walk in, up the red carpet covering the front steps, and the bar dominates the lobby. It is right in front of you, with the desk off to the left. There is light marble everywhere. There is a fountain in the middle of the seating area, kind of Asian-looking in its design, with elephant heads arranged around the base. It looks like eight of them. If you close your eyes and listen, you hear the light splashing of the fountain accompanied by piano music tinkling quietly in a kind of wealthy harmony.

To the right is a balcony that overlooks the main seating area. You can sit at a table, in an armchair or on a sofa. You can order a drink, or coffee, or lunch, or pastries, or sacher torte. Over to the left, an old couple have a drink and don’t appear to speak to each other. In the middle, a mother and daughter rest with their shopping bags, their exhausting day of commerce done. The people in the bar are dressed too well to be reporters. There do not appear to be any spies at any of the tables. Then again, not looking like a spy is probably the point.

No photos, indeed.


“I treated myself to an early lunch at the “Grand Hotel” Adlon, near Panzer’s apartment…I noticed the absence of swastika flags. Hotel Adlon was sometimes referred to as Little Switzerland, because more foreigners patronized it than Nazis. I would feel more relaxed there, even though the presence of all those foreigners ensured an equal number of Gestapo agents.

“I ordered tea and fruit. I had a wait ahead, but they did not mind if you sat a long time at the Hotel Adlon. They catered to those with an excess of money and time.”

    — From “A Game of Lies,” by Rebecca Cantrell

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