Dietmar Funk is living proof that one’s path in life can be a road of unexpected turns leading to unforeseen destinations. As a young man, the German native worked in a nursery school for handicapped children before training to become a teacher—a job he held for a few years. His first unpredicted turn came in 1997, when his brothers asked him to join their marketing firm. This led to yet another unforeseen turn: the founding of a telecommunication company that saw Funk and his brothers transform an old railway building for locomotives into their headquarters.
The renovation was so impressive that the former mayor of Offenburg, in Germany’s Black Forest, wondered if the brothers might be interested in buying and restoring an historic prison in the city, which had recently closed.
Hotel Liberty turned out to be much more complicated than we expected. As one example, we had difficulties with the monument protection people and that continued for more than five years! Though it was a big challenge, the effort was worth it. The love for detail and a passion for the old building by our project planner, Jochen Weinzierl of Trend Concept, was a critical factor to making the hotel so charismatic and historically relevant. And our interior designer, Knoblauch, had a perfect understanding of the project and gave us exactly the atmosphere we wanted. And, of course, there was our friend, the famous German artist Stefan Strumbel, who advised us whenever we were unsure about the type of design and art to be presented in an historic building. He was able to see the whole picture and how small things appear in the larger context. He always reminded us that an old building is already a work of art itself. So in the end we were very careful to maintain the unique character of the structure.
It’s critical! There are a few other prison-hotels in Europe, but nearly all of them have the spirit of a theme property where you stay in small cells and really feel locked up. Hotel Liberty is just the opposite. And part of this is because we had four years to prepare the interior. Some of the furniture is handpicked from antique dealers. The lamps in the lobby are from an old factory in Bern, Switzerland. The desk chairs in the rooms we discovered when visiting a carpenter who restores furniture from the late Biedermeier period. Furthermore, we built mirrors out of old prison bars, tables out of wood from the building’s roof. We kept most of the historic doors of the cells, so it’s possible to “feel” the former prison. As decoration, we even kept the pass-through for the prisoners’ food in every door. The prison has a history, of course. So the challenge was to keep that history, while at the same time creating an atmosphere of ease and comfort that, finally, is liberating!