An ‘inescapable’ 19th-century prison has been turned into Hotel Liberty – a contemporary retreat in the German city of Offenburg.
Built in 1843 during the German industrial revolution, the old Offenburg prison was designed by Heinrich Hübsch to accommodate up to 40 prisoners, many of whom were freethinkers who took part in the failed Baden Revolution of 1848.
Architect Jürgen Grossmann took on the first stage of the jail’s adaptive reuse, joining the prison’s two historic wings – originally separate structures – together via a new glass cube, which now houses the Hotel Liberty’s restaurant Wasser&Brot.
Practice Knoblauch was then enlisted to transform the formidable brick structure’s internal spaces. Turning the idea of incarceration on its head, it reimagined the hotel as a place for retreat rather than confinement.
‘This project was quite challenging for us,’ says the practice. ‘We had to unite the sensitive heritage of the jail with the light-hearted hotel atmosphere.’
Wasser&Brot is named for the inmates’ staple diet of bread and water, and sits within the light-filled atrium with soaring glass ceilings and walls, and polished concrete floors. The menu features contemporary French cuisine, served under the tutelage Michelin-starred chef Jeremy Biasiol.
A mezzanine-level lounge overlooks the dining room, riffing on the idea of the prisoners’ communal space. It features a floor-to-ceiling bookcase which crosses several floors, nodding to the theme of time, and improving the acoustic performance of the space.
Hotel Liberty’s 38 bedroom suites have been set inside the former inmate blocks. Cells have been knocked through to create guestrooms, and bars have been removed from the windows, which frame views of the surrounding countryside.
But you don’t have to look too hard to find traces of the buildings past: many of its extra-thick brick walls and steel doors have been retained.
‘The old cell doors, for example, were reused… not as actual room doors – for which they were simply too small – but as features next to them and as a window into the past,’ explains Knoblauch. Similarly the old cell hatches have been repurposed to conceal photographs of the old prison, while window bars have been incorporated into mirrors in the bathrooms.
Hotel Liberty is the latest addition to Design Hotels’ roster, with rooms starting from around €150 per night.