The Famous and Infamous Guests of Hotel Monopol
When I first moved to Wrocław, it was for a job opportunity. I knew Wrocław was a beautiful city, full of historical and architectural gems like so many major European cities. But the city has really grown on me during my time here and I, as a historian and photographer, have enjoyed getting to know its past, as well as the history of so many of the places that I pass by almost daily.
On a recent Sunday walk in late September, just as I was heading home from a nearby cafe, I paused at the entrance to the Hotel Monopol on Świdnicka Street and snapped a photo of the building, illuminated by the golden rays of the late afternoon setting sun. I got curious and wanted to know its story.
Świdnicka Street is one of the main arteries leading to Wrocław’s Market Square. If you take a short walk from the heart of the city, you’ll pass shops, cafes, and restaurants, before eventually ducking down underground through a walkway tunnel. Bypassing the rush of the main road above as it circuits the market square, you’ll find yourself on other side of Świdnicka Street, in what at one point was the poshest part of town.
Most traces of Świdnicka’s medieval past have been erased, replaced by its belle epoque version: the massive opera house dominates the junction of Świdnicka and its side streets while a little further in the distance is the historic shopping center Renoma, one of the largest and grandest of its time. It’s no wonder, then, that the luxurious Hotel Monopol finds itself adjacent to all this ritz and glamor, right next to the opera house.
Like Paris with its arrondissements and New York with its five boroughs, Wrocław was, and still is, divided into districts. The area around Świdnicka Street at the time Hotel Monopol was built in 1892 was the epicenter of class and, like all hip cities, it even had its own colloquial abbreviation – Schwo. It’s hard to imagine ladies with large hats and hoopskirts and mustachioed men in suits being the hipsters of Wrocław but for the time, Świdnicka Street was where the cultural elite worked and played.
Hotel Monopol and its guests
Hotel Monopol was built with the intention to wow its guests. It’s a huge neo-baroque building, containing 69 rooms of various sizes. For those who couldn’t afford the stay in the luxury 36-square meter apartments, there were small rooms about 10-square meters. The interior was decorated in the Art Nouveau style that was so popular during the time – vivacious and energetic with a modern feel.
Unsurprisingly, the now 5-star hotel hosted some famous guests during its time. The celebrated Hollywood actresses Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo both stayed at the hotel, as did Pablo Picasso. Picasso left his mark on the hotel in 1948 when we scribbled the first sketch of his dove of peace on a dining room napkin. He attended the World Congress of Intellectuals in Defense of Peace in Wrocław, an international conference aimed at promoting Communism. As a member of the French Communist Party, the painter was twice awarded the Lenin peace prize, first in 1950 and later in 1962.
But perhaps the most infamous guest of the hotel Monopol, room 113, was Adolf Hitler. The Hotel Monopol in Wrocław, then a part of Nazi Germany, was where Hitler stayed and gave speeches, first from the window and then out of the balcony above the entrance, which was built especially for him in 1938. The photo of him saluting on the balcony to the crowd gathered on Świdnicka Street is haunting; it’s hard to imagine that where that crowd stood is where I now wait for a tram to take me home after my walks in the city center.
Part of what I love about living in a historical city is the amazing knowledge I gain just from living in it. It definitely helps to be curious and look up once in a while, and I wouldn’t trade this kind of learning for anything. I can’t be the only one – have you discovered any interesting history about where you live and place you might take for granted? Share them with me; I promise I will be fascinated.