Adam Bisno

Big Business and the Crisis of German Democracy: Liberalism and the Grand Hotels of Berlin, 1875–1933

Publications of the German Historical Institute. Cambridge University Press, 2023.

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Through the colorful world of Berlin's grand hotels, this book charts a new history of German liberalism and explores the changing relationships among big business, society, and politics. Behind imposing facades, managers and workers were often the picture of orderly and harmonious service, despite living in sometimes uncomfortable proximity. Then, during World War I, class tensions rose to the surface and failed to resolve in the following years. Doubting the ability of the Weimar Republic to contain these conflicts, a group of hotel owners, some of the most prominent Jewish industrialists and financiers in the country, chose to let Adolf Hitler use their hotel, the Kaiserhof, as his Berlin headquarters in 1932. From a splendid suite opposite the chancellery, Hitler and his henchmen engineered the assumption of power, the death of the Weimar Republic, and the ruin of their hosts, the Kaiserhof's owners: Jewish liberals now fleeing for their lives. Big Business and the Crisis of German Democracy asks how this came about and explores the decision-making processes that produced such catastrophic consequences. 

This title is also available as open access on Cambridge Core using the link above.

‘In Bisno’s elegant prose, Berlin’s grand hotels come alive as critical sites where titans of the hotel industry abandoned their nineteenth-century liberalism for an increasingly anti-liberal politics after 1918. Despite their globalist interests, and against the evidence of their own books, hoteliers of the 1920s increasingly adopted a political pessimism that ultimately required nothing less than a right-wing national revolution to solve the challenges they faced. For this choice they and their hotels suffered dearly. In weaving his beautifully persuasive narrative of the rise and fall of the grand hotel, Bisno pays close attention to the people who inhabited every floor of these hotels as well as the spatial, material, and social dynamics they faced, from the rise of ensuite bathrooms and walk-in refrigerators to the strict hierarchies imposed on both staff and guests.’

Pieter M. Judson - author of The Habsburg Empire: A New History

‘A fascinating glimpse behind the facades of grand hotels and into the complex social world of privileged guests, struggling service workers, and beleaguered bosses. Bisno reveals the startling potential of liberalism to consume itself by literally opening doors to those who make no secret of their desire to destroy it.’

Molly Loberg - author of The Struggle for the Streets of Berlin