Bonn’s Hotel Collegium Leoninum
By Monique Burns
Halfway through a trip to Germany’s Rhineland, I find myself in Bonn. I’ve stood at the meeting of the Rhine and Moselle in Koblenz, wondered at Roman ruins in Trier and been dazzled by Charlemagne’s golden cathedral in Aachen. Finally, I’ll head south to Wiesbaden, with its Art Nouveau treasures and elegant casino. But, right now, I’m exploring Bonn.
It’s six months too early for composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday, a year-long celebration that kicks off in Bonn in December 2019. But I hope to visit the city’s superb art and history museums as well as over a dozen historic sites connected with Germany’s famed maestro.
But, first, I need to drop off my bag and check into a good hotel.
At the Rhine River’s northern end, near western Germany’s spine, Bonn is a stone’s throw from Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. On Europe’s stylish western front, Bonn is not particularly known for stylish lodgings. This is no oasis of boutique hotels with cutting-edge art and designer cocktails.
Bonn is better known for big convention hotels, major American brands like Hilton and Marriott and top European brands like Accor and Maritim. West Germany’s capital for nearly 40 years, Bonn still has hundreds of government offices as well as scores of U.N. Secretariats and corporate headquarters.
Where better to lodge all those out-of-town politicians, foreign dignitaries, business execs—and visiting professors headed to the University of Bonn—than in big convention hotels offering a raft of services and amenities?
I contemplate all this while sitting in Bonn’s four-star Hotel Collegium Leoninum, a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel with a gourmet bistro, a library, lush courtyard gardens, a pool, sauna and fitness center—and even a concert hall.
One of Western Europe’s best values, the Hotel Collegium Leoninum has standard rooms, including free Wi-Fi, starting at 85 euros, or just under $95. An extra bed for a child, 6-15, adds 25 euros, or less than $30, to your tab.
Planning on a long day of touring, I head to Leo’s Bistro. From the hotel’s copious breakfast buffet, I dish up a huge morning meal of fruit, cheeses and dried meats, some smoked salmon, a little yogurt, scrambled eggs, sausages and bacon, and a fresh-baked roll with creamery butter and homemade preserves. If I don’t have time for lunch, I’m good till dinner.
Minutes later, a server arrives at my table, offering various teas and specialty coffees from the espresso bar. Perfect for an afternoon tea of cakes and pastries, Leo’s also serves à la carte lunches and dinners.
There are well-wrought dishes like fettuccine with chanterelle mushrooms, and entrecôte of beef, raised in the nearby Eifel Mountains, with red wine-shallot sauce and green bell beans.
Also on the menu: Leo’s Burger, a massive 180 gram beef patty with bacon, cheddar cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomato, red onions and jalapeño sauce, served with curly fries.
I opt for good ol’ American coffee, and my server returns, seconds later, with a shiny chrome carafe filled with steaming hot coffee plus a little cow-shaped pitcher of fresh cream.
Between bites, I check out the other guests. A good-looking blonde in her early 40s sits at a banquette with a college-aged son and daughter. Two residents, a fashionable older couple, with backpacks and hiking sticks, sweep in. A tall white-haired man, perhaps in his 80s, but still quite strapping, rolls up to a table, his walker’s front tray loaded with breakfast fare.
Through big plate-glass windows, I can see out to the terrace with teak tables and large white umbrellas. Two young men in their 20s are at one table. At another: a husband and wife and two small children, maybe 6 or 7 years old. Brandishing strips of bacon, bobbing, weaving and grinning, the kids stop every so often to hug their parents. The four of them look like a kinetic sculpture.
Spacious, with tables set far apart, Leo’s Bistro somehow manages to feel intimate, so intimate you’d think you were attending a multigenerational family reunion.
That’s no accident. The Hotel Collegium Leoninum is both a four-star hotel and an upscale senior residence. Somewhere along the line, someone realized that—far from being alien constituencies—couples, families and active seniors share many of the same needs. That led to the bright idea of combining a swanky senior residence with a deluxe hotel.
By the time I arrive in Bonn, I’ve already spent nearly a week hopping trains through Germany’s Rhineland. From Bonn’s Hauptbahnhof, or main train station, the Hotel Collegium Leoninum is only a five-minute walk. Extending along one full city block, the stately red-brick building, in fanciful Gothic Revival style, has pointy roofs and arched windows.
The Hotel Collegium Leoninum is actually a former seminary. Under German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, a battle between church and state raged for nearly 20 years. From the Vatican, Pope Leo XIII finally ended the “Kulturkampf,” or “Culture War,” in 1887, and Bonn opened its first seminary five years later.
The Collegium Leoninum, Bonn’s second seminary, opened in 1903, named for Pope Leo XIII, who reviewed blueprints by Heinrich Renard, the Archdiocese of Cologne’s master builder. For nearly a hundred years, the Collegium Leoninum educated seminarians, its classes interrupted only by World War I when 69 young men, one in four seminarians, were killed.
