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Hôtel Le Berger opened its doors in 1933, on the initiative of the architect and entrepreneur Gabriel Duhoux. The original idea behind the hotel was to provide a discreet hideaway for illicit couples, offering a series of cosy, adorably comfortable rooms, which could be hired out for a few hours at a time or for an entire night.
A number of notable gentlemen are known to have graced the hotel since, among them wealthy businessmen, rich industrialists, politicians and members of the professions, who would arrange to meet their mistress here, their faces hidden from possible recognition behind a closely-worn scarf or veil. Possibly thousands of amorous, clandestine meetings have taken place here over the years, even during the war…However, the Hôtel Le Berger was always keen never to admit ‘ladies of easy virtue’ within its walls and thus preserve its reputation as nothing other than a decent, respectful establishment!
Hôtel Le Berger (“The Shepherd”) is situated close to Porte de Namur, in a part of the city that at the time it was built was gaining a reputation as the new up and coming fashionable district, as popular and chic today as it was then. For years, the hotel had its own grill lounge and bar on the ground floor, with discreet alcoves set around the room, for private conversation en tête à tête.
Several details that were special traits of the hotel in its heyday have remained: particularly amusing are its two-way lifts, in which guests could to go up to the upper floors in one (when a light gave the signal) and leave by another, directly on to the street, so that guests could avoid ever having to cross each other’s paths. Indeed there was no hotel lobby: staff would be warned of the arrival of a new client by a bell that would ring as a customer walked across the stairs. This would also enable the price of the room to be calculated (on the basis of three hour slots) and drinks to be ordered.
The establishment became an institution in Bruxelles, seducing many a photographer (as well as its clients) with its intimate and luxurious Art Déco interiors. Film producers, artists, dress designers too have been fervent admirers of its romantic décor. But despite the long-standing efforts of its manager, Fredy Martens, to maintain the hotel as it was (and in its original style), Le Berger was set aside for demolition in 2010. By then, the old building with its tiny old-fashioned rooms had begun to lag behind its newer or more stylish neighbours and had, at least for some, become an eyesore.
However, thanks to the determination of art historian, Isabelle Léonard, who discovered the hotel and fell in love with the place, and the savvy intuition and business skills of hotel owner, Jean-Michel André, the site was saved. Restored throughout from top to bottom, the hotel has managed to retain its original design and the 1930s charm, especially in its bedrooms. Although Le Berger has reverted to a more conventional style of hotel since its re-opening, it does present a more off-beat, deliciously charming, alternative stay in the heart of Europe’s capital: the promise of a sort of gentle escapism, a reminder of the delights of a bygone era, the caress of secrets past…
Le Berger, as you can imagine, is rife with stories and anecdotes, so many guests have come and gone over the years, so many moments of intense passion have been shared within its walls…(if only the bed heads could talk…). However, the establishment has always functioned with complete discretion and secrets have all gone untold. Today, we have to rely on our imaginations – admittedly fuelled by the sumptuous decor and details – to capture the atmosphere of secrecy, the murmured desires, the tender smiles, a tear or a caress on soft skin…
Nevertheless, much is remembered of Gabriel Duhoux, the founder of the hotel, and of his companion, Thérèse Goyvaerts. Rather surprisingly, Duhoux, already a well-known architect, also took on the cooking at the tavern-style restaurant, belonging to the hotel, and was responsible for its luxurious menu of oysters, lobster, foie gras and game. On his death in 1958, it was his companion who took over as manager of the hotel and who replaced him in the kitchens as head chef.
Other than the double lifts (which originally opened out onto two separate exits or entrances), Gabriel Duhoux furnished the hotel with extraordinary pieces of equipment such as a special tubing, which enabled the chamber maid to send a drinks order down to the bar. A large glass ‘port-hole’, placed in the floor of his office, enabled Dehoux to keep an eye on his staff while they were at work in the tavern. A similar glass opening, fitted to the ceiling in front of the lift, allowed the staff to communicate with the guests as they arrived, along with a console that would light up to inform the manager when a room was occupied.
In the cellars beneath the hotel, Mr. Duhoux had a secret hideaway built, in which he kept papers and a few vintage bottles of wine. During the war (when most of the hotels in Brussels were requisitioned by the German Army during the Occupation from 1940-45), the first and second floors of the hotel were taken over by German NCOs, whilst the hideaway served to hide parachutists or escapees.
Duhoux was renowned for his passion for cars (he regularly raced in the Monte Carlo Rally) and his great sense of humour: as his clients had a habit of taking away with them all they could stuff into a small suitcase or hide on their person under baggy clothing, he had the bed linen embroidered with the words “Stolen Berger”.
The guiding principle during the renovation of the hotel was to try to save as much as possible of the original décor so as to be able to reconstitute the almost cinematographic atmosphere of the 1930s. The number of rooms remains as it was, as have the interior fittings that were intrinsic to the hotel’s former vocation (as a meeting place for clandestine lovers). Each room has been re-decorated individually, as they used to be, with the exception of the ground floor rooms (the lobby, the drawing room and the restaurant), whose “Flemish pub-style” interiors were in any case out of step with the plush furnishings of the rooms above.
