Berthold Kempinski entered this world on October 10, 1843 in Posen (a former Prussian province, now Poland). As early as 1862, the Kempinski family were successful wine merchants. In 1872, the family business expanded to Berlin where Berthold Kempinski opened shop under his own name. Kempinski Wine Merchants of Berlin proved most promising and became the company’s principal location. Thus, the name Kempinski gained world-wide repute. Shortly thereafter, Kempinski expanded the business, erecting a restaurant with several dining halls. Ambitious and purposeful, in 1889 Kempinski followed his expansion plans by opening a restaurant in Leipziger Straße – the largest dining establishment in Berlin. Since Berthold and his wife Helena had no sons, they invited their son-in-law, Richard Unger, to join the family enterprise. An excellent decision, as Richard significantly contributed to the company’s on-going success and development.
Richard Unger was soon managing ably, and Berthold bequeathed him the business under the stipulation that he keep the name Kempinski. Berthold Kempinski died on March 14, 1914 at 78 years of age. His death spared him the looming, political upheaval that changed the world.
Before the outbreak of World War One, Richard Unger not only attended to the Kempinski gastronomic enterprise, he also established an enormous real estate company. A short lull during the conflict inspired him to manufacture and market his own products, creating the Kempinski trademark. The enterprise flourished, leading to the grand opening of Kempinski Restaurant and Delicatessen in 1918 at Kurfürstendamm 27, on the corner of Fasanenstraße.
The legendary Restaurant Kempinski on the corner of Kurfuerstendamm 27 and Fasanenstraße (1928)
Soaring success was followed by dark disenchantment. To escape World War II persecution, Richard Unger emigrated with his family to the United States. The National Socialists absorbed M. Kempinski & Co, merging it with the Aryan Aschinger AG. Shortly before the war ended, the restaurant at Kurfürstendamm 27 was completely destroyed by fire. Massive Berlin bombing flattened the remaining Kempinski properties.
Still, the name Kempinski survived. Dr. Friedrich Unger, son of Richard and grandson of Berthold, returned to Germany after the war. In 1951, he began construction of a hotel. The address was Kurfürstendamm 27 – precisely where the former Kempinski restaurant once stood.
February 1951, laying the hotel cornerstone
The hotel’s grand opening and successful launch could not have been more fortuitous. Although the divided city still suffered from postwar fallout, Berliners set their sights on their city’s future and the imminent Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). A local Berlin newspaper’s headline proclaiming the Kempinski Hotel grand opening in 1952 aptly captured the spirit of postwar Berlin:
"Kempinski is back: Berlin will rise again"
The hotel façade, 1950s
The name Kempinski spoke to the people and the hotel became a hub of Berlin and international high society. The ledger was filled with prominent guests including Ava Gardner, John Wayne, Billy Wilder, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Sophia Loren, Maria Callas, Gina Lollobrigida, Romy Schneider, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Peter Ustinov, Rudolf Nureyev, Roger Moore, Charles Aznavour, Liza Minelli, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Mick Jagger, Back Street Boys, Hannes Jännicke, Heino Ferch, Katja Flint and Hannelore Elsner. Politicians such as Ludwig Erhard, Theodor Heuss, John F. Kennedy, Willy Brandt, Henry Kissinger, Helmut Schmidt, Mikhail Gorbachev, Yitzhak Rabin, Ronald Reagan and many others were drawn to the exclusive hotel in Berlin – ‘city on the front.’
Hildegard Knef and daughter Tinta with David Cameron.
As of 1994, a bronze plaque at the hotel entrance commemorates the Kempinski family, “…whose family members fled or died after their renowned venue was forcefully taken by the Aryan paragraph in 1937 and sold under duress to Nazi Germany.”
Mind you, this five-star hotel was the first and only luxury hotel in Berlin, the uncontested heart of an international clientele for 20 years running. Countless innovations set standards for and created enduring trends in the hotel industry. Only a few years after opening, in 1958, the hotel was expanded to incorporate the 55-meter building extension. A conference/ceremonial hall was added in 1963 and the rooms were air-conditioned as early as 1966 when the 12-storey tower was built to increase room capacity, including a Presidential Suite. In 1972, an unheard of 1.2-million-mark swimming pool with solarium, sauna and fitness room made a huge splash in Berlin. Between 1978 and 1981 the hotel interior underwent complete modernization, from basement to roof, costing no less than 20 million marks. Improvements and additions were made to the lobby, to rooms, the restaurant, banquet hall and eight interconnecting event spaces; a wine cellar, façade insulation and four luxury suites on the sixth floor. Further renovations took place in 1994 updating guest accommodations, the ground floor and lobby, the banquet hall, winter garden and business center. The bar and boutique domain also underwent restructuring.
In December 2017, we not only commemorated the completion of lobby renovations and our new Bristol Café, we also celebrated our new name: Hotel Bristol Berlin. We welcome our future as a stand-alone hotel at the pinnacle of quality service, growing organically from our well-tended roots.
Decades of profound experience in our field has taught us that there is something much more important than any comfort or technological innovation - it is the inner conviction living within every employee, from the hotel director to the youngest apprentice; the heart of hospitality is the passion to serve each guest impeccably.