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Surviving A Night In Zurich’s Worst Hotel

Armed with a healthy dose of courage – and his own sleeping bag – one Swiss reporter sets off on a perilous quest to brave Zurich’s cheapest sleeping establishment: the infamous Krone.

A 63 euros per night, the Hotel Krone is one of Zurich's most affordable
A 63 euros per night, the Hotel Krone is one of Zurich's most affordable
Peter Aeschlimann

ZURICH - It's a beautiful evening in Zurich. Maybe a little cool for this time of year; it rained during the afternoon, but now the clouds have cleared. On the Gemüsebrücke—a bridge spanning the Limmat River that divides the city's Old Town—Japanese tourists are posing for pictures. Behind them, the rays of the late-day sun bounce off the dark blue water. I give the tourists a friendly nod. Walking along carrying my overnight bag, I feel a strange bond with them. In the cafés along Limmatquai, white-shirted waitstaff serve customers aperitifs. It's like being on vacation.

Then I spot the hotel. I realize that I've passed it countless times before, just never noticed it. Didn't see how chunks of plaster have fallen from the facade, or just how lopsided the "K" is on the neon Krone sign above the door. Inside, I tell the friendly receptionist I've reserved a single room. She charges 76 francs (63 euros) to my credit card and hands me a key. Room 54. "Fifth floor,"" she says, pointing the way to the elevator.

This is great, I think, as I head for my room. Surely you can't expect more from a hotel that, according to its Internet site, is the least expensive in all of downtown Zurich.

Yes, the Internet. There are some other things about the Krone there as well—on travel sites where travelers post comments rating the hotels they stay at. Comments in German and in English about Hotel Krone mostly run along these lines: "revolting," "catastrophic," "worst hotel in my life,"" "cheap, but not worth it,"" ‘"could not be worse"" and ‘"absolutely disgusting.""

One person writes that he would rather sleep on the street than in "that hole."" Angrily, he recounts how he took one look at his room, turned on his heels, walked to the tourism information office at the main train station and had them book him into another hotel. The staffer on duty there apparently told him they avoid sending people to the Krone. (When I enquired, I was told that they couldn't book people into the establishment because it's not a member of the Zurich hotel association.)

Two plus points for the Krone are its location, right in the Old Town, and the price. Nevertheless, on www.tripadvisor.de, three out of four former Krone guests advise readers never to set foot in it.

The bed is clean—the rest isn't

Though I try to reserve judgment, it is with some trepidation that I unlock the door of Number 54. The room smells of stale cigarette smoke and—yes, really—cleaning products. I walk over to the window (the frames of which are in severe need of a coat of paint), open it, and leave it open until I check out the next morning. The single room is about the size of a jail cell, without the luxury of a toilet. The narrow bed has clean white sheets on it. A mustard-yellow bedside rug atop blue wall-to-wall carpeting is full of black cigarette holes. Part of the torn curtain is hanging off the rail. There are spider webs on the ceiling.

In the sink, which wobbles as if it might come crashing off the wall any minute now, are the remains of what looks like it had once been a cracker. But the faucets work fine; there's a good flow of clear water. Another thing that works okay, when you flip the wall switch on and off, is a very dim lamp.

There are two other light fixtures in the room. One, over the bed, is rusty and out of commission, its cable wound around it. The other is a reading lamp without a plug, and a couple of cables that lead nowhere. There is also a disconnected phone, and a radio that has neither a cable nor batteries. Not surprisingly, it remains silent when I try to turn it on. I look at the hotel business card I've helped myself to at the reception desk. It reads: "We wish you a pleasant stay. The Management." I need a drink.

Jörg Arnold, who is president of the Zurich hotel association and director of up-market Hotel Storchen just across the river, is familiar with the Krone situation and doesn't like it. ‘‘Just looking at it from the outside…,"" he says. ‘"Such a shame, particularly when you consider its sensational location. However, Hotel Krone is apparently earning money. That's the free market for you."" In Arnold's four-star establishment, rooms cost over four times what they do at the Krone.

Arnold added that he didn't know the owners of the Krone, and that the hotel was neither a member of Zurich Tourism nor of the hotel association. It was therefore not possible to carry out regular checks on the property or give it a rating. Arnold said he thought the online sites where guests could post their comments were a great idea.

Fire safety checks are carried out routinely every four years at all hotels, including the Krone. The relevant authorities, however, told this reporter that neither the status reports nor information about when the checks take place are made public. At the Krone, emergency exits and the proper signage are in place. It isn't that the hotel makes you feel unsafe, I found. It just doesn't make you feel good.

I would have liked to speak to the management, and ask them what they thought of all the comments and if they had any renovation plans, but the management declined.

At least somebody likes it

On the short walk from the hotel to the Niederdorf (heart of Zurich's nightlife area) I get to talking with an English-speaking business man who tells me he likes the Krone. For one thing, it's right near where he works. And it has everything one needs, he says—including a good reason to stay out as late as possible. His room-avoidance routine includes a beer at the Safari Bar, a second one at the Züri Bar, and plum schnapps at the Gräbli Bar.

By now, however, there's nothing left to do but finally face my test night in the Hotel from Hell. Just in case, I've brought my sleeping bag. I set it up on top of the bed, remembering that vermin are notoriously insensitive to categories such as "single room."") Now for the toilet, down the hall. No toilet seat. The toilet paper dispenser is just that: a dispenser. No paper. Mission unaccomplished, I return to my room. As I fall asleep, a vision of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now ("The horror, the horror"") floats through my mind.

But the main thing, getting a good night's sleep, turns out to be fine. Sure, I was jolted out of my slumber a couple of times by some screaming in the street below, but all in all I spend a quiet night with sweet dreams. The yucky feeling returns the next morning when I go in search of the shower. I run into another guest who tells me that it's two floors down. I decide to skip it altogether, pack my stuff and hightail it out of there. Outside, the sun is rising on what looks like a beautiful day.

Read the original article in German

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