Enjoying the luxury of liberty behind old prison walls
If these walls could speak – for over 160 years, Offenburg’s prison was a place where no one would have wanted to spend a single night. Baden revolutionaries of 1848 were imprisoned here, as were army deserters and political prisoners later on. But thieves, scammers and murderers also served their sentences in the Grabenallee. The prison, built between 1840 and 1845, was in use until 2009. After years of being vacant and following recent renovations, a new spirit has swept through the building’s thick walls: on September 30, 2017, Hotel Liberty opened its doors.
Set in the German city of Offenburg, just 20 minutes’ drive from the French city of Strasbourg, the property is home to the fine dining grill restaurant Wasser&Brot – a reference to the inmates’ typical diet of “water and bread” in previous times.
Drastically different from the prison cells they once were, the 38 rooms and suites feature oak floors, distressed leather, and handcrafted furnishings curated by the Knoblauch design studio based in Markdorf on Lake Constance. Urban gardening on the rooftop is a subtle nod to the building’s history as a place of communal activity. Add an atrium bar serving local spirits, a library, the La Cave wine space with a cloister table, and meeting spaces for up to 25 people, and Hotel Liberty becomes a place to escape to, not from.
Designed in 1840 by Heinrich Hübsch, one of Baden’s most renowned architects at the time, this former prison is built from the same red sandstone that was used for the cathedrals of Freiburg and Strasbourg. In its history, the building has gone through numerous fortifications and renovations involving new oak floors, the removal of window bars, and an added glass section between two brick buildings. Many of the former cells have been connected to form more spacious guestrooms, while windows have been modified to better frame the surrounding countryside. Thick original walls and many steel doors keep the building’s history at the forefront.
The Knoblauch design team aimed to simultaneously keep the building’s historical character intact while also reducing any sense of rigidity through the occasional playful element. Retro-technological furnishings contrast handcrafted pieces by local craftspeople, while tiled bathrooms, black leather headboards, and distressed brown leather sofas feature in many rooms and suites.
The bathroom fittings of this exclusive jewel in southwestern Germany were manufactured right nearby; the developers opted for perfection from the Black Forest with products by AXOR, the luxury brand of the Hansgrohe Group.
Hotel manager Marc Aeberhard makes sure that guests in the hotel’s 38 rooms and suites feel comfortable and free. The Swiss born hotelier specialises in innovative high-end hotel management and has already received multiple international awards for projects around the world. The concept for the metamorphosis from prison to luxury boutique hotel evolved in years of collaboration. Stand-out features include a modern glass cube connecting the two wings of the building where Michelin-star chef Jeremy Biasiol will be serving haute cuisine with international and regional touches. Hotel guests can also enjoy an excellent glass of wine – for instance from one of the many award-winning vineyards in the Ortenau region or neighbouring Alsace – while browsing through the library with its more than 3,000 books; they can go for a run in the Bürgerpark right outside the door, or stroll through the picturesque old town, with its baroque architecture and half-timbered houses.
Dimly lit cells with hard plank beds have given way to stylishly furnished rooms where guests now slumber on thick, 30-centimetre premium mattresses.
Merging tradition and modernity
The bathroom space has also been elegantly furnished. The molded mineral bathtubs and washbasins of the AXOR Urquiola collection are a tribute to old-fashioned washtubs – with practical detailing: their lateral slits double as towel holders. By incorporating a free-standing washtub, Patricia Urquiola has succeeded in creating a bathroom ensemble whose playful details and modern simplicity bridges the past and the present- what could be more appropriate to a historical venue with a new-found purpose?