Rocco Forte's Hotel de Rome in Berlin: Take a peek behind the scenes

It's the eve of opening. Rocco Forte's Hotel de Rome in Berlin is about to welcome its first paying guests. The tension is palpable. Nick Coleman watches the drama unfold

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.



Air Berlin (0870 738 8880; offers return fares from London Stansted to Berlin from £40. Double rooms at the Hotel de Rome (00 49 30 460 6090; start at €210 (£150) per room per night on a room-only basis.


German National Tourist Office (020-7317 0908;

Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'