Not that we are worrying unduly about missing the opportunity to leave our curlicued mark in the guestbook – far from it. In fact, we were privileged even to be allowed to see some of the Imperial’s many old guestbooks, which date to 1915 and were shown to us when we were given the honour of being taken up the magnificent Royal Staircase, around the dazzling Royal Suite and into other exclusive areas of the rarified establishment.

Our host was Mr Michael Moser, who was Chief Concierge at the finest hotel on the Ringstrasse from 1983 until his retirement in 2014. Mr Moser, although he is modest and does not admit it, is something of an institution at the Imperial, and a bench in his honour stands at the top of the red-carpeted Royal Staircase, which leads to the Royal Suites. The bench was a gift from the staff on his 60th birthday, and it stands near the gold-framed portrait of Emperor Franz Joseph and the statue of the Donauweibchen (Danube Mermaid), a naked beauty.


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These days, Mr Moser has become the hotel archivist, and apart from popping in now and then to show around certain VIP guests, such as your Budapest Times correspondent, he is researching the hotel’s guests pre-1915, annotating the guestbooks to provide information on some of the worthies therein, and trying to decipher the more wayward squiggles that time has obscured.

While the precious guestbooks are kept safely tucked away and only brought out occasionally, he showed us how the latest in-use guestbook is always on public display in the lobby, under a glass cover, and is open at the newest signature of a famous guest in residence. On this day, April 9, 2018, the book was displaying that of Yefim Bronfman, a Soviet-born Israeli-American pianist. We could see a bit of space where our signature would have fitted in nicely next to Mr Bronfman’s, and we looked at the spot rather meaningfully, but Mr Moser’s gifts appear not to include telepathy, and the glass cover was not raised …

Anyway, a funny thing happened as he proudly showed us around. In the Royal Suite – all 160 square metres of it – we were suddenly overwhelmed by opulence and had a bit of a brain-snap, during which we forgot where we were for a few moments. We suddenly thought we must have been in the Imperial Palace (the Hofburg) or Schönbrunn Palace, the two most exalted spots in Vienna when it comes to the magnificence of royal trappings.

As we snapped out of it, the names kept coming as Mr Moser turned the pages of the guestbooks: the Emperor and Empress of Japan, Tito, Sadat, Gadaffi, al-Assad, Indira Gandhi, the Shah of Iran, Edward VIII, Ceausescu, Walt Disney, Madonna, Annie Leibovitz … Hungarians would recognise the names Gyula Andrássy and Kádár János.


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Before leaving Mr Moser, who did not mention the fact, we should recall that he was an inspiration for Ralph Fiennes’ concierge in director Wes Anderson’s 2014 film “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, with Anderson spending considerable time interviewing him for research.

A corridor called the Path of History on Hotel Imperial Vienna’s ground floor contains framed texts and photographs. Here we learn that Franz Joseph ordered the demolition of the city’s defensive walls in 1855 and the creation of the famed Ringstrasse. Architect Arnold Zenetti from Munich built the palace of the German Duke of Württemberg from 1862-65, but apparently the Duke and Duchess did not feel comfortable living there, and so on the occasion of the World Exposition of 1873 the building was transformed into the Hotel Imperial. Portraits of the noble couple now hang in the Imperial reception area.

Originally, the front entrance from Kärntner Ring was for horses and carriages, what the French call a porte cochere, and the arriving equipages would pass through to the rear of the building, where the stables were. Today, a revolving door manned by liveried doormen gives entry to the hotel. And the stables have long been transformed into two elegant function rooms, the Marble Hall and the Festive Hall, where people perhaps marry or plot business strategies. The old cobblestone apparently remains under the marble floor of the lobby. The revolving door can be temporarily dismantled to allow laying of a red carpet.


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The Imperial became world-famous but after the Second World War it was used by Soviet forces as their headquarters in the occupied and devastated city. The French, British, US and Soviet forces finally left Vienna in 1955, and after extensive modernisation the Imperial reopened in 1957. It is Austria’s official residence for state visits, and has hosted more than 100 of them for kings and queens, presidents and senior statesmen and stateswomen. As part of their welcome, official guests receive bouquets matching the colours of their countries’ flags, and the general manager escorts them up the Royal Staircase to the best suites.

