Berlin's new music hotel, nHow, combines luxury, design and quality musical facilities. It hopes to bridge the gap between international and local artists - but the city's underground scene isn't easily impressed.
Will the trendy hotel class with Berlin's indigenous underground music scene?
Musicians are used to life on the road and having to find a place to crash between gigs or rehearsals. So, many might dream of a hotel with state-of-the-art recording studios right upstairs and high-quality guitars brought by room service.
Europe's first music hotel, which recently opened in Berlin, offers just that - and also includes its own art gallery, event spaces and recording studios run by Rene Rennefeld, who also manages the legendary Hansa studios where artists such as REM, U2, and David Bowie have made albums.
Luxury to inspire creativity
Rennefeld hopes nHow will provide musicians with a "creative microcosm," responding to their need for comfort while offering a range of facilities for rehearsing, recording or songwriting.
"If Prince wants to sing in a bathtub, we'll bring him a microphone," he said. "Ideally, musicians will work here for several days or weeks, so they have to be at ease."
Even stars have to sleep
Rennefeld and nHow's general manager, Alexander Duerr, also intend to promote up-and-coming artists in the area. The BlasGlasSing Quintett, a Berlin-based ensemble that uses everyday materials such as old bottles and cans as instruments, recently gave a small, opening concert.
The hotel is discussing the possibility of hosting Universal Music's concert series "Open Mic," which presents bands who have submitted their albums for consideration, and may organize an open competition to record an album in the hotel.
"The studios will be available for anyone," said Duerr. "We're going to move in all directions to cover the entire spectrum from electronic to pop."
Not just for the ears
nHow occupies what was an empty plot between Universal Music's headquarters and the offices of MTV on Berlin's Osthafen, a former industrial zone that has been developed since the 1990s under the auspices of the Mediaspree investment project.
Locally-renowned architect Sergei Tschoban created the building's imposing, geometric structure. It is a counterpart to the first nHow, a fashion-oriented design hotel in Milan that opened in 2006.
New York-based designer Karim Rashid, most famous for his Morimoto restaurant in Philadelphia and the Semiramis hotel in Athens, provided nHow Berlin's bright, surrealistic interior. Even the front desk receptionists wear headpieces mirroring the amorphously-shaped furniture and light sculptures that embellish the lobby.
Vivien Bauernschmidt, lead singer of the German band "Aloha from Hell," whose album became a number-one seller in Japan and made the Top 20 chart in Germany, said she was speechless when she saw nHow for the first time. The 18-year-old, who lives nearby in Kreuzberg, plans to record an album and spend a night at nHow because she finds the atmosphere so uplifting.
"The view from the studio put me in a complete creative flow," Bauernschmidt said. "A hundred ideas came to me."
Not only are Gibson guitars and Marshall amplifiers available upon request, but all the rooms are equipped with iPod connections and entertainment systems. The nHow suite, which goes for 2,400 euros (about $3,220) a night, has a direct digital connection to the studios.
The hotel drew its inspiration in part from The Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, which provides an array of instruments for guests to play and recording studios onsite.
nHow clearly paints a chic image, but also hopes to draw locals and upcoming artists
Local musicians not easily impressed
Still, Berlin's underground music scene is not easily enticed by commercial ventures. Daniel Rerat, a manager at the small, Berlin-based electronic music label BPitch Control, explained that many musicians in the Kreuzberg district have had their own private studios for years and greatly value their independence from the mainstream music industry.
"There are many small labels in Berlin that don't pay attention to companies like Universal Music," he said. "Even if you offered them the best equipment, many musicians would not want to associate themselves with a money-making venture because it's not cool."
Nevertheless, Rennefeld hopes the hotel will include and thrive from the surrounding underground scene. There are also plans to tap into the nearby club scene with DJ events
"Berlin's subculture is a source of inspiration," said Rennefeld. "We want to bring its energy into the recording studio, not just sit in an ivory tower and die from beauty." He also points out that it costs about half as much to rent a studio in Berlin as it does in London.
A city of contrasts
Bauernschmidt believes that the hotel will not only enliven the area but attract more musicians to Berlin.
"Berlin is an artist's city," she said. "But something like this was missing. Since musicians are constantly on the go, a space like this where they can practice and mingle is the perfect combination."
However, the hotel could only become a local musicians' haven if it manages to attract both the tourist and indie scenes, which don't easily mix.
"The artists in Berlin's underground scene tend to stick to their own circles," said Rerat. "It's a different mentality. That's also what makes the city unique - that so many different cultures coexist."
Author: Rebecca Schmid
Editor: Kate Bowen