A Glass Cabinet at the Colombi Hotel

In picturesque Freiburg, there’s a luxury hotel that houses a small display case that has an awful lot to tell about the Bundesrepublik of yore – and a certain German car manufacturer. 

Photo (c) gourmet-residenzen.com

Anyone interested in finding out what West German glamour looked and smelt like ought to visit the city of Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg.

Not only is this one of the prettiest places to be found in the southern part of Germany, but it’s also home to the five star superior Colombi Hotel, which not only boasts all the amenities one can expect of a house of this category, but also offers all the flair of an era that’s ended quite a while ago.

At the Colombi Hotel, Helmut Kohl shall always remain the ‘eternal chancellor’. The reunification appears to be but a diffuse vision, whereas all the insignia of West German post-war wealth are there and present. When asked about the location of Germany’s seat of government, more senior guests might actually be tempted to reply ‘Bonn’.

The Colombi Hotel’s definition of luxury isn’t Feng Shui or WiFi connectedness, but bourgeois opulence and traditional courtesy.

It is the kind of place Wilfried, lifelong CDU voter and owner of a successful Mittelstand business would like. Wilfried isn’t a decadent chap, so he buys his suits off the rack, but he treats himself to good stuff every now and again. A nice steak, a weekend break at the Colombi with his wife, Isolde, and a new Mercedes S-class every three years or so.

Bearing this in mind, it makes perfect sense for the Swabian brand to do a bit of marketing at a place that’s so obviously suited to its clientele, even if it’s as just as unassuming as putting some merchandising articles in a glass cabinet that guests might stumble across when on their way to answer a call of nature.

Yet once one actually takes the time to pay attention what’s presented in said glass cabinet, the bubble of Olde Bundesrepublike cosiness bursts in an instant.

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So there’s some scale models, obviously. That lined cup may be acceptable for Wilfried too, even though he doesn’t quite understand why anyone would put a piece of soft fabric into the dishwasher. But that USB stick, decorated with ‘Swarovski Crystal Fine Rocks’? Is Isolde supposed to wear that one around her neck? Or the set of Spritz drinking glasses: is that fingerprints printed on them? Wilfried doesn’t really care much for wine, but he got himself some Riedel glassware anyway, because he was told it’s good stuff. What is he supposed to do with a strange-looking Spritz glass then?

The Colombi Style – neither sensual, nor pure

Of course, Wilfried’s S-class isn’t a 300 SE or 560 SEL anymore, but an S350d Bluetec. He bought it, because he always buys the newest S-class. Even if those S63 AMGs in white with black wheels that are parked in front of the Colombi these days are a bit of an embarrassment to him. Or is Mercedes maybe embarrassed about him and his short-sleeved shirts?

Neither Wilfried, nor the Colombi Hotel really suit NuMerc, aka The Home of Sensual Purity®.

Whether that’s a good or a bad thing probably depends on whom one asks: Wilfried or Gorden Wagener.

The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at www.auto-didakt.com

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs www.auto-didakt.com // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

18 thoughts on “A Glass Cabinet at the Colombi Hotel”

  1. Speaking of NuMerc, I passed a current era C-Class today and while marvelling at the unapologetically crude joins between the bright trim pieces around the DLO – (we’ve touched on this before), I also noticed with a curious mixture of blank horror and warm satisfaction the faux stylised exhaust outlets let into the lower rear bumper valance.

    A winning combination of the tacky and the shoddy. Yes, our ‘Gord knows his onions all right.

    1. Incidentally, I was driven about in a W204 C-class this weekend. While by no means overwhelming an experience, I was nonetheless pleased with the C’s sober appearance and air of competence. They may have forgotten about good taste over the past two decades or so, but they still know a thing or two about NVH suppression at Untertürkheim.

  2. As a general point, I am in awe of the high standards of German hostelries. They are run by people who know what their customers want. I could happily spent the next two decades in German hotels.

    As to the glass cabinet – those trinkets are for the airport concession, not an upscale clientele. Was there an MB t-shirt too?

    1. No t-shirts, I’m pleased to report, but a sub-€1000 watch. The 300SL gearknob cufflinks were the only items on sale that were even remotely appropriate for this kind of setting.

