Refuge hotel: quarantine de luxe

The literary visit still ennobles any accommodation. A lush coffee table book about writers* and literature in the hotel.

A place of creativity and crash: The Chelsea Hotel in New York in a historical photograph Photo: getty images

Lockdown. Winter. Cold. Gray. And it’s all happening at home. The need of many writers to live and write in a hotel for a while has never been more self-explanatory. To escape from everyday life with its demands, its narrowness. To trade their impositions for a secure solitude, preferably in a luxury hotel, of course, if they can afford it. Quarantine de luxe: to think, to write, to be alone.

Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse and J. K. Rowling wrote their novels in hotels. Above all to block out everyday life, says author Barbara Schaefer. Following in the footsteps of famous writers, she introduces beautiful hotels around the world. An armchair journey to places of longing in times of restriction and freedom to travel. Berlin, Bangkok, London, Łódź, Sorrento – it’s a journey to 19 hotels where literature and books were written. Representative hotels, captured in a large-format illustrated book, a veritable coffee-table book. In addition to photos of the authors and historical photographs of the hotels, Barbara Schaefer has primarily used advertising photos of the hotel operators. This does not detract from the aesthetics of the volume. On the contrary, the pleasing photographs underscore the seductive intent of the book.

Freelance author Barbara Schaefer is a passionate traveler herself. Her texts on the national travel pages are declarations of love for traveling, for being on the road. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France, England, Scotland and Poland, Turkey, Thailand and the USA are the stations of her new book.

From 1907, Berlin’s cultural celebrities met at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin, while Hermann Hesse, Elsa Morante and Donna Leon stayed at the Waldhaus in Sils Maria in the Swiss Engadine. Joseph Conrad, James Michener, Lucinda Riley, Somerset Maugham and Graham Green rented rooms at the Oriental in Bangkok and braved the mosquitoes on the terrace. In the "Authors’ Wing," the hotel today has furnished suites with the names of its writing guests. And those who couldn’t afford the luxury version sipped their afternoon tea on the terrace of the Belmond Hotel Timeo in southern Sicily, just like D. H. Lawrence.

Barbara Schafer: "Literature Hotels. In the Footsteps of Hermann Hesse, Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway and Others." Busse Seewald, 2020, 25 euros

New York City’s oldest hotel – The Algonquin – was the meeting place for the legendary literary circle, the "Algonquin Round Table," where theater critic Dorothy Parker played a central role. "A bunch of people telling each other jokes and assuring each other how good they were," Parker wrote of it. She lived entirely at the Algonquin for a time. Today, the property operates a partnership with Simon & Schuster. The publisher provides advance reading copies of novels to the hotel for its guests.

The author also introduces newer hotels with a love of literature. For example, the Literaturhotel Berlin in Friedenau, where Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich wrote. For the operator Christa Moog, Friedenau is Berlin’s writers’ quarter. Besides Alexievich, two other Nobel Prize winners in literature lived just around the corner: Gunter Grass and Hertha Muller. Or the Wellnesshotel Bleiche in the Spreewald with its in-house bookstore and the Spreewald Literary Scholarship, which gives writers a pampering break. Because the literary visit still ennobles any accommodation.

"And then there are the legendary hotels that no longer exist," Schaefer writes. For example, the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, a red brick building that now stands empty. It’s where Leonard Cohen flirted with Janis Joplin and then dedicated a wistful song to the musician, who died young: "I remember you well in Chelsea Hotel." A bit of wistfulness also resonates in the book "Literature Hotels": about past glory and frozen wanderlust.