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Culture

Dining with the Emperor

Berlin has unearthed a treasure from its past: the Emperor's Ballroom on Potsdamer Platz will reopen this weekend. The once regal room survived both the Second World War and the division of Berlin.

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A glimpse of the opulent Emperor's Ballroom

The Emperor's Ballroom, buried for long in the ruins of the venerable Hotel Grand Esplanade is back in the spotlight.

It will once again play host to high society of the German capital as it throws open its doors as a high-end restaurant in a neo-rococo look.

A gala reception, exquisite delicacies and prominent guests such as Catherine Deneuve will mark the opening.

It was in this feudal ambience that Germany's last emperor, Wilhelm II used to dine.

Former heart of Berlin life

In true Berlin style, old and spanking new aspects of the city come face to face. Renovated at a cost of 25 million euro, the ballroom of the legendary Hotel Esplanade makes a stately appearance amid the modern architecture of the Sony Center. The hotel was the heart of social life in the Berlin of the 19th century.

Wilhelm II, Germany's last emperor frequented the place and is said to have spent many evenings there with fellow male contemporaries.

One can imagine the scene right out of a novel : fat-bellied men in frock coats sitting between gold leaves and precious stucco works in champagne-coloured tones and conversing over a glass of good wine and a fat cigar. Perhaps even having heated political discussions.

Spectacular restoration

During the Second World War, the Potsdamer Platz was reduced to ashes. All that remained was a burnt-out shell of a building and ruins of the Hotel Esplanade.

Yet the Emperor's Ballroom and the breakfast room incredibly managed to survive the destruction along with a neighbouring silver hall and a palm-tree courtyard.

In the 1950s the two rooms were salvaged from the walls, renovated painstakingly and restored to their former glory.

The six-year restoration of the Emperor's Ballroom was especially spectacular. With the use of state-of-the-art technology a 1300 ton heavy ballroom was heaved on to air-filled cushions and moved 75 metres to one side to make way for a street. The residents of Berlin showed immense interest in the project.

When Japanese company Sony bought much of Potsdamer Platz, it decided to leave untouched the space where the Emperor's Ballroom had stood.

It integrated the other old rooms of the Hotel Esplanade into a hyper-modern building, which was then hung on a steel bridge, leaving a few millimetres of space between the old and the new buildings.

Wilhelm II expected

Since last year the opulent breakfast room of the Hotel Esplanade behind the glass facades of the new building is bathed in shimmering light reflecting off the glass.

Today the room is a chic bar. Manager Gerhard Lengauer waited for almost a year longer than planned before he decided to open the other rooms.

The Emperor's Ballroom will offer exquisite gourmet food at noon and in the evening. The room which has been brought under the monument protection and preservation act, can also be booked for events and meetings.

Of course the first guests were the stars from the recently-concluded Berlin film festival, who came for some intimate meals in the royal surroundings.

But even the emperor himself has personally announced that he will be coming for the opening. An actor dressed as "Wilhelm II" will hold court on the Potsdamer Platz.