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Finally, on 30 September 2017, after almost three years of planning and construction, the Design Hotel Liberty in Offenburg’s former prison opens its doors with 38 rooms and suites, a premium restaurant and a very special atmosphere. The planners at Konrad Knoblauch GmbH from Markdorf on Lake Constance showed a strong sense for the needs of the future guests. They managed to incorporate the sensitive heritage of the jail into the new hotel using a light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek approach. Few people can truly empathise. In their attempt to try to understand the world of a prisoner, the planners at Knoblauch discovered something that is not always easy in everyday life: the ability to see the positive side in everything.

What is the first thing that springs to mind when we think about life behind bars? Being locked up, deprivation and lost time. But initially it seems inconceivable that such gloominess also has a good side. Being locked up means protection and retreat – protection and retreat from yourself, from others and from the outside world. Deprivation calls for a focus on the essentials and thus forms the basis for luxury. Lost time, or rather too much time, means your mind wanders to distant places and freedom – a precious good for the former inmates. But a good that is not redeemable. The moment, the here and now, that is real wealth.

All three elements – retreat, focus and the moment – are the needs of today‘s society. And that’s precisely what the Liberty offers its guests. A feel-good atmosphere and lifestyle in a historic building, an experience of history without feeling anxious, feeling grateful for your own wellbeing. The building at Grabenallee in Offenburg was built under Grand Duke Leopold von Baden starting in 1843, and it was initially able to accommodate 40 prisoners. After the failure of the Baden Revolution of 1848/1849, revolutionaries from Offenburg were also incarcerated there. The origin of the prison goes hand in hand with industrialisation in Germany, which is why we used many robust materials and dark grey surfaces.

Industrial development also means that the population became increasingly prosperous. People’s eating habits changed and more meat was consumed. That is why the large grill with its brass golden hood forms the heart of the open restaurant area at the Liberty. A large and clearly visible highlight with a fine surface that stands for the appreciation of luxury. Running water is another achievement of the 19th century. Large free-standing bathtubs in the rooms and the special fittings by Axxo – also with brass look – underline the burgeoning comfort at the time.

Original elements from the former prison can be seen throughout the hotel. The old cell doors, for example, were reused. They were not used as actual room doors – for which they were simply too small – but as features next to them and as a window into the past: The hatches which the meals used to be passed through now conceal photographs of the old prison. Some of the bars were also reused, for example for the mirrors in the ladies’ toilets. Tables were made from old beams. And even the lighting in the staircases is a nod to the building’s past: horizontal lamps look a bit like ladders the prisoners might have used to try to escape. Elsewhere, lamps were weaved into, as it were, a rope with knots – another way of breaking out of prison.

Design: Konrad Knoblauch GmbH
Photography: Jens Pfisterer

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