The Grand Budapest Hotel of the film may not itself exist – its exteriors were filmed in Schloss Heinewalde in Saxony and the interiors belonged to the Warenhaus Görlitz on the Czech-German border (after extensive restoration by Wes Anderson himself), but there are many that do.
I have stayed in several grand European Hotels whose rooms charted the history of a particular region – to say ‘country’ would mean to take sides in a place as complex and as volatile as Central and Eastern Europe – only to fall in disrepair during Communism.
It started as the Grand Hotel Broft around 200 years ago in the Neoclassical style favoured in Paris at the time. Its most famous guest during this period was Prince Napoleon, the cousin of Napoleon the Third who paid a visit to Prince Carol of Hohenzollern, future King of Romania. In Room 104 Osman Pasha, the Turkish general who was defeated by the Romanian army in the Battle of Plevna In 1877 held as prisoner, until extradited to Russia.
The hotel was bought by the Jewish banker Menachem Elias in 1885 and changed its name to Grand Hotel Continental opening with a restaurant that became very fashionable amongst the Bucharest elite. Apparently, there are poems in the Romanian language immortalizing its recipes.
In line with other hotels in Europe, the early 20th century and the inter-war period were the best years of the hotel attracting the scions of the soon-to-be-doomed aristocracy and settled wealth.
World War Two came and the hotel was bombed by the Americans in 1944 needing extensive restoration of its façade, and in 1948 the guests stopped coming as the Communists hated the moneyed decadence the building was a symbol of, confiscated it and turned its rooms into state offices.
Ceausescu reopened the hotel for business in 1979, but it was only when he and Communism fell in 1989, that the building was restored to its Jewish owners (the Menachem Elias Foundation) and renovated to the standard it had been accustomed to.
The furnishings were bought at auction houses, its two restaurants serve top-notch Balkan food and nouvelle cuisine, while an English Bar with its leather Chesterfields tries to satisfy the seemingly unquenchable thirst of Romanians for whisky. “We are a people who like brown drinks –whisky, rum and brandy – when all our neighbours go for white vodka”, said one of my new friends in Bucharest.
There are some modern 21st century quirks, of course: you know you’re in a five star hotel when you can’t turn off all the lights in your room; there’s always one lamp designed to confuse you.
And my wash basin isn’t a basin at all. In line with modern hotel design technology it’s totally flat with several scattered holes that are supposed to drain the water. The operative word here is ‘supposed’.
But you forget all those niggles because of the grandness of it all. In fact, I showed some pics of the lobby to a friend of mine and he commented immediately: “It looks like the last scene of Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey.”
And it does..