As part of our redesign in 2014, the hotel’s architect Jan Kleihues, designed the ‘Faces of Berlin’. This concept celebrates some of Berlin’s most beloved personalities in feature walls through the hotel. This is the first in a series where we offer a little more of their story and an insight into the characters that have helped shape Berlin’s culture.
Who better to begin with than the star of our lobby – Marlene Dietrich. One of Weimar Berlin’s most celebrated figures, Marlene was born just a few kilometres away from the hotel, in Schöneberg in 1901. She spent her formative years in the city, attended school in Berlin, Dessau and Weimar and went on to have various roles in theatre and film in the 1920’s. She was a fixture in Berlin’s glamorous nightlife scene in the 20’s and was considered the quintessential cabaret performer of the Weimar era. It was during this time that she met producer Rudolf Sieber in 1922 who she then married in 1923. Marlene gave birth to their daughter Maria in 1924.
Her first leading film role however was in the Austrian film ‘Café Electric’ in 1927 and this was followed in 1929 by her career changing role in Austrian director Josef von Sternberg’s ‘The Blue Angel’ (Der Blaue Engel). Her character Lola-Lola encapsulated many of Marlene’s own qualities including her spirit of liberation and independence. She was a woman who oozed self confidence, wisdom and an assured sexuality.
The success of the ‘The Blue Angel’ shone a light on her talents and Marlene relocated to the USA in 1930 to commence a contract with Paramount Pictures and work on six more films with von Sternberg. Classics such as ‘Shanghai Express’ (1932) and ‘The Scarlet Empress’ (1934) cemented her place in Hollywood and she became one of the highest paid actresses of the time. Rumour has it that through most of the 1930’s Marlene was paid $2000 a week for just 2 films a year.
Marlene was widely celebrated and warmly embraced into her new homeland and this led to her becoming a US citizen in 1939. World War II began shortly after and Marlene Dietrich’s passionate commitment to supporting the efforts of those on the front line became her raison d’être. She entertained troops in Algeria, Italy, Britain and France and despite being asked to return to Germany by the Nazis and refusing, she still returned with US troops stating that it was not Germany she had issue with, but the Nazis.
While attending an awards dinner honouring her mother in 2013, Maria proudly said, “ .. if you have International fame, real international fame and you do something with it as a weapon against evil, that’s somebody to honour.” For her tireless work throughout the war years, Marlene Dietrich was awarded the US Medal of Freedom as well as the French government’s Légion d’honneur.
Marlene continued to work on stage and screen for the remaining decades of her life, accumulating a body of work that spanned more than 60 years. She has been honoured and celebrated in multitudes of ways and served as inspiration for many due to her distinct style and grace. She was able to continually reinvent herself and always maintain an image that is now instantly recognisable as ‘brand Dietrich’
Marlene Dietrich lived until she was 90 years old. She died at her home in Paris in May 1992 and was flown back to Berlin to be buried beside her mother, at the Friedenau Cemetery (Stubenrauchstrasse 43, grave no 34/16). Marlene Dietrich’s memory lives on in Berlin. In 1993, shortly after her mother’s death, Marlene’s daughter Maria presented her estate of more than 1000 items; including designer clothing, hats, shoes, bags, letters, photographs and miscellaneous film memorabilia, to the Stiftung Deutsche Kinamathek. The Film and TV Museum now has three rooms dedicated to highlights from this collection including costumes, home movie footage and even the luggage she used for her long sail to America. Hot tip: after 4pm on Thursdays, entry to the museum is free and it’s open until 8pm.