(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

It is a chilly March, and through the endlessly revolving front doors of one of Berlin’s ritziest hotels, guests arrive and depart. Sitting alone in the lobby, Dr. Otternschlag sips cognac and watches the lobby’s furious activity with cool detachment. His face is scarred and he has a glass eye—he took a shell in the face during World War I. The dashing Baron Felix von Gaigern, a guest at the hotel, creates a buzz as he crosses the lobby, puffing an expensive cigar and peeling off heavy tips for the hotel employees. By trade, Gaigern is a gambler, by vocation he is a thief.

Gaigern is drawn to Elisaveta Grusinskaya, a Russian ballet dancer staying at the hotel who, despite her perfect figure and luminous presence, is long past her prime and now performs in half-empty theaters before indifferent audiences. What attracts Gaigern, however, is a strand of pearls the dancer reputedly keeps in her hotel room. He breaks into her room while he knows she is at the theater, but she surprises him. She had left the performance at intermission, overwhelmed by the realization of her career spiral. Far from being alarmed by the intruder, however, Grusinskaya falls under his charismatic charm; they make love. The next morning, Gaigern professes his love for the dancer and even tells her (although she is half asleep) that he is a thief. Before slipping out, he gallantly returns the strand of pearls.

Meanwhile, Otto Kringelein has checked into the hotel. A junior bookkeeper at a minor cotton-processing facility outside Berlin, he is living now way beyond his means. After he found out that he has terminal stomach cancer, he cashed in his retirement funds, determined at last to live his life, after an unremarkable life of providing for his family. He meets the baron in the hotel bar, and they strike up a friendship—Kringelein drawn to the baron’s energy, and the baron drawn, in part, by the prospects of a mark carrying a wad of money.

Over the next two days, the baron introduces the bookkeeper to...

(The entire section is 826 words.)

Grand Hotel Summary

(Essentials of European Literature)

Through the revolving doors of the Grand Hotel in Berlin came people from various walks of life. The meetings of these people and their effects upon one another thereafter were as varied as the people themselves. Each one had his own life, his own worries, and his own problems, and each pursued his own selfish ends.

Baron Gaigern was living in luxury at the hotel. He never seemed to lack money, and he possessed well-tailored clothes. The baron, however, was a gambler and a thief staying at the hotel for the purpose of stealing Elisaveta Alexandrovna Grusinskaya’s famous pearls, which had been given to the ballerina by the Grand Duke Sergei. Gaigern’s plan to steal the pearls was based on a timing of Grusinskaya’s actions. One night, he crawled along the outside of the building to the dancer’s room, where she kept her jewels in an unlocked case. That night Grusinskaya returned earlier than usual and found him in her room.

Grusinskaya, the aging ballerina, knew that her youth was slipping away from her. On that particular night, feeble applause after one of her best numbers made her leave the theater before the performance was over and return to her room at the hotel. When she discovered Gaigern in her room, he convinced her that because he loved her he had come to sit there while she was away at the theater. Willing to believe him, she let him stay with her the rest of the night. The next morning, before she awoke, he replaced the pearls in their case. Grusinskaya left Berlin that morning, and Gaigern promised to meet her in Vienna three days later.

Still in need of money, Gaigern decided to get it from the wealthy and apparently ailing provincial in room 70. Gaigern did not suspect that the rich provincial, Otto Kringelein by name, was in reality only a junior clerk of the Saxonia Cotton Company of Fredersdorf. At forty-six years of age, Kringelein had learned that he was dying, and he decided that before his death he would see something of life after years of being bullied at the office by his superiors and at home by his wife Anna. With a small legacy left him by his father, his savings in the bank, and a loan on his life insurance policy, he planned to live the life of a rich man for a few weeks before he died. On the morning Grusinskaya left Berlin, Gaigern met Kringelein and took him to be outfitted by his own tailor. In the evening, they went to the boxing matches and then to a gambling casino. Kringelein paid for the evening’s entertainment, for Gaigern admitted that he was without funds. Gaigern had hoped to win enough money to pay his way to Vienna, but he lost steadily. Kringelein won thirty-four hundred marks. They ended the evening at the Alhambra, a shabby nightclub, where Kringelein became ill. On...

(The entire section is 1126 words.)

Grand Hotel Bibliography

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Baum, Vicki. It Was All Quite Different: The Memoirs of Vicki Baum. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1964. A fascinating account of Grand Hotel’s evolution and Baum’s original conception of it as an experiment in the New Objectivity. Chronicles its success and its eventual transformation into both stage and film versions.

King, Lynda J. Best-Sellers by Design: Vicki Baum and the House of Ullstein. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1988. Essential reading of Baum by a prolific scholar of her work. Explores Baum’s position within the critical tension between serious literature and middlebrow best sellers, and examines the enormous pressures of Baum’s commercial success.

_______. “Menschen im Hotel / Grand Hotel: Seventy Years of a Popular Culture Classic.” Journal of American and Comparative Cultures 23, no. 2 (Summer, 2000): 17-23. This journal article focuses on Grand Hotel’s immense popularity and on the relationship between serious and popular literature.

McCormick, Richard W. Gender and Sexuality in Weimar Modernity: Film, Literature, and “New Objectivity.” New York: Palgrave, 2002. An excellent overview of the new realism pioneered by Baum that places that movement within the context of its turn from expressionism. Particular emphasis on the movement’s realization of the figure of the New Woman.

Valencia, Heather. “A First-Rate Second-Rate Writer.” In German Novelists of the Weimar Republic: Intersections of Literature and Politics. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2006. A major reading of Baum—the title comes from Baum’s own description of herself. Looks at the irony in Grand Hotel, often overlooked, and Baum’s experimental use of character types.