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Betweeen two worlds

Baur au Lac owner Andrea Kracht takes René Beyer on a tour of the catacombs: once behind the scenes, it quickly becomes clear why his hotel is one of the best in the world.

At the Baur au Lac, there is the world of the guests – a blend of distinguished luxury and nostalgic recollections, all suffused with a subdued, posh atmosphere – and then there is the world behind the scenes. Or, perhaps more accurately, below the scenes: in the basement of the hotel, it is loud, dusty and rustic. This labyrinth of neon-lit passages is home to the technical rooms and workshops. And Andrea Kracht is just as proud of the latter as he is of the hotel’s exquisite suites or the views of the lake from the fitness club on the top floor.

With a master key, he opens the doors in the catacombs as if they led to a secret. And they do: In a storage room, heavy filing cabinets open up to reveal the suitcases and bags of all the guests who have opted to leave their belongings here until their next stay so that their clothing will be waiting for them in their room, aired out and pressed, upon their arrival. Or the carpenter’s workshop, which not only repairs broken objects but has also once built a small set of stairs for a dog so that a world-famous singer’s precious pet could comfortably climb into bed with her. And then there’s the upholstery workshop, which takes care of the sofas and chairs, each of which is tagged with a code so that their beautiful covers can be ordered from just the right location around the world at the touch of a button. Or the painter’s shop, which erases the damage to the walls caused by hastily dragged suitcases.

Andrea Kracht makes one of hotel aficionado René Beyer’ lifelong dreams come true by taking him on a tour behind the scenes of his hotel. The two feel a unique connection, which is not surprising. They are practically neighbours, and are both in charge of companies that are steeped in tradition and are renowned far beyond the borders of Switzerland. Both offer a reason to dream to a clientele that already has it all. And both do so with a passion that is ultimately a large part of what makes their companies so unique. Furthermore, both of them have an obligation to the many generations that came before them. And, another interesting commonality: both are married to powerful Asian women.

MORE THAN A PLACE TO WORK
As they make their way through the catacombs, Kracht greets every employee by name and with the same respect he offers his guests. “This kind of hotel only works when you have the best people,” he says. “It comes
down to each and every individual.” His gratefulness comes across as genuine. The Baur au Lac has between 300 and 350 employees for 120 rooms: a quota that no other year-round Swiss hotel can match. Some have worked at the hotel for 10 or 15 years – or even longer. Why are they as loyal to the Baur au Lac as the hotel’s guests? Kracht grins, which makes him resemble even more closely the actor Christoph Waltz, for whom he is regularly mistaken: “A hotel like ours is so much more than a place to work. It is a place of legends. A place where windows open up to the rest of the world. You never know what sorts of surprises the day will hold for you here. It’s not so easy

“HE OPENS THE DOORS AS IF THEY LED TO A SECRET. AND THEY DO.”

 

to find such an interesting workplace.” And when it comes to the guests, according to Kracht, he feels he can confidently say (hopefully without coming across as too arrogant): anyone who has stayed with us once will
stay with us again.

INDIVIDUALITY AS A FORM OF LUXURY
After all, alongside everything that the Baur au Lac has embodied since day one, it fits with what is perhaps the largest trend among today’s elite: authentic individuality. “Cookie-cutter luxury is over; today, you need
more,” says Kracht. The Baur au Lac’s greatest advantage is that it is one of the “Leading Hotels of the World”, which means it is on display on a global stage, while at the same time its storied history means that it represents the city of Zurich.

Making the impossible possible: that is also Beyer Watches & Jewellery’s aspiration. However, there are also limits, explains René Beyer, for example when clients want to take their expensive watches and have them embellished with a few extra diamonds. “There are watchmakers who are willing to do this and who are successful for this reason,” Beyer continues. “However, they are quickly blacklisted by the manufacturers, and then they can never come to them for anything again.”

After a quick visit to the chambermaids, the kind souls of the luxury hotel industry who satisfy hundreds of tiny special requests in no time at all and fill their hideaway with a homely warmth, things start to cool down: in the florist’s atelier, the door to enormous walk-in refrigerator is open, allowing an icy wind into the room. Kracht draws Beyer’s attention to various details in such a natural way that it seems as if he helps out here every day.

THE ALMOST-SECRET FIFTH FLOOR
With his quiet, restrained manner, Kracht is the perfect hotelier. However, this does not mean he is unapproachable: Kracht possesses the unique ability to give every interlocutor the feeling that they have his full attention
and that he has all the time in the world for them. As he takes us through the fifth floor, which is made up of just three suites, he speaks with such excitement that it almost feels like the first time he’s disclosing the bizarre
nature of the convoluted building, which appears to have three floors when viewed from the front and four when viewed from the back, but in reality has a hidden fifth floor that is practically secret.

The 64-year-old’s eyes contain a youthful liveliness, in particular when he discusses his favourite hobby – spending the day on the racetrack with his Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. And what does he do to keep so fit? Not much, says Kracht modestly. He runs 10 kilometres twice a week. And he forces himself to be extremely disciplined: he rarely eats breakfast, and generally only eats fresh fruit for lunch. Now Kracht is standing at what he says is his favourite place: on the terrace between the hotel and the wonderful park in front that filters out the noise of the city and exudes its own unique poetic feeling, regardless of the weather or the season.

“THEN HE TELLS THE STORY ABOUT THE JAPANESE EMPEROR AND THE GINKGO BILOBA SEED.”

 

The hotelier points to a tree that majestically shoots up towards the sky and begins to tell the story of the Japanese emperor and the ginkgo biloba seed: shortly after the hotel first opened in 1844, they planted the
emperor’s gift in the soil of the park. It goes without saying that the imposing giant that emerged serves as a metaphor for the history of the hotel itself. Kracht then takes René Beyer over the small bridge to the
garage, a cool spot that is also used as a party location. Two mechanics are busy washing and polishing guests’ cars – by hand, of course, to avoid any scratches.

This is just one of countless examples of
how carefully the hotel’s employees work behind the scenes. So that in the other part of the building, in the world of the guests, there is no doubt whatsoever that the Baur au Lac was an excellent choice.

Beyer Chronometrie