With his small, refined bed and breakfast Mein.Lychen, Friedrich W. Niemann made it into the news virtually overnight and without a huge marketing budget. While others come up with all sorts of ideas to grab the attention of the press, this hotel professional simply tells his story.
text: Astrid Schwamberger
Storytelling is the new magic word in marketing. Here, information is packaged into great stories to make them more exciting, and attract attention from editorial offices; at the end of the day, the press are supposed to want to report on it. Often such stories are embellished. Sometimes they’re even completely fictitious. But Friedrich W. Niemann’s story is not just spectacular and almost unbelievable, it’s actually true.
The former director general of the Waldorf Astoria in Berlin resigned of his own accord after more than 25 years and a meteoric rise in the international luxury hotel industry, to make a lifelong dream a reality, together with his brother Konrad. “I always wanted to do something small and refined,” he says. Many years before, he had looked around for suitable properties in Bavaria, then in the Balkans and Transylvania. However, things only really got serious on Whit Monday 2014, when the brothers went on a canoe trip in Lychen, north of Berlin, passed by a property and discovered a sale sign. “It just all came together.” The pair decided to go for it.
They already knew Lychen well, a town with 3100 inhabitants. The flat-headed drawing pin was invented here and the brothers had been renting canoes in town for over twenty years. In this familiar environment, with its many lakes and waterways, they eventually opened Mein.Lychen, a bed & breakfast with just four rooms and two slightly larger studios in July 2016.
From outside, the cream-coloured house with the deep red front door looks fairly unremarkable, even now, after extensive renovation. However, the interior is designed with extreme attention to detail. Everything is far from ordinary. “Every room, every piece of furniture tells a story,” says Niemann. A prime example is the long, solid wooden table in the library where guests arrive to breakfast between 8.00 and 10.30. “That was the table our great-grandmother’s mangle sat on.”
It stood in his mother’s cellar for some forty years, until he restored it himself a few years ago. Now it’s the room’s centrepiece, with other furniture from the Niemann family home grouped around it – “not high-quality antiques”, as the owner points out, but rather a melange of pieces, which create a homely atmosphere. “It’s almost like guests come to my home,” smiles Niemann. “They join me at the breakfast table, whether I’m actually there or not.”
And on it goes, this personal touch runs through the whole house. As a result, the Niemann brothers have named the rooms and studios after places that played a role in their lives. For example, the largest studio, measuring 33 square metres, is named after Transylvania, in Romania; where Friedrich W. Niemann lived for five years; today, he buys hand-painted ceramic tableware there for Mein.Lychen. The other rooms are named “Central Germany”, “Switzerland”, “America”, “India” and “Africa”, and each has a story to tell.
Guests discover the idea hiding behind the name soon after being welcomed, which takes place in the wood-panelled hunting room or in good weather, in the spacious garden with a glass of regional apple fizz. “Here, we greet each guest in person and give them a tour of the house,” says Niemann. Generally, an employee takes the role of guest host. This involves telling the story of the hotel and the room and explaining processes – sometimes in brief, sometimes more extensively, depending on timing or the guests’ expectations on arrival.
The owner also practises this “personalised hospitality” when he calls by Mein.Lychen. Then, the Berliner-by-choice puts time aside for his guests, who catch him restoring furniture or mowing the lawn and ask for restaurant tips or want to know the best places to bike, hike and paddle in the area.
In addition to the garden and the workshop, Niemann has another playground: public relations. “In this type of hotel, there’s no big marketing budget,” he points out. That’s why he primarily relies on collaboration with a PR agency. “Public relations plays a big part,” stresses Niemann, recalling a coup, after which a lifestyle magazine produced a half-page report on Mein.Lychen. “We got a whole load of bookings from that.”
Even at opening, the strategy paid off, with both local media and specialist and consumer press interested in the story of the well-travelled luxury hotelier who moved out into the sticks to set up a bed and breakfast right from scratch – a journalistic scoop! Niemann knows that “In the age of storytelling, this kind of topic appeals to the press”, and he has perhaps also been able to harvest plenty of coverage and thus free-of-charge publicity due to how widely known he is.
In the era of social media, it is then only logical that he uploads these articles to the Mein.Lychen Facebook and Instagram accounts. Niemann posts “beautiful things here and what you can do in our area”; so you can expect to find inviting pictures from the garden, hiking trails and of Oscar, his dog. He shares links to articles on Lychen and the region as well as recommended cafés nearby and guest comments.
The excellent breakfast – a central part of the concept, in addition to the top-quality box spring double beds – is something that Niemann revisits again and again, publishing appetising photos of muesli, egg-based dishes and homemade cakes. The concept – three different courses are served, one after the other – was something that Niemann discovered when visiting South Africa. The owner even appears in pictures here and there, doing things like painting stools – who knows where they could pop up later.
After all, Niemann, in addition to being a partner of a design and consulting agency, is already putting his feelers out again. After just over a year, the Mein.Lychen balance sheet speaks for itself. “Although the hotel is neither a castle nor a villa, and Lychen is not St. Tropez, I’m very pleased with the outcome.” So why not keep an eye out for larger properties? “Our consistently unique concept will work at other locations and with bigger numbers too.” says Friedrich Niemann with confidence – “Once a hotelier, always a hotelier”.