Actors suffering from opening-night nerves burst into tears.But hoteliers just let the colour drain from their cheeks and shake you firmly by the hand, especially German ones.
Tonight is the night before opening at Rocco Forte's extraordinary new Hotel de Rome in Berlin. The project has cost €80m. At midday tomorrow, the doors will swing open on to a short flight of regal steps, four vast crimson urns and an atrium which somehow conflates the atmospheres of imperial Rome, German neo-classicism and banking.
That would be because the hotel, situated as it is along one side of central Berlin's Bebelplatz (where the Nazis used to burn books), is hewn from the adamantine rock of what was once the head office of the mighty Dresdner Bank. On the outside it is a stark manifestation of Berliner neo-classical grandeur. On the inside it is the Italian architect Tommaso Ziffer's "Berlin style" writ gorgeously, in marble and plaster, in nuanced shades of brown, grey and black; in strange pendular structures enclosing jet-black Modernist pottery; in a pervading sense that the most important aspect of the design is the manner in which light is permitted to fall. It is all of these marvellous architectural things, yet the hotel is also resolutely banky.
The bar staff are colour-coding bottles. "I'm sorry, I can't offer you biscuits yet - hopefully they'll be here tomorrow." So confesses the waitress in perfectly idiomatic English as she delivers a pot of tea to my table with a look of apology. It's OK, really it is. And it's OK too that my otherwise magnificent room does not have coat-hangers or a tooth-mug, and the telly doesn't work. If the bathroom floor can be warmed at the flick of a switch, then surely it is only a matter of time before a tooth-mug will materialise.
I am asked gravely by Ariane Fischer, personal assistant to the manager, to tell her if there's anything at all I might notice that remains to be dealt with before tomorrow's opening; it doesn't matter how small. I point out the coat-hanger, tooth-mug and telly situations. "Yes, yes, this is just the thing. I will inform housekeeping at once."
I am whisked down to the vaults, now the hotel's extensive spa. Everything is bathed in sepulchral light - grey, soft green and, unexpectedly, gold. Gold? "Ah yes," says Heather Blankinship, the spa manager for the group, "but this was the vault of the bank. You see they have left the security doors here? Green door, gold handle. And behind this one is where we do our gold and silver facial treatments."
The spa is an extraordinary space, or rather aggregation of spaces, some of them tiny, all of them bafflingly arranged in a network of corridors no doubt conceived to discombobulate bank robbers. In one, lit by natural light from a window set above our heads at pavement level, there is an entire wall of safes, floor to ceiling. "We haven't decided how to use this room yet," says Heather. The steel shutters on the window embrasure are a foot and a half thick and have "Panzer" written on them, gold on mossy green. I marvel at the beautiful mosaic pool and I am given a singular massage in another tiny grey vault. I emerge feeling like another person.
I am attempting to become myself again in my room when there is a knock on the door. A breathless young man in uniform stands arms akimbo, every inch of them festooned with coat-hangers. "Your coat-hangers, sir," he says. He detaches a handful and disappears. I have barely re-adopted my supine position on the bed when there is another knock. "Your tooth-mug, sir. And may I connect your television?" I emerge into the corridor half an hour later to a vista of door handles festooned like the bellhop's arms with bunches of coat-hangers. On the starboard side of every bedroom door is a pair of tooth-mugs wrapped in plastic.
Ariane Fischer is a charming guide, apparently the only person in the building not afflicted with tension. She shows me the hotel's roof garden. "We had the staff opening party here last night... oh, ah-hah, yes." She grabs a solitary champagne bottle hiding behind a shrub. She shows me the presidential suite, complete with kitchen, sitting room, meeting room and appendix room, "either for security or perhaps for children". She shows me what feels to me like the loveliest bedchamber in the whole building - an important office once, no doubt, overlooking Bebelplatz, wood-panelled, still bearing the scars of Russian shrapnel by the door.
By midday I am in position in the atrium to watch the opening of the doors. I am with Kai Simon, the hotel's PR manager, who is beset with tension but refrains from crushing my knuckles as a release. Pleasant chap. Faraway look in his eyes. (He is obviously pleased with my suggestion that this is one hotel which will not blur into globalised anonymity in my memory.) The rest of the staff are ranged around the atrium like well-pressed ghosts. The reception desk is looking exceptionally beautiful today, between its marble columns, the reception staff behind it like so many figures at a Last Supper.
It is midday. The doors are opened smartly and up the regal staircase, between the crimson vases, glides a man in a cope and surplice, accompanied two steps to the rear by another similarly dressed man with a bucket. They are met by the hotel's general manager, who is clearly delighted to see him. It is the bishop from the neighbouring Catholic cathedral, St Hedwig's, and he has come to bless the building. He speaks long and with feeling and then douses the atrium at all points with holy water from the bucket, aka an aspersorium. The ghosts around the walls relax. They had an accident at an opening some years back - a door came off its hinges and flattened an attendee - and now they take no chances.
Half an hour later the entire foyer is buzzing with the well-heeled of Berlin, having a snoop. The general manager's face is transformed. The chrysanthemum of water on the floor has all but evaporated.
THE COMPACT GUIDE
HOW TO GET THERE:
Air Berlin (0870 738 8880; airberlin.com) offers return fares from London Stansted to Berlin from £40. Double rooms at the Hotel de Rome (00 49 30 460 6090; roccofortehotels.com) start at €210 (£150) per room per night on a room-only basis.
German National Tourist Office (020-7317 0908; germany-tourism.co.uk).