Interestingly, when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited from 5 to 10 May 1969, it was planned to create a special hotel door for them but this proved impossible, so the easy chairs were simply taken out of the lobby to prevent people ogling too much. The Queen is said to have been quite astonished when she learned that she would be staying in “an ordinary” hotel and not more appropriate accommodation.

However, when she left the Imperial, every employee, from the manager to the valet, received a small gift. Her Majesty was obviously pleased. One reason was clear: the Austrian furniture depository, which handles all such items from the imperial and republican eras, demonstrated its abilities in the art of interior decoration, transforming the Imperial’s “princely” suite into a truly “queenly” one.

And the furniture in the Royal Apartment was changed again after the visit, so that subsequent guests could not say they had slept in the Queen’s bed, sat in her chairs and so on.


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By the by, three generations of Prince Philip’s family have stayed at the Imperial: Philip himself, his parents Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg, and his son Prince Charles.

The composer Richard Wagner honoured the Imperial by his arrival in 1875. The master occupied seven rooms in the leading hotel in the city while he prepared performances of “Tannhaeuser” and “Lohengrin”. Wagner had a grand piano set up in the salon of his suite. Supplied with pots of black coffee, he played music all night long, composed and re-arranged main parts. The Imperial guests apparently soon got used to the impressive sounds from Wagner’s room and did not complain.

The great actress Sarah Bernhardt arrived from Krakow, where she had just given some of her legendary appearances. She drove the servants at the Imperial to despair. The eccentric diva’s numerous suitcases contained not just her wardrobe but also gold bars, with fear of inflation being rampant at that time.

Hitchcock almost lost his wife in his suite: “I found her after a while behind a pillar,” he joked. King Bhumibol of Thailand played saxophone with the house band. Billy Joel entertained at the piano. Luciano Pavarotti sang in the lobby. The Shah of Persia suggested dismantling the hotel and rebuilding it back home in Tehran. Charlie Chaplin spoke his first words ever into a microphone, a nervous “Guten Tag, Guten Tag!”

Hotel Imperial’s 138 rooms include a high proportion of 62 suites and boast historic paintings, upholstered French-style furniture in vibrant colours, antiques, stucco ceilings, Arabesque wallpaper with a soft silky touch, glitzy chandeliers, Axminster carpets, gold-framed mirrors, marble bathrooms and heavy brocade curtains with large tassels. Guests in the suites enjoy the impeccable service of a personal butler, who will help with checking in, unpacking and packing bags, serving morning coffee in the room, preparing a bath, explaining what to do around the city and offering to help with any other special wishes, such as concerts and other attractions, or even going shopping with you.


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The gourmet OPUS Restaurant boasts a Michelin star and three Gault&Millau toques. The 1873-HalleNsalon bar is the place to wind down to live piano music under the fabulous Maria Theresa chandelier, which has 7764 different Austrian-made crystal tears hanging from it and contains 288 light bulbs.

Apart from the Marble Hall and the Festive Hall, three other salons – the Salon Maria Theresia, Ringstrassen Salon and Salon Imperial – cater for exclusive receptions, birthday and graduation parties, christenings and anniversaries, seminars, exclusive dinners and the like. Hotel Imperial Vienna is a political, social and cultural centre of the city.

Immediately outside the back door – the “Composers’ Entrance” – is the Musikverein Concert Hall, home of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and location of the famous New Year’s Concert. The Musikverein was inaugurated in 1870, and the hotel and the world of music are thus intertwined. Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Herbert von Karajan and Bruckner were all regulars at the Imperial, and Yefim Bronfman was probably also headed for the Musikverein.

We’re sure – quite sure – he wouldn’t have minded sharing that page in the guestbook ...


Hotel Imperial

Kärntner Ring 16, 1015 Vienna, Austria

A Luxury Collection Hotel

Member of The Most Famous Hotels in the World

Tel.: (+43-1) 50110-0

Email: hotel.imperial@luxurycollection.com

Website: www.imperialvienna.com

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