Work started last week to rebuild the Adlon hotel, model for the 1932 movie "Grand Hotel" and a luxurious stamping ground for pre-war Europe's rich and powerful.
Filmmaker Percy Adlon, great-grandson of hotelier Lorenz Adlon, came from Los Angeles for the groundbreaking of the hotel, whose rebirth is seen as symbolizing the transformation of Berlin from an isolated, divided city to a lively metropolis.
The hotel is the first building being constructed on desolate Pariser Platz, the square facing the Brandenburg Gate that is part of the no-man's land that was drawn around the Berlin Wall.
The new Adlon, scheduled to open in 1997, is already being talked about as the unofficial guest house--two presidential suites available--for the German government, which is to move from Bonn to Berlin by 2000.
The $280-million construction project is financed by a closed-end real estate investment fund run by the Fundus Group, based in Cologne. The Adlon joins $4.5 billion worth of construction projects in Berlin's central district, an area that was formerly East Berlin's sleepy center.
At the turn of the century, when Berlin was the capital of upward-striving imperial Germany, Lorenz Adlon saw the need for a super-luxury hotel. The hotel opened in 1907, with Kaiser Wilhelm II officiating, and quickly became the focus of high society and royalty.
Guests included the Rockefellers, Charlie Chaplin, Thomas Mann, Indian maharajahs and Greta Garbo, who starred with John Barrymore in the 1932 MGM movie "Grand Hotel."
The hotel was damaged but intact when the war ended, then burned out completely soon after. The Allies expropriated the property from the Adlon family, and later Communist East Germany expropriated it again, said Percy Adlon, who made the movie "Baghdad Cafe."