The history of Hotel Continental reads like a fairytale – the story of people from modest backgrounds who, through hard work and sheer talent, have created a monument which will stand for many, many years.
Owned and run today by the fourth generation of the same family, Hotel Continental is one of Norway’s finest five-star hotels and a paradigm of quality in the hospitality industry. It all began back in 1860 with Swedish-born Caroline Boman. Instead of emigrating to America, as so many of her contemporaries did, she crossed the border to Norway and came to Oslo (then called Kristiania) in 1887. Four years later, she married local boy Christian Hansen, who was also of humble origins. Both worked at Kristiania's Grand Hotel, Christian as a waiter and Caroline as a cook.
Norway’s National Theatre was completed in the heart of Oslo in 1899, and Hotel Continental with its Theatercaféen opened just across the street in December 1900. People were soon saying: “First came the theatre, then came the inn”.
Owned by a brewery, the hotel was leased out to four different managers in its first nine years with varying degrees of success. Caroline and Christian Boman Hansen took over the lease in 1909, and after only three years of operation had the chance to buy out the brewery.
Christian died in 1915, leaving Caroline to run the hotel alone. Their son Arne had emigrated to America and studied hotel management, gaining a BSc and a business management degree from Harvard Business School. He married his American sweetheart, Grace, while in the USA, and they had a daughter named Ellen in 1921.
When the waiters at Theatercaféen staged in an “insurrection”, Caroline asked her son to come home and help her. Arne returned to Norway in 1927 with his family and became his mother’s business partner. This was not an easy decision for him. He left a very good job and a country he had grown to love.
Arne soon realized that Hotel Continental’s only chance of survival was to expand, so he bought the two adjacent buildings for NOK 1 450 000 – a princely sum at the time. The company thereby owned the whole city block.
The existing structures were demolished and a new hotel wing built on one of the sites. Completed in 1932, this provided 76 new rooms – all en suite. The new building also contained the Dagligstuen lobby bar and a banqueting department. At the same time, the main entrance to the hotel was moved from the corner by Theatercaféen to its present position.
In the meantime, the Great Depression was in full swing and poor liquidity cast a dark shadow over plans for expansion. Ultimately, the banks only agreed to lend the money needed to complete the work because of Caroline’s solid reputation and the confidence inspired by this 70-year-old lady.
When Arne died unexpectedly in April 1953, his daughter Ellen took over the family business. Employed at Hotel Continental since 1945, she had acquired her hotel management qualifications there. Although she knew the business very well, she stepped into her father’s shoes overnight with a feeling of shock and sorrow.
Her first project was to fulfil Arne’s dream. He had wanted for many years to build a large American-style cafeteria on the remaining part of the Continental block. Paviliongen opened its doors to the public on 17 May 1953 with seating for up to 250 guests – and was an unqualified success from day one. Ellen married Caspar Brochmann in 1955, and their daughter Elisabeth was born in 1957.
Over the years, Ellen Brochmann put her personal stamp on Hotel Continental through a number of restoration and renovation projects. Paviliongen was demolished in 1960 to make way for a new eight-storey building with 88 additional hotel rooms, two restaurants – Pavillion and Tivoligrillen – and a 300-seat banqueting hall.
Hotel Continental as we know it today was completed in 1960, six decades after its foundation. Built in three phases, it now covered an entire city block. In 1988, Ellen Brochmann was made a Knight First Class of Norway’s Order of St Olav for her commitment to the hotel and restaurant industry. She is the only woman in the hospitality business to have been honoured in this way.
Ellen and Caspar Brochmann’s daughter, Elisabeth Caroline Brochmann, began running the hotel in 1985. She had graduated from business school in Switzerland with a degree in business administration, and only decided to take over the family business from her mother once she had started studying. Periods working at hotels in London, Hamburg and Lyon gave her broad experience.
Elisabeth has demonstrated the desire and ability to maintain and modernise the building. Under her direction, Hotel Continental opened a new bar, LIPP (1991), built a conference centre (1995) and remodelled the Annen Etage restaurant (1998). A family tradition stretching over four generations lives on in her.