Offenburg, Germany – Early morning. I open my eyes to the curved brick ceiling of a prison cell. Today, I have slept beneath crumbled bricks that have seen thousands of political prisoners, thieves, and murderers – incarcerated here over more than a century.
But instead of a rigid, smelly mattress, I’m lying on thirty centimetres of premium comfort. Instead of a cramped cell, I slip my feet into fluffy slippers and pad across the warm, spacious room to brush my teeth in the attached bathroom, with fixtures designed by Patricia Urquiola and Antonio Citterio. My only cellmate is a tiny velvet plush toy mouse. The black ribbon around its neck proudly reads ‘Hotel Liberty’.
In 1843, the Grabenallee prison was built on the edge of the Baden-Württemberg Black Forest. Revolutionaries of the failed Baden Revolution of 1848/1849 were imprisoned here, but the prison was also used for more run-of-the-mill criminals as recently as 2009, before the prison building reopened its doors on 30 September 2017 as the luxurious Hotel Liberty – reimagined by Knoblauch interior architects under the renowned Design Hotels brand.
‘We wanted people to come here and really relax, to let go of the world,’ says Marc Aeberhard, the passionate and plain-spoken general manager of the hotel. Aeberhard has extensive experience as a hotelier for first-class resorts around the world, and is a faultless host to our little group of journalists here to experience the new hotel. ‘When this place used to be a prison, all people had was time. So now we give our guests the luxury of time,’ he explains.