After priesthood candidates dwindled in the 1990s, Care Management Deutschland GmbH took over the property, setting out to create an upscale hotel and senior residence. Managed by Swiss subsidiary Nova Vita—with three senior residences in Berlin and Essen, Germany, and one in Montreux, Switzerland—the Hotel Collegium Leoninum opened in 2003 with 69 luxury hotel rooms and 70 upscale senior apartments.
To reach the hotel’s big glass entry doors, guests can climb several steps or use wheelchair ramps. Residents, who pay about $3,500 -$5,000 a month for one or two-bedroom apartments, must be healthy, but some have mobility issues. For hotel guests pulling suitcases or pushing baby strollers, the ramps are also a godsend.
Beneath the hotel’s stylish glass porte cochère, you’ll notice an intercom system. Bonn doesn’t have a high crime rate, but incidents can occur anywhere. Returning to the hotel after a late-night concert or dinner, you’ll feel absolutely safe.
To the left of the front desk, manned by cheery staffers, is a spacious sitting area decorated with abstract artwork and furnished with comfy tan couches and armchairs, table lamps with wine-colored shades, and a fireplace. Large public areas, designed for seniors, are handy if you’re pushing a stroller or steering a gaggle of writhing children.
Headed to my room on the lower garden level, I visit the wellness facilities: a big, beautifully maintained swimming pool, a pristine Finnish-style sauna, an exercise room with the latest equipment. Guests also can arrange for spa treatments or join residents at exercise classes.
Traveling down a wide corridor, with big glass windows along one side, I see the hotel’s extensive courtyard gardens with lush shrubbery and leafy trees, graced by outdoor sculptures and a fountain. I pop my head out a glass door to take in the view.
Only birdsong and the gentle rustling of leaves break the silence. I stare, in amazement, for several moments. How did I ever find a place of such beauty and serenity so close to the center-city?
Entering my room, I’m again awestruck. At 324 square feet, the equivalent of an 18 x 18-foot space, my well-designed standard room feels quite large. Facing a row of pale-wood closets, the tiled bathroom has a long sink, a big mirror and a double-sized shower.
Big showers, designed for seniors, are also ideal for people like me who love big open spaces, for amorous couples who enjoy showering together and for parents whose little ones are afraid of showering alone.
My bedroom has a king-sized bed topped with a plush European-style feather bed, a pile of down pillows and a beautiful satin coverlet. On a shelf beside the satellite TV are two half-bottles of local wines, a white Riesling and a red. This is the Rhineland, after all, and the Rheingau wine region lies just southeast.
Behind the bed, on a long shelf that’s both a desk and dining table, you’ll find a phone, several bottles of complimentary spring water, and a few tins of nuts and other healthy snacks. Scattered across the pillows are little packets of fruity Haribo gummi bears, made in the greater Bonn area.
There’s also an ergonomic black-leather desk chair and another black-leather reclining chair with a tall reading light. There’s no fridge or minibar. But superior rooms have full kitchenettes.
Virtually every standard room has a terrace or balcony. Flipping a wall switch, I raise the steel curtain covering the big glass sliding door—yet another security feature— and look out at my own little patch of heaven.
Though the terrace is small, perhaps 5 x 6 feet, it’s big enough for two side-by-side lawn chairs and, partially surrounded by shrubs, it’s very private. Best of all, it faces the splendid courtyard gardens.
Clustered around the courtyard are residents’ balconies, adorned with plants, wind chimes and other knick-knacks, as well as guest-room balconies.
Beside the Refektorium, a second dining room for residents only, rises the brick bell- tower of the Alte Kirche, the former seminary church.
A stunning space, it’s now the hotel concert hall. With whitewashed walls, arched windows and flying buttresses, it boasts a pipe organ by Klais, the celebrated Bonn organ-maker.
Onstage, facing rows of contemporary-style black-and-chrome chairs, is a glossy black Fazioli F308. Made by the renowned company of that name, just north of Venice, it’s the world’s longest concert grand piano.
The Hotel Collegium Leoninum regularly holds concerts for residents, hotel guests and the public. For Beethoven’s 250th birthday, the hotel will host a New Year’s Eve concert for the Beethoven-Haus, the composer’s restored birthplace. And, in January 2019, the hotel will house musicians performing in the Beethoven-Haus’ Chamber Music Hall during BTHVN Week.
The hotel also will stage two concerts for Beethovenfest’s fall edition as well as three concerts by Bonn-born Susanne Kessel, who invited composers from around the world to write music for her anniversary project, “250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven.”
But there’s more.
Across from the hotel’s side entrance is 18th-century Alter Friedhof where some of Germany’s most esteemed citizens rest. There are illustrious women like writer Adele Schopenhauer, the philosopher’s sister, and poet Charlotte von Lengefeld, wife of poet-philosopher Friedrich Schiller.
Famed 19th-century University of Bonn professors include chemist Karl Friedrich Mohr, who discovered the principle of the conservation of energy, and geologist Johann Jacob Noeggerath, who lent his name to both the street where the hotel is located and a lunar crater.
Steps from the elaborate white-marble tomb of composer Robert Schumann, you’ll find the final resting places of Beethoven’s violin teacher, Franz Anton Ries, and of Maria-Magdalena Keverich, Beethoven’s mother.
IF YOU GO
Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents. A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia. After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.