History – thoughts of an age of magnificence

Older Leipzig residents will still well remember the glamour of the Hôtel de Pologne, which it still exuded until it finally stood empty. But this building right in the centre of Leipzig has a much older history.

It begins in the 16th century, when the first merchant houses and prestigious townhouses were being built on Hainstraße. Today's Hôtel de Pologne is on the site of two inns with a storied tradition. The older inn, Zum Birnbaum («At the Pear Tree”) has a particularly famous history. Martin Luther was guest here several times, even during the legendary Leipzig Debate of 1519. Today, a plaque on the facade commemorates this history. Around 1600, the inn Zum Goldenen Adler («At the Golden Eagle”) was built right next to Zum Birnbaum. The inn-keeper Christian August Pusch bought this inn in 1819, and just four years later he also took over the neighbouring Zum Birnbaum.

To commemorate that the Polish King, Stanislaus I. Leszczyski once stopped off at Zum Birnbaum, the shrewd innkeeper conjoined the two houses under the grand name of Hôtel de Pologne.

In 1843 Pusch appointed the renowned architect Eduard Pötzsch to modify and join the two separate buildings into one. The main attraction of the hotel was the ballroom, which could host over 100 guests. This was destroyed only three years later, in 1846, when a fire broke out in the turpentine warehouse and the buildings burned down almost to the ground.

Pusch saw the reconstruction as an opportunity to build, here at a central location in the old town, a single massive hotel building with five floors and 130 rooms. With this impressive size, the new Hôtel de Pologne was one of the largest inns in Leipzig, and also one of the first hotel buildings in the city. Once again, a huge ballroom became the talking point of the building. A special construction for this ballroom and an adjacent smaller room was built in the courtyard.

The two halls designed in neo-classical style soon became a crowd-puller, particularly during the trade fairs. With redesigned interior decoration every year, the halls delighted guests with its transformations to an oriental palace, or an exotic palm garden, or into Neptune's Kingdom. Throughout the year various Leipzig associations and professions held conventions and organised balls in the great ballroom. And in the lead-up to Christmas, the house enchanted young and old, rich and poor alike, with its fabulous Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt).

The steadily growing hotel operations necessitated a fundamental restructuring, which was designed by the architect Arwed Rossbach in 1890. Rossbach designed a new façade in the style of palace architecture of the Florentine Renaissance, and completely redesigned the parts of the building behind. The architect Ludwig Heim, who was well known for his design of the Berlin Grand Hotel Bellevue, laid out three new luxury rooms on the first floor of the hotel. In keeping with the tastes of the era, the two front ballrooms were splendidly designed in neo-baroque style with opulent stucco work and magnificent paintings. Today they form a glamorous setting for up to 400 guests.

The Hôtel de Pologne has seen many special moments in the course of its varied history. In 1907, the Central Purchasing Association of the Confederation of German Commercial Cooperatives was founded in the magnificent halls of the present-day building, and later was reformed as the present-day EDEKA-Zentrale AG & Co. KG. 

The upheavals of the 20th century lead to the drastic decline of hotel operations.  After the First World War, the building served as an Austrian exhibition centre, and the much-vaunted cabaret Nachfalter was held in its halls. Towards the end of the Second World War the building was used to house soldiers. The halls were alternatively used as a casino and as an atrium. After the war, the city fair organisers moved into the building in the 1950s and used the halls for canteens.

After the reunification of Germany, the house was mainly empty apart from a few shops.

The historic building was restored in accordance with best conservation practice in 2011-2014, and that set the basis for a direct reconnection to the building’s vibrant heyday of the 19th century.   The highlight is once again the two painstakingly restored ballrooms, which Michaelis has named «Salles de Pologne” in honour of the building’s history. The neo-baroque ballrooms can today finally be admired and hired for glamorous events.

Text: Dr. Zita Àgota Pataki

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