      While by no means ‘my kind of place’, I’d be delighted to spend a weekend at the Colombi Hotel, just to remind myself of a Germany that’s about to evaporate. As a child, I used to stay at a similar hotel on a regular basis when visiting relatives in Bremen. Considering today’s prevalence of Motel Ones, I’d definitely enjoy the hospitality of a little piece of stuffy West Germany.

    2. Stuffy? I’ve been inside a few of these places and they offer a welcoming atmosphere. If I had more cash to burn I’d use only these hotels on my biking tours: dirt and gravel by day and sekt, fine cuisine and comfy rooms to recover in. Hey, readers! Visit German hotels, they are fab.

    3. You might enjoy the Colombi, the Excelsior Hotel Ernst in Cologne or the Europäischer Hof in Heidelberg then. These are hotels for W140 drivers.

      And if you’re feeling charitable (and got yourself a cheap rate), even the Park Hotel Bremen might still do the trick, although it’s but a shadow of its former self these days.

    4. These are rather costly places to stay, unless you’re Swiss or used to hotel prices in London or Paris.

      Park Hotel Bremen isn’t really a five star property anymore, so you might be able to get some deals there.

    5. The Park Hotel appears alright to me. It’s less appealing in that I don’t like Bremen very much. It’s not bad but not great. I wish to visit Bamberg again.

    6. Like Bremen itself, the Park Hotel has seen much better days. About twenty years ago, the breakfast was sublime, and staff truly knew their regular customers. It felt like a second home. But then the plot was gradually lost by the management, before the hotel eventually went bankrupt and had to be taken over by the Dorint group. Since then, it’s a semi-false aspirational place.

      Whilst I deeply dislike Bremen for various reasons, I can only recommend (as I believe to have done at some other point already) a visit to Grashoff’s Bistro of you’re there. That place is just fabulous.

  3. The Parkhotel constantly features in Borgward comings and goings. It was a favoured location for model launches.

    I’ve never sampled it for myself. For Carl’s 125th birthday celebrations the accommodation was the hilariously dysfunctional Tryp by Wyndham at the airport. Bar shut owing to “Krankheit”; the multi-national Borgwarders drank the vending machines dry on every floor.

    For last month’s visit it was the Prizotel behind the Hauptbahnhof. An interesting chain. Rooms are too ‘funky’ by half, but at sub-Ibis prices with far better service it would be churlish to complain.

    1. It would either have been the Park Hotel or the Columbus Hotel (now a Mercure, if I’m not mistaken) near Hauptbahnhof, back in those days. In terms of location, the Park Hotel’s Bürgerpark and Hollersee setting are hard to beat. It’s just a shame management forgot that class means more than Dehoga star ratings at some point.

      Aforementioned Grashoff’s Bistro is located at the former site of what used to be the Hillmann-Hotel. Carl probably knew the place just as intimately as the Park Hotel. After the war, a café/dance hall was built on Hillmann’s premises – this was where the Last brothers started their – or, more to the point: Hans’/James’ – career, but don’t blame Hillmann for that!

  4. Sebaldsbrück has yet to raise a memorial to Robert, Hansi, and K A I W A R N E R, arguably its three most famous sons.

    However there is a modest but evocative monument to CFWB, not a native Bremer – he was born and raised in Altona before it was subsumed into Hamburg.

    It’s just next to Sebaldsbrück tram station, at the corner of the Borgward factory presently under occupation by Daimler.

    1. I wasn’t aware that the Last brothers were Sebaldsbrück boys. I hope they’re playing ‘happy music’ in the Mercedes factory’s assembly halls!

    2. Simply because I can’t come up with more convenient a location to ask this particular question, I may just as well do so here.

      Hamburg is flooded with Borgward SUVs (all of them sporting Stuttgart plates) this week. Has anyone got an idea as to why?

  5. Beats me. Run-up to the Frankfurt IAA? Possibly something related to the new factory at Bremen GVZ? That’s some way from Hamburg.

    The annual German Borgward Treffen is on this weekend in Herrenberg, near Stuttgart, but going by last year’s performance, neue Borgward is unlikely to be making a big effort. In Hameln, Christian B turned up in a Wolfsburg registered Passat CC, and made little effort to engage with the true enthusiasts. Perhaps it will be different this year, so close to Beiqi Foton’s European HQ.

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