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 How We Built The Most Famous Hotels? 
Raffles Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Hamburg
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by Andreas Augustin
September 2006

After researching Raffles in Singapore and the Peninsula in Hong Kong, laying a solid foundation for future work in Asia, we were called to Europe. Impressed with our work, Gert Prantner, general manager of the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten (literally translated: Four Seasons) in Hamburg, commissioned the next book in The Most Famous Hotels in the World series.

The difference in hotel keeping between Asian and European hotels was apparent. In Asia the European way of hospitality management served as a distant sample. In Europe, it had been originated. In Asia you had five employees to fulfil a traditional European task, in Europe you had one competent person who knew what to do and who was even willing to take risks and the responsibility.

The Vier Jahreszeiten, founded in 1897, was invariably ranked among the best hotels of Europe. It certainly was one of the most individual lead. There was the Haerlin family who owned it. And there was its GM who oozed the charm and understatement that comes naturally to North Germans. A stickler for thoroughness, Prantner would say: 'In the race for quality, there is no finish line.'

The Vier Jahreszeiten showed us a fine sample of a guest record system, as only truly successful historic grand hotels had. It dated back to the 1920s. 22,000 individual cards were stored in drawers, creating an unrivalled database of personal service. 

Data that could be found on these cards contained:

  • the detailed name, address, how to address the person (including all academic and aristocratic titles)
  • Preferred rooms
  • flowers the guest loves / hates
  • Oscars and all other awards recently won
  • how many pillows
  • a Beef Tartar served with Cognac every night at 02:00 am
  • a hot water bottle placed under the blanket at the lower end of the bed every evening
  • conversation topics the staff should avoid under all circumstances
  • favourite song - for piano player in the bar
  • preferred welcome gift in room (Champagne, sweets, fruit basket)
  • former complaints, remarks and praise
What ever it was - no problem; it had been ‘noted’.

It was Fritz Haerlin's philosophy that he wants to know every guest personally who stays longer than one night. This tradition had been continued by his general manager Gert Prantner. And there was no sight of computers. ‘Of course we have them. But you do not see them. A screen degrades a guest to “case of lodging”. We want the guest to develop a personal “experience of residence”.’ 

Prantner was made GM in 1975 by the late Fritz Haerlin (in the picture to the right, with Gert Prantner), who knew that his hotel was in good hands. Haerlin had been at the helm of the hotel since 1936.

It may have been pure coincidence but, soon after the publication of our book, the Vier Jahreszeiten was ranked number one hotel in Europe by Institutional Investor. It was extraordinary. In the global ranking, it lost out only to the Oriental in Bangkok. 

In a congratulatory note to The Most Famous Hotels in the World, Prantner recalls today: 'I learnt to treasure the work of The Most Famous Hotels in the World. You have done more for Vier Jahreszeiten than you thought.' 

We met Kurt Grobecker, a well known Hamburg writer. He worked with us on this book. The book was also the first time we collaborated with the artist Peter Baldinger, who produced the cover painting. Since then, his energetic brand of art has graced several of our books.

In 1993, after 18 years as general manager, Prantner left the Vier Jahreszeiten. In his time at the hotel, he had tripled turnover, installed modern management systems with budgeting and marketing and taken the hotel to the top of the European hospitality league. Today he is the managing owner of RIMC - International Hotel Resort Management and Consulting GmbH. 
 
The small Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten was opened in 1897 by Friedrich and Thekla Haerlin. In the beginning it had only 11 rooms, today it has 156 rooms and suites. Haerlin bought one house after the other and finally owned the entire block. In 1913 a conversation salon with view over the Binnenalster (the local river) was presented to the public.

During the 1930s Haerlin replaced the disturbing bell signals on all floors by an optical light system. His first air condition set global standards - it could exchange a room's air within 10 minutes completely.

Among the 22,000 name cards in the guest history system the guest list includes Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas, Richard Nixon, Aristotle Onassis, ...

The Vier Jahreszeiten became a Raffles Hotel in 1997.
 

The history - The Raffles Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten

Hamburg, 24th of February 1897 - Friedrich Haerlin bought the "Hotel zu den Vier Jahreszeiten" at an auction on his fortieth birthday. At that time, he had no premonition of the worldwide fame the house would later achieve. It is certain, however, that the Swabian knew very well what he wanted to do with the narrow house on the Inner Alster. With the proverbial Swabian diligence, he won not only the Hamburg authorities, but also the citizens as his guests.

The narrow building was transformed into one of the most beautiful houses in Hamburg, giving the impression that it had been designed as a harmonic whole. In actual fact, Friedrich Haerlin, as well as his son Fritz, who took over the business in 1936, expanded the house step by step. In 1912 the "Society Hall with Alster View" - today's "Wohnhalle" - was inaugurated in the former reception hall. The restaurant Haerlin was opened in 1914 and the Art Déco Jahreszeiten Grill in 1925. In the early thirties, the complete building was furnished with a copper span roof. Also at this time, the Café Condi, the Jahreszeiten Cellar - today's Doc Cheng's - and the garage were created.

In the fifties, Fritz Haerlin expanded the hotel with more outbuildings. The laundry, new kitchen wings, offices and the so-called "Back Office Areas", such as upholstery, joiner's and painter's workshops came into being.

In 1989 the Haerlin family sold the hotel to the Japanese Aoki Corporation. In 1997 the hotel changed owners again. The Singaporean hotel chain Raffles International Hotels & Resorts took over the renowned house on the Inner Alster on 31st July of the same year.

Leadmanaged by Raffles, the house was renovated. The in-scene restaurant Doc Cheng's, the Raffles Deli and the wellness oasis Raffles Amrita Spa were also created at this time.

The Raffles Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten has grown over the generations, but it has always remained true to its style. Today's manager, Ingo C. Peters, also shares this philosophy.
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Hotel Address:
Raffles Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Hamburg
Neuer Jungfernstieg 9 - 14
20354 Hamburg
Germany
Phone:  +49 (0)40 34 94 0
Facsimile: +49 (0)40 34 94 26 00
Email: hamburg@raffles.com
Internet: www.raffles-hvj.de

 



 
Andreas Augustin was born in Vienna in 1956, studied hotel management at the Hotel Management College at the Castle of KIesheim, Salzburg. Instead of pursuing a hotel career, he followed his life-long desire to write. He became a journalist and at 25 became the editor of his own publication, a Salzburg city magazine.

The following years as magazine reporter, newspaper columnist, radio host and international correspondent led to extensive journeys to the Orient and Far East. In 1986 he took up residence for three years at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore to study and to write about the region and the hotels of South East Asia. It was there that he developed the series of books "The Most Famous Hotels in the World", possessed by the idea to set new standards in the field of historic research and hotel publications. 

With a wonderful team of writers, historians, researchers and photographers he is building the library of hospitality. The Most Famous Hotels in the World - today with almost 400 select member hotels - has built a major value driver and creator, recognized as the leading archives of historic hotels, thus representing a major source of information to build the future of hospitality. 

As President of the associated Club of The Friends of The Most Famous Hotels in the World Andreas Augustin also takes care of its members from all over the world. Andreas Augustin can be reached at: president@famoushotels.org

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Contact:

The Most Famous Hotels in the World
Glasauergasse 36
1130 Vienna
Austria (Europe)
www.famoushotels.org

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Also See: Raffles, Singapore / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / September 2006

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