Grand Hotel

by Hedwig Baum

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 826

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 excitement. They attend the ballet, they gamble in a casino, go flying, and attend a hotly contested prize fight, with Kringelein fighting off waves of pain. In a remarkable run of luck, Kringelein wins a tidy amount of money at the gaming tables.

A letter from Kringelein’s wife tells him that the cotton-processing company has refused a claim to repair the stove in their home (an apartment they rent from the company). Kringelein, incensed over the company’s treatment of him and his wife after he had served the company for twenty years, confronts Preysing, the director of the factory. Preysing is in Berlin and staying at the same hotel; he is on business to finalize a major deal. The confrontation between Kringelein and Preysing is heated, but in the end Kringelein backs down. The excitement causes him great physical duress, and he ends up in his hotel bed sedated with morphine administered by Dr. Otternschlag.

What Kringelein does not know, however, is that the deal has fallen through and that Preysing is facing economic ruin. Preysing had brought with him an office stenographer, Flämmchen, to help with the paperwork, but he has become entranced by her sultry sexiness. She is an aspiring actor who has done risqué modeling. Preysing, getting a haircut in the hotel, sees one of her ads in a magazine. He entices her to agree to go away with him on a “business trip” to England, and she coolly negotiates for remuneration and a new wardrobe in return for becoming his mistress.

Preysing and Flämmchen finalize their arrangements in Preysing’s hotel room, surprising the baron hiding in his room. The baron is hoping to rob Preysing, thinking he is a wealthy executive, to secure enough money to join Grusinskaya in Prague. In the ensuing confrontation, Preysing kills the baron accidentally when he hits him with a bronze inkstand. Flämmchen panics and runs out of the room naked, calling for help. Kringelein sees her and is stunned by her beauty, her vulnerability. He lets her into his room, and in an emotional exchange, the two find a powerful connection. Kringelein agrees to help. He goes to Preysing’s room but finds his boss unable to think clearly, certain that he can talk himself out of a murder charge (it was self-defense and the baron was an intruder) but sure that the presence of Flämmchen in his room will ruin him. Kringelein coolly advises him to call the police, contact a lawyer, and call his wife. Kringelein returns to his room, and he and Flämmchen agree to go away together. Despite being weeks away from his death, he is determined to live his last days fully and happily.

It is now morning, and in the lobby is Dr. Otternschlag. He is watching hotel guests arrive and depart.


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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1126

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 way back to the hotel, Gaigern stole Kringelein’s pocketbook. Later in Kringelein’s room, he returned it at Dr. Otternschlag’s insistence.

Dr. Otternschlag, a middle-aged physician badly disfigured in the war, spent one or two months every year at the Grand Hotel. He did nothing, went practically nowhere, and seemed to have no interests whatsoever. He had begun to show a slight interest in Kringelein when Gaigern intruded. It was Otternschlag who gave Kringelein a hypodermic to lessen his pains, but after a polite word of thanks to the doctor Kringelein turned to Gaigern, whom he begged to remain with him. Otternschlag was forgotten.

In the morning, Kringelein received a letter from his wife, complaining about the inconveniences of the house in which they lived, a house owned by the Saxonia Cotton Company. Kringelein angrily stamped down to Generaldirektor Preysing’s room to air his grievance. Herr Preysing had married the daughter of the owner of the Saxonia Cotton Company years before and had gradually worked himself up to the position of manager. He was in Berlin to bring about an amalgamation between his company and the Chemnitz Manufacturing Company, a merger necessary to forestall huge losses for the Saxonia Company. When Preysing saw that the representatives of the Chemnitz Company were about to reject his offer, he told a lie which he knew would win him their consent. He assured them that a trade agreement existed between the company and Burleigh & Sons, importers, of Manchester, England. The merger was then signed. During his stay in Berlin, Preysing had hired a stenographer, Miss Flamm, a beautiful girl who worked part-time as a photographer’s model. Preysing became quite enamored of her. When she hinted that she would be willing to travel with him as his secretary, Preysing decided to go to Manchester and confer with the English company. He asked Flaemmchen, as he called her, to accompany him. She agreed, after setting her price at one thousand marks. Preysing immediately engaged an adjoining room for her at the Grand Hotel.

That night, Preysing was in Flaemmchen’s room when he heard a noise in his own room and went to see what it was. There stood Gaigern in his pajamas. Preysing saw that his billfold was missing from the table where he had placed it, and he demanded its return. Gaigern threatened to shoot. Preysing seized a bronze inkstand, hit Gaigern over the head with it, and killed him. Flaemmchen ran to call for help. Kringelein heard her and opened his door; she fell unconscious into his arms. He took her in, and when she regained consciousness, he learned the whole story from her. He then went down to Preysing’s room, gathered up Flaemmchen’s clothes, and told Preysing to call the police. When they arrived, Preysing was arrested, and his plea of self-defense after robbery seemed weak, for Gaigern had had no gun on him. Preysing stayed in jail for three months. During that time, his affair with Flaemmchen was exposed, his wife divorced him, and his father-in-law discharged him. Meanwhile, Kringelein and Flaemmchen, having become friends, decided to go to England together.

Lives had been changed by chance meetings. Gaigern, the strong, vital man, was now dead. Preysing, the respectable citizen, was in jail accused of murder. Otternschlag, who claimed to have no interest in life, found when he tried to commit suicide that he wanted very much to live. Meek, downtrodden Kringelein began to assume the authority that came with responsibility, responsibility in the form of Flaemmchen. The tired and aging ballerina, Grusinskaya, had left the hotel feeling young and loved once more. As their rooms were vacated one by one, new visitors entered the hotel where life, mysterious or stupid or cruel, went on.

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