Pan Am Lounge Berlin | Pan Am Lounge History
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Pan Am Lounge History

A place closely connected to the history of West Berlin

Throughout the 1950s, Pan American World Airways remains the undisputed captain of the skies. Its airplanes traverse the entire globe. By the start of the 1960s, the airline has successfully completed more than 100,000 transatlantic flights, in large part thanks to the undying dedication of its well-trained pilots and crew members. Always underway, they are among the first to experience how the world can become a place to call home, and the need for internationally located employee accommodations becomes a pressing matter for the airline to address.

In postwar Berlin, the clean-up work has begun, and the task of rebuilding is the order of the day. So too have plans been drafted for the Breitscheidplatz in the Western Sector of Berlin. In this now desolate area around the bombed-out Kaiser Willhelm cathedral that would remain standing as a memorial attesting to the horrors of war (since known as the Gedächtniskirche), a new complex is to be erected in record time. Completed in just two years, the Europa Center, with its 22-floor skyscraper, post-modern shopping paradise and adjacent residential high-rises, is to symbolize a newly won sense of optimism and economic growth. Nicknamed after its architect and investor Karl Heinz Pepper, “Pepper’s Manhattan” has a clear message to convey: The West is the best! The venture pans out, and the revitalized area quickly becomes a bustling hub of activity at the center of West Berlin.

Included in the blueprints are also plans for the property at Budapester Straße 43, which, in the early 1960s, is still littered by the ruins of the Hotel Eden, once a high-society haunt. Frequented in prewar Berlin by stars, writers and artists, the posh hotel was nearly home to the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Heinrich Mann, Bertold Brecht and Otto Dix. It also gained historical renown, however, as the last place of safety for Communist party leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, just moments before they were murdered. Now at the famed property, the modern high-rise to emerge will be named – after its predecessor – Eden House.

In the right place at the right time

Naturally, the rapid developments in West Berlin do not evade notice by Pan American Airways, and the ever-keen airline employs its excellent connections to secure the entire building at Budapester Straße 43, before construction has even begun. In these Cold War times and just after the erection of the Berlin Wall, it is deemed essential that a representative European headquarters for the airline be established here at the heart of West Berlin. In 1966, Pan Am is finally able to inhabit its new, as yet informal, address. Shortly thereafter, a penthouse company lounge emerges on the tenth floor of Eden House – the legendary Pan Am Lounge. Conceived of as a place of leisure and enjoyment for crew members sojourning abroad, word of the place’s quirky elegance and lavish goings-on quickly spreads, and the Pan Am Lounge becomes the latest hush-hush place to be within the Western Sector of the divided city.

It is thus no great surprise that, among others, renowned American Forces Network Disc Jockey Mark White soon becomes a regular guest at the Lounge – finally even taking up residence in the building. Whether dropping by for a night-cap or extending the day’s interview with celebrities such as Gregory Peck, Louis Armstrong, Kirk Douglas, Soraya or Marlene Dietrich, White is always warmly welcomed at the now renowned Pan Am Lounge.

The same is true for Willy Brandt, who is known to have enjoyed cigars with his brandy in the Fireside Room during his visits to the Lounge. More legendary still are his meetings there with the architect of the German “economic miracle,” Ludwig Erhard. It is still rumored today that numerous snifters and a simple handshake aided, on one particular evening, in sealing future plans across party lines for eventually returning the capital to Berlin.

History takes its course ….

With the unravelling of the Soviet Union over the course of the 1980s, the dissolution of the communist leadership in the GDR is only a matter of course. The fall of the Berlin Wall finally follows on 9 November 1989. The people of East Berlin are now free, and the city is reunited after more than three decades of division. On the tenth floor of Eden House, a solemn toast is made on the heels of a jubilant speech to mark the historic event. After Pan American World Airways is forced to declare bankruptcy only two years later in 1991, the Lounge, together with what once was West Berlin, falls into slumber for a period of time.

The renaissance of a one-of-a-kind place

When Natascha Bonnermann, rather by coincidence many years later, finds herself standing amid the interiors of the now dormant establishment, she is awed with delight. It is as though she has been transported into another time zone – into the Pan Am era. Everything down to the ashtrays has been perfectly conserved. The spirit of optimism that once shaped history is still palpable in each immaculate detail. She makes the decision right then and there to honor the great legacy and, through hard work and dedication, breathe new life into the Lounge that once so proudly served the people of Berlin and Pan American World Airways – the right decision at the right time and place. In the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city had revelled in the new-found freedom of its eastern zone. Now people were beginning to recall the west again, however, in all its steadfast charm. With acute awareness of the establishment’s historical importance and keen attention to detail, the legendary Pan Am Lounge is restored, thus ensuring the faithful, top address for optimistic merrymaking and hopeful exuberance remain true to its calling for years to come.