The Hotel Fürstenhof in Eisenach ist just a crumbling ruin today, but once hosted nobility and celebrities from all over Europe. With a history dating back almost 170 years, the Hotel Fürstenhof was built up to rival the glamour of other european spa hotels, becoming a regional focal point for a host of political events spanning from the early 1930s until the late 1980s.
Table of Contents
Origins of the Hotel Fürstenhof
The origins of the Hotel Fürstenhof can be traced back to 1854, when the Butcher Samuel Liebetrau built himself a summer home in the eastern part of Eisenach in Thuringia. For reasons not entirely clear today, Liebetrau sold his summerhouse in 1861 to the geologist, paleontologist and mining entrepreneur Johann Georg Bornemann – who gradually began expanding the property over the years and turned it into a luxurious estate known as the the “Villa Bornemann”.
The Villa Bornemann was sold after Bornemanns death in 1896, and by 1902 it was rebuilt and expanded based on a design by the architects Georg Unruh and Lorenz Freitag (who was responsible for designing over 60 Villas in Eisenach). On the 15th of May, 1902 – other sources say the 28th of August ,1902- the former Villa Bornemann opened its doors as the “Kurhaus Hotel Fürstenhof” – accompanied by the music of the Vienna Orchestra with its director Johann Strauss.
Upon its opening, the ballroom of the Kurhaus Hotel Fürstenhof could host up to 1800 people, and was considered to be the largest event hall in Thuringia. The high society of Eisenach was keen on transforming the image of city more akin to that of Baden-Baden (quite possibly the single most famous spa town in europe). This meant that over the years, a spa terrace, garages, a grotto hall as well as some other minor changes were added to the Kurhaus Hotel Fürstenhof – including the addition of several “onion domes” on the towers – giving the hotel a rather eclectic look.
Eisenachs spa town plans were never fully realized, and the Kurhaus Hotel Fürstenhof changes its name to the simpler Hotel Fürstenhof. In 1920, the hotel added a Casino on the foundations of the spa terrace. In 1928, a fire destroyed the ballroom, which was the centerpiece of the building complex. In 1930, it was rebuilt in a simplified form based on a design by Curt Mergenbaum, Willy Krüger, and Hermann Fischer-Barnicol on behalf of the city.
Eisenach couldn’t escape the political turmoils of the late 1920 and early 1930s either – and the Hotel Fürstenhofs ballroom, which could now accommodate over 2,000 people, was often booked for election campaign events. As well as hosting both SPD and KPD rallies, Adolf Hitler was the main speaker for the local NSDAP which held a election campaign in the Hotel Fürstenhof on the 23rd of October, 1932.
With the outbreak of World War II, tourism significantly decreased in the area, though all larger hotels in Eisenach – including the Fürstenhof – were instructed to provide the majority of their rooms as rest and rehabilitation homes for wounded soldiers. Eisenach was the target of 7 air raids between 1944 and 1945, dropping over 400 tons worth of bombs over the city.
Eisenach was home to two BMW factories, with one of them being located within the city. In total 324 civilians were killed during these bombing raids, but only one of the factories was destroyed (as well as partially damaging or destroying large parts of the historic center of Eisenach including the Lutherhaus). The Hotel Fürstenhof survived the war without any significant damage.
Hotel Fürstenhof Video
Hotel Fürstenhof during the GDR era
By the beginning of April 1945, Eisenachs population had briefly swelled to 84,000 due to an influx of refugees, evacuated civilians, military personnel and forced labourers (in 1939, 50,464 people lived in Eisenach). With an acute housing shortage, the Hotel Fürestenhof was used to house the homeless and refugees until suitable accommodations could be found. By fall of the same year, the city’s administration began renovating the ballroom for future events.
Just like in the 1930s, both the Social Democrats and Communists used the Ballroom of the Hotel Fürstenhof to host party meetings in October and November of 1945, with the most notable meeting happening on the 19th of February 1946 – when the communist Wilhelm Pieck (who was a former SPD member) was promoting for a merger of the KPD and SPD. The forced merger would take place only a few months later in April 1946. Wilhelm Pieck would become one of the two chairmen of the newly “founded” SED, and would become the first and only President of the German Democratic Republic between 1949 and 1960 (a position which would be abolished after his death).
The hotel was extensively renovated in the years after, and served as a venue for cultural, sports, and dance events, small trade fairs as well as school balls and galas for the city administration and Eisenacher companies. In the 1950s, the hotel was renamed again into the more socialist approved “Hotel Stadt Eisenach”. Over the years, the Hotel was modified and altered, losing much of its original “eclectic” appearance.
The Hotel Fürstenhof between 1991 and 2022
The Hotel Stadt Eisenach renamed back to its “original” name Hotel Fürstenhof in 1991, and continued to operate until it was closed in 1996. Long neglected repairs led to serious structural decays, which proved to be too costly to fix. Investigations in 2000 and 2003 came to the same conclusion, that it would not be a sound economic decision to invest in the repairs. Over the years, smaller fires had slight vandalism have occured in the Hotel Fürstenhof, but its overall appearance remained largely unchanged.
In 2004, the Hotel Fürstenhof was stripped of its “monument protection” status – in part due to its desolate condition as well the countess alterations undertaken during the GDR years which removed much of its original character. The building was sold a year later (with the city declining to use its right to buy the building) for an undisclosed sum, but with the intent of tearing it down to make use of the valuable plot (the owner applied for the demolition in 2014).
Did you know that we also explored another abandoned east German Hotel? The “Stasi Hotel” also known as the MFS Bucheide was built specifically for the Stasi, but was never completed due to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Several initiatives have popped up with the intent of saving the building, or at least parts of it. The city of Eisenach seems to have also played a part, refusing to grant the demolition permit, citing that parts of the complex could and should be saved – primarily the former Bornemann Villa and the southern villa with the “Hotel Fürstenhof” sign. With no attempts being made to save the complex, parts of the roof had already begun to collapse.
By August 2021, the damage was already severe enough that the courts ruled in favour of the owner, saying that. the city could no longer block the demolition request. The city rejected the verdict and vowed to continue its fight to preserve the buildings. One begs to question that if the city thought the buildings were so important, then why didn’t they use their right to buy them?
On the 15th of April 2022, the roof of the old Bornemann Villa completely collapsed, essentially sealing the fate of the building.
The Hotel Fürstenhof Today (2023)
We visited the Hotel Fürstenhof in August of 2022, so just a few months after the roof collapsed. While parts of the building were still accessible, its abundantly clear that the buildings are not salvageable. Virtually every part of the building is either in danger of collapsing, or about to collapse. Walls are missing, upper floors are sagging dangerously, and complete segments are missing. Exploring it in 2022 wasn’t the safest experience, and it won’t be any safer a year later – with the buildings even more exposed to the elements.
The buildings still “stand” – and it seems like all the owner needs to do is just wait until it fully collapses. While we are all for preserving historic buildings, it seems like the city of Eisenach is partially to blame for this situation and is only drawing out the inevitable. Despite the buildings condition, all entry points are secured extremely well, making any entry attempts pointless. In addition, there is an old caretaker (who speaks the most undecipherable thuringian dialect i’ve ever heard) who monitors the buildings. It’s truly a shame what has happened with the building, but it seems like its fate is sealed.
Hotel Fürstenhof Adresse
99817 Eisenach, Thüringen