The post restante address in Berlin for the cream and climbers of European social life in the years between the world wars was the Grand Hotel. Historically and symbolically, it’s the ideal setting for Vicki Baum to explore the lives of a handful of life’s permanent transients.
After learning he has only a short time to live, bookkeeper Otto Kringelein has come to the Hotel to live a few weeks as a rich man in the fleshpots of the capital. Unknown to him, the boss of the plant where Kringelein has worked all his life is also staying at the hotel while trying to pull off a major business deal, despite his twin handicaps of honesty and stupidity.
The famous and fading ballerina Grusinskaya is at the Hotel, devoting all her energies to living up to the publicity of her prime. Present, too, is the handsome adventurer Baron Gaigern whose gang is preparing to turn Grusinskaya’s famous pearls to cash within hours after he discretely removes them from her room.
Dr. Otternschlag, disfigured and spiritually maimed in the Great War, notes their comings and goings from behind his newspaper in the lobby. Within the space of a few days, each has a chance to change their lives significantly. Only one seizes the opportunity.
Grand Hotel has a bleak grittiness that fascinates only to leave a sour taste in the mind. Baum’s characters are such distinct individuals that the world’s failure to give them their due seems horrific.Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum Trans. Basil Creighton Grosset & Dunlap, 1931 309 pages 1931 bestseller #4