In the process of renovation, an inventory was drawn up and all the original elements listed, which amounted to an almost archeological feat. Only then were the architect, Olivia Gustot and interior designer, Martina Niervergelt able to set about renovating the inside of the hotel. Their major challenge was to bring the hotel up to the modern standards of comfort and security but also ensure that the original walls and existing partitions remained (along with the made to measure furniture, bathrooms, light switches, plug holes etc.). With an eye for creative detail, even the emergency exit signs have been designed with a touch of glamour, in keeping with the rest.
Where the original fittings were worn out or had disappeared (as with the stucco mouldings on the ceilings, the wall- or bedside lights, mirrors and so on), identical copies have been made. However, the wallpaper is from an original stock that had been miraculously preserved. Almost all the wooden panelling, the doors, the stained-glass windows, the metal door knobs and handles are original.
Amongst the many amusing details are the Suggestions and Comments boxes, made in polished brass and still to be found in most of the rooms. A loud speaker reminds us that music used to be filtered into each of Le Berger’s 60 rooms (known as ‘studios’ in their time) in case the silence was too intimidating! My particular favourite is the thick honey-coloured glass table tops that refract the light, producing a dazzling, colourful effect.
Hotel Le Berger is an island unto itself, steeped in history and protected from the tumult of modern life. It has to be enjoyed from the inside out, as it offers its clients the mythical radiance of Art Deco with the added comfort that modern habits require. The success of the design in the newly-renovated rooms lies in the touches of magical mystery that they have retained: a reminder of the subtle atmosphere of elegance and the discreet charm of the Hotel Le Berger, as it was between the Wars.
“When the lights are dimmed, all women look beautiful”.
Interview of Fredy Martens, former manager of Le Berger Hotel (1968-2010) (in French)
All the rooms in the hotel have retained their original 1930s atmosphere, both in their proportions and in their style of decoration, with the exception of the “Comfort” rooms, which are more recent. Some rooms contain just a bed (double of course!) and a small bathroom (with a wash-basin, shower and toilet;, while others are considerably larger, decorated with typical shiny wallpaper and furnished with two armchairs and a table (for the champagne). These rooms have bathrooms that are more spacious, with mirrors on the wall, and beds with exotic wood-panelling surrounds. My favourite rooms are Antoinette (07), Ambre (08), Blanche (09) and Manon (06).
Le Berger Hotel offers a discount to intoHistory’s friends. Be sure to add the PROMOTION CODE ‘History15’ to your reservation form.
For reasons of its history, Le Berger is best enjoyed as a couple, when you will be able to savour some of its unique atmosphere (and touch of intrigue). Even if the hotel no longer makes it their speciality of having guests who come to indulge in discreet affairs, rooms can be still be hired for a few hours (for ‘day use’) or for a more classic romantic stay à deux, for a night, a weekend or for a longer stay in Brussels. Elegance and discretion are guaranteed, nevertheless, with a touch of old-fashioned eroticism to go with it.
During the week, the hotel is much in demand among businessmen and women visiting Brussels on business, but at weekends, the Hotel Le Berger attracts mainly couples to its seductive Art Deco interiors.
As Le Berger was never originally intended for long stays or business trips, there is very little storage space in the rooms (with no wardrobe or cupboards) and almost no space for a desk.
Just next to the hotel, the celebrated Italian restaurant Vini Divini has opened its doors to the public and hotel guests alike, occupying the former tavern with tables for up to 28 covers. The hotel is also well-known for its bar, with its cosy alcoves for conversation en tête à tête, as a nod to the hotel’s past history.
L’Hôtel Le Berger is located right in the heart of Brussels, one block away from the Toison d’Or Boulevard and Louise Avenue, which bring together the most exclusive shops in the city.
Below, the Petit Sablon Square with its beautiful Renaissance houses, the famous Grand Place (UNESCO World Heritage) and the narrow streets of the old Brussels.
> More info on Brussels Do & See
To fully appreciate the period atmosphere of the Hotel Le Berger, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Watching a film evoking the era or listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:
Books to be devoured in situ
Films to be watched before arriving
Period music to be enjoyed on location
Superbe endroit découvert par hasard. Tout y est authentique, et avec un très bel accueil. L'endroit vous charme INSTANTANÉMENT et je regrette déjà de ne pas en avoir plus profité! Heureusement que des amoureux de l’endroit se sont battus pour le préserver de la démolition. C'est tout de même beaucoup mieux qu'un hôtel trop moderne! A recommander, enfin pas trop ..... si l'on veut pouvoir encore en profiter !!!!!!
Definitely a hotel with a difference - very small rooms and loads of atmosphere - certainly a world away from the normal hotel scene ...
So glad they did not knock it down, as it has lots of character... I can imagine if the walls could speak ...
Wonder how many people "in the public eye" came here for a quiet few hours with the man/woman of their choice?!
It was a totally new experience for me, that's for sure!
If you like poetry, you may enjoy these verses: "Vintage Fashion at Le Berger Hôtel"
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Hôtel Le Berger
rue du Berger 24
+32 2 510 83 40
Hotel’s own website
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