Petersburg Dialogue How a famous hotel was the scene of these historical moments

KÖNIGSWINTER · The Petersberg is legendary - as a conference venue and as a hotel. Here Konrad Adenauer negotiated, here Bill Clinton spent the night, here Michael Schumacher got married. Now the German-Russian discussion forum "Petersburg Dialogue" is meeting here.

If Michael Kain has something like a favourite story about the Petersberg, it's Leonid Brezhnev's story. In 1973 the Soviet head of state and party stayed for a few days in the luxury hotel that was closed at that time. But the visit became legendary not because of it, but because Brezhnev had an accident with his guest gift, a sports car, on the curving driveway.

Kain, who has been director of the Steigenberger Grandhotel Petersberg for four years and is repeatedly asked about Brezhnev's crash, says there are several variations on what exactly happened. "But this story has gone around the world, everyone knows it," he says. Kain himself doesn't think that Brezhnev drove the car into the ditch, as is often thought to be the case. "I think he hit one of the big menhirs along the way." Whatever happened, the result was clear: the underbody of the car was broken, the exhaust pipe was broken. And the hill in the Siebengebirge was suddenly known all over the world.

The Grandhotel Petersberg is far more than its 112 luxury rooms, including nine suites and 15 function rooms. The "Petersberg" stands for the Bonn Republic. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer negotiated here, US President Bill Clinton and British Queen Elizabeth II spent the night here. And it was here where Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher got married.

The road meanders through the woods in serpentines

Already the way to the 336 meters high hill is special. The road winds its way through the forest in serpentines. The barriers at the lower and upper end of the path are normally folded up, but show how quickly the access road can be closed off if necessary. Shortly before the plateau high above the town centre of Königswinter, the former guard building on the access road announces the historical significance of the town - the NRW Foundation is currently setting up a visitor and information centre there. It is easy to imagine how the state guests were once driven up in a convoy. Or they were flown in by helicopter. The designated landing site is now also used as a parking lot.

The history of the Petersberg as a hotel location with a view of the Rhine Valley began in 1892. Ferdinand Mülhens, the owner of "4711", bought the house 20 years later, expanded it and converted it into a spa hotel. During the First and Second World Wars it served as a military hospital.

Politics was made in the neo-baroque building from 1949: The Allied High Commissioners had their headquarters there. On 22 November of the same year, Chancellor Adenauer signed the "Petersberg Agreement" there, which, among other things, entitled the Federal Republic to establish consular relations with Western states and to join international organisations such as the Council of Europe. Thus the course was set for a sovereign Germany after the Second World War. "The Petersberg is the most important monument of our republic: birthplace of the Federal Republic of Germany", the former government spokesman Friedhelm Ost once described it.

Hotel manager Kain is often asked about Adenauer

Hotel manager Kain is still frequently asked about Adenauer today. "The story is famous," he says. "At a photo session with the Allied High Commissioners, Adenauer also climbed the red carpet, contrary to protocol. He wanted to show that he was negotiating at eye level." Visitors can take a look at this historic site: The hotel has renamed the former "Salon Thüringen" in honour of the Chancellor to "Salon Konrad Adenauer" and furnished it with numerous pictures.

After the signing of the "Treaty of Germany", the High Commissioners left the Petersberg three years later in 1952. In April 1954 the renovated hotel reopened - and the Federal Government rented it for state visits. The first state guest in November was Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. The Shah of Persia spent the night there as did the Queen. In 1969 the house was closed - with the mentioned exception for Brezhnev.

Five years later the Federal Republic acquired the Petersberg to create a guesthouse for state guests. The official opening was celebrated in 1990. Mikhail Gorbachev stayed there as well as Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela or Emperor Akihito of Japan.

Afghanistan Conferences on the Petersberg

Since large parts of the federal government moved to Berlin in 1999, the federal government has used Meseberg Castle, some 70 kilometres north of the capital, as a guesthouse. The Petersberg, however, is still in federal ownership, an initially planned sale of Berg und Haus eight years ago did not come about. Since then, the hotel has been in demand above all as a conference venue and for events. There is also a restaurant, café and beer garden open to everyone.

Two Afghanistan conferences on the country's future took place in the ochre yellow building in 2001 and 2002. Petersberg also gave its name to the "Petersberg Climate Dialogue", which has been held annually since 2010. Ministerial conferences also meet there again and again.

On this Thursday and Friday, the luxury hotel, freshly renovated for 35 million Euro, will once again be the host of a major conference: the "Petersburg Dialogue", which sees itself as a German-Russian discussion platform for social issues and bilateral relations as well as a source of ideas for projects. Participants are experts and multipliers who discuss in ten working groups - from politics to ecology. It will be opened by Foreign Ministers Heiko Maas and Sergei Lavrov. NRW Prime Minister Armin Laschet has also announced his intention to attend. Political talks, as so often before on the Petersberg.

(Original text: Daniela Greulich; Translation: Mareike Graepel)

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