Hamburg is the centre o Germany’s musical universe, thanks to its unique Elbphilharmonie and Laeiszhalle concert halls. I was heading for this culture, and the city’s famous outer and inner lakes and harbour. I also was drawn to a treasure trove of eating and drinking offerings, the 1897-vintage Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, and staying there turned out to be theatre all the way.
Arrive at the Neuer Jungfernstieg entrance and two giant proscenium curtains, red and black, guard the entrance. Then, past a wood cabinet with the hotel’s crest in gold, holding bottles of Vittel for runners, are seven stone steps, with black-edged red carpeting and flanked by bronze-railed wrought iron bannisters that lead to the main revolving, door. Ahead is a 20-metre walkway to a 10 by 12-metre tapestry that must surely be Flemish, and old.
To my left, the lobby lounge is a composite of various reds with a black grand piano and an enormous fireplace for the winter months. To my right stretches the lobby seating area, again mostly ruby reds, with original panelling, masses of flowers, books and red apples, and two baby buggies, one black and one cream, loaned free to guests. The near wall is entirely made up of key cubby-holes, as used in the Grand Budapest Hotel. The concierge is partly hidden behind a gigantic 2017 coffee table book, Jens Meyer-Odewald’s Das Hotel, on a music stand.
My key is a heavy retro sculpture, too big for lady’s present-day clutches. I make my way up in one of two elevators: parquet floor, elegant gold-legged chair and a crest above the mirror. The second-floor corridor is, like the rest of the upper corridors, elegantly taupe, with orchids in pots.
Number 200, the River Suite, is at the far end, 100 metres along. One metre in, past a holding area with two umbrellas and two winter-coat hooks, is a second door. Inside this, I look down the eight-metre length of my salon to a curved French window, which opens to Binnenalster, Inner Alster, with its 60-metre-high jet d’eau in full flow – in early mornings and pre-sunset eight-person boats row past. Turning 180 degrees, to face my front door, I look through the glass and white wood treble doors to the bedroom and on to an open closet and bathroom. The salon has a bleached oak floor with a soft grey-blue central carpet, the bedroom’s carpet is soft beige. Walls in both rooms are soft mushroom panels with white border highlights. Drapes, bordered in sea blue, are a mushroom-grey ogee pattern, and I particularly like the multi-knot cord retainers, a reminder that Hamburg is home of shipping.
There are other maritime associations. The desk holds a sextant globe, books artfully scattered around the salon include Segeln, a Cube Book on yachts, and Olivier Le Carrer’s Yachting. There are also miniature leather and copper telescopes, both antique, and numerous leather-bound books in German. There is an iPad. The decorative fireplace, beneath the Samsung screen, has a standing set of fire furniture. Fruit on a glass plate comes with hotel-crest china. The bedroom is dominated by the Californian king-size bed and a two-metre-tall powder blue velvet buttoned headboard – its bent-forward sides holding easy work fibre optic lights. I adore the soft and cuddly Katrin Leuze Collection throw, indeed ‘thrown’ on the bed nonchalantly. I have a leather alarm clock. Fronts of drawers, and two tall closets, are white. The bathroom has black tiled flooring, and walls are white tiles up to a height of three metres, above which black on white wallpaper. Ceiling lighting in the bathroom is spots, the bedroom has an eight-arm handblown Murano chandelier, and the salon holds a glorious 10-light chandelier from which hangs a kaleidoscope of glistening Swarovski crystals. A discreet bureau in the salon, with Nespresso on top, has a Dometic refrigerator with Moët, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart Rosé and Red Bull.
Many choose to run, walk or bike around the lake, but I decide to use the gym. This is surely unique. Hotel GM/RVP Ingo Peters is a runner, which helps. As does the fact that when Dohle Handelsgruppe, best known for HIT supermarkets, bought this hotel in 2013 (their only hotel) they wanted the entire thing taken up at least one luxury notch. So this fifth-floor facility, which includes the spa, is more like a SoHo loft with latest Technogym bits sharing space with white orchid plants, mock maritime travelling trunks and wall-hung ship pictures – and a brick-walled relaxing area with comfortable tan leather sofas, books, apples and a light-pistachio Smeg filled with complimentary ice water. Peters says the gym, which has no outside members, definitely helps fills bedrooms, attracting younger, lifestyle-fit consultants, financiers and techies away from the competition. What would Friedrich Haerlin have thought? He bought what was an 11-room hotel in 1897, and by 1911 it had 140 keys. It was used for defence in the First World War and became the base of the British Seventh Armoured Division after World War II.
Japanese, or to be exact Peruvian-Japanese Nikkei 9, was our choice for dinner – the alternatives included two Michelin-starred Haerlin or the see-and-be-seen Grill, plus in summer the rooftop and pavement terrace dining. We went past two lifesize black crystal panthers, from a Paris flea market. The 80-seat restaurant is alive with mirrors and shiny panels hanging from its low ceiling (no one realises this is windowless, says Westphal). Plain dark wood tables are set with chopsticks and square-folded brown linen napkins. I look to the bright theatre of the open kitchen at the far end, and then the integral bar, which morphs to a weekend nightclub.
A manager brings heavy gold card menus with eight interior sections: introduction, cold appetisers, hot appetisers, noodles/kushiyaki, robata, sushi/sashimi and combination. Each section has listed dishes plus explanations in English and German. Food is brought on assorted Lambert ceramic dishes, and unmarked bronze cutlery is Pintni. I have a Nikkei ceviche, with chilli spice aji amarillo, cilantro and tobiko (flying fish roe). I go on to braised miso short rib with chocolate mole sauce, corn and sweet potato. Then enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir Vier Jahreszeiten Cuvée, from Rheinau August Kesseler.
After an excellent night’s sleep, I find the New York Times in a black linen bag hanging on the outer door. Then it is breakfast in Café Condi (oh the luxury of a dedicated breakfast room). Café Condi, up three wood stairs from the lobby, has a main floor with servery, but you can also go up nine more curved stairs to the upper level, overlooking Inner Alster. Alternatively, from the main floor take 11 straight steps down to the all-day casual cafe, opening on to Jungfernstieg. I sat on the main floor at a table whose white linens were like an advertisement for a laundry’s whiteness and starching proficiency. The main buffet is interestingly on and in a ceiling-high white-painted Welsh dresser. Its outer shelves have fruits and cold proteins, including nine different types of cold meats, all labelled. Open the glass-fronted chilled upper cupboards to find pots of different yoghurts, avocado cream and things like that. Elsewhere there were organics, a splendid display of Real Bread, with a futuristic toaster for which I needed help. This was an eat-in-silence occasion, all the better to concentrate exclusively on my really good omelette and those breads – Ingo Peters had trialled breakfast music but the good hausfraus of this Hanseatic city disapproved. And anyway I was, as always, running to a tight schedule.
Mary Gostelow’s travelogue is www.girlahead.com
All images courtesy of Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Hamburg ® Guido Leifhelm