LUTZ HESSE & CHRISTIAN ANDRESEN
Both Lutz Hesse and Christian Andresen knew early on what they wanted to do with their lives. Hesse tells the story of how his parents invited large groups of people to their house in Chur, Switzerland, and he had to help his mother serve the guests. The family also travelled extensively. Both of these things set the young man up for an ...
"All of our employees are full-time, and most of them are local. None are outsourced. We choose people to work here who have warm hearts. We give them the feeling that it’s our hotel. It’s a holistic thing.”
... epiphany at age 18 when he took a school field trip to the Ecole Hôtelière, in Lausanne, Switzerland, one of the world’s most esteemed hospitality management programs, and he knew he’d found his calling. Andresen grew up on Sylt—an idyllic North Sea island that well-heeled Hamburgers consider a kind of Hamptons—and realized as a boy that the only place he could be constantly surrounded by “nice people, nice things, and good food and drink” would be in a hotel. He studied hotel management in Hamburg, Germany.
Years later, in the early 1990s, the two men (now both 47) met at the Madison Hotel, in Hamburg, where they worked together from 1994 to 1996. In 1997, they opened an 80-room serviced apartments hotel on Friedrichsstrasse, in the heart of East Berlin. About that time the Daimler Chrysler corporation was in the process of building its mini-city on Potsdamer Platz and had started constructing a residential building. When they reached the fifth floor, the company realized that perhaps a hotel would be a better use of the building; they contacted Hesse and Andresen.“They read about our first property, and came to us, saying, ‘Let’s make serviced apartments. It’s a good complement to the Hyatt, which is nearby,” remembers Lutz Hesse. “We had owners at that time who were in the real estate business, so we just did it. We knew we wouldn’t get a second chance.”
The hotel went operational in a little over a year—hyper-speed in the hotel business. Hesse created the sleek interior design himself, with a keen eye to quality and longevity. Muted tones create a relaxed atmosphere; details like gold Bisazza tiles in the public spaces, pure floral arrangements, and Asian accents in the rooms were all personally selected. Guest rooms are famous for being spacious and generous, and many have extra-large storage and work areas, making it easy to stay here as long one wants or needs to. There’s not a scuff in sight. How can a 13-year-old independently owned hotel not date, or betray its age? Hesse explains: “This chair was designed 30 years ago, and it’ll still be good years from now,” he says, pointing at a classic armchair in the dining room. “Colors and fabrics are important. Even things like vases. We invest in these little things, which the big hotels chains don’t. Our hotel looks good now, even though we’re 13 years old, but it’ll also be good ten years from now.”
The huge vases in the fifth-floor restaurant FACIL are lit, making the bamboo surrounding the dining area’s glass atrium glow in soft light. FACIL, along with the lounge Qiu, were added in 2001, a couple of years after the hotel opened, and were carefully positioned as luxurious and special, yet still welcoming and not snobby. The strategy has worked well—FACIL is well known as one of Berlin’s best dining experiences amongst locals, too. “We started to understand these things when we opened the restaurant in 2001,” says Hesse, explaining that a philosophy of moving deliberately when updating or adding features and thinking things through. “We knew we had to do the rest the same way: the lounge, the lobby, the spa, the penthouse. We improve things step by step.” This kind of care is rare in a go-go world, but it’s reflected in the hotel’s lasting popularity—remarkable, considering that Berlin’s hospitality world has exploded in the past five years (Berlin already has more hotel beds than New York and an estimated 8,000 are being added this year).
Has The Mandala’s dynamic duo ever planned to expand? “We’ve been asked to take part in hotel developments in all of Berlin’s big important locations—empty buildings like the Postfuhramt and Tacheles (neither of these large east Berlin buildings are hotels—yet—by the way). But in the end there were always big investors and companies that owned the buildings. There has to be a CEO that signs, and those guys really don’t take risks,” says Hesse.
Yet, if Hesse and Andresen meet the right investor, they’re ready to do a new hotel. “The ideas are there,” says Andresen. One of them involves a hotel with an on-site medical practice. Last year, a university approached the men, who cooperated on a study. The university outlined what The Mandala brand would have to do to become an international five-star chain. The plan looked something like this: first open another hotel in Berlin, then establish a training facility for new staff, then open a hotel in another German city. One in London should follow, then one in Istanbul. Only then could they open a property in New York, which would open the doors to the rest of the world. Would Hesse and Andresen really do such a thing? Both men tilt their heads and think a little bit; the mix of Swiss pragmatism and savvy northern German reserve is practically visible, but it’s clear that their thinking also includes some big dreams. “If we can’t do it right now, we wait until we can,” says Hesse, smiling. “With us, when it comes, it comes right.”