“I see myself as ambassador of Turkish hospitality, at Çırağan Palace.”
GF Luxury: Mr. Ralph Radtke, it is very nice to meet you. We would like to start by asking you how long it has been since you’ve been in Istanbul, so far.
Ralph Radtke: Actually I arrived here in October, 2011 so more than 4 years…
Ralph Radtke: I had visited Istanbul with my parents in the ‘90s. I was much younger, for sure. Then I came back in June, 2011 as a guest because I was here only for 3 days, having a nice time at Çırağan; with great breakfasts anda wonderful service.
That was a really relaxing time for me because I was working a lot at the time. Since my wife is Turkish, I said, “Let’s go to Istanbul.” Although she’s Turkish, she hadn’t yet seen Istanbul and I knew the place better than she did. Later in August of the same year, 2 months later, I received a call from
the president of Kempinski, who is a longstanding friend of mine, asking me for help which I refused because I was running a successful business of my own. I just didn’t want to go back to the hotel business. As I learned it was Çırağan Palace, I talked to my wife and she said ok, because as you know women are always right.
It’s really nice having you here. What are the characteristics of Istanbul that attract you the most? And also what do you dislike the most about this city?
Ralph Radtke: What I dislike is easier to say than what I like because, I like these specific things: the historical part, whatever happens here, just like an adventure film. Istanbul is a fascinating blend of the old and the new. I like Istanbul’s cosmopolitan style, this city doesn’t represent any country for me… It’s unique. I think even the rest of the country should aspire itself to how people from a variety of cultures manage to live together. I’ve never felt unsafe in Istanbul. I like the little cafés, I like communicating with people although we don’t speak the same language. On the other hand, what I hate the most is of course, the traffic. They say in every big city there’s a traffic, but it’s an unorganized one here. The reason for that is too many real estate, but the infrastructure of the roads and public transportation is extremely important. Another matter is; people should beware of cheating taxis, because this gives the city a bad reputation although Turkish people are very hospitable. Even if tourists would have to pay for example like in Grand Bazaar, they should leave happy. I never paid the price I was told, there I always bargain.
Ralph Radtke: I cannot tell you because it’s very private, there are too many witnesses around…Joking aside, in my leisure time I try to relax and recharge in order to be happy. Therefore I smoke my cigars and a couple of my friends here, invite me to a lot of places. I choose places that I feel relaxed in, I just want to be myself, have a nice drink with friends, have fun. I’m not going on special shopping tours, I like to discover other parts of Turkey, to understand how these communities live together, the Turkish customs. I’m a very curious person, what I don’t know I look for it. I’m not a party guy, it’s nice to have dinner with friends and when I get up I like saying to myself, “I learned something again, even
though it’s my free day…” I like travelling, meeting people and getting to know other cultures. While in Istanbul, I go around to taste different restaurants, but my real hobby is the hotel. Actually it’s not a job but a passion for me and I feel very lucky to be paid for what I like the most. I’ve always worked abroad and I try to take the best in each country I go to, my time is precious. Also in my private life, I spend time with people I enjoy the most and bring me something intellectually. We already have a difficult job so…
Çırağan, as we all know, is one of the most significant places for accommodation in Istanbul. How do you perceive the palace, does it have a special place in your heart?
Ralph Radtke: I would say, in the first place, dating back to 17th century it’s the only Ottoman Imperial Palace and Hotel located on the shores of the Bosphorus that once hosted Sultans; in which I’m also living in… Also the land we have, nobody has. Actually we’re an urban resort, it’s like I feel completely outside here even though I’m right in the center of a city with 14 million. Since we have a high level security and maybe because of the big walls surrounding us, it’s just like an island of peace in the middle of a busy city. The other fantastic thing about this place is its reputation for 25 years, under Kempinski management. Still very young… Not an old hotel. The perception we have outside of the hotel and worldwide, we’re considered one of the best hotels. We don’t have
to invent stories, we already have lots of them.
Could you please tell us a little about the history of Çırağan Palace?
Ralph Radtke: I know there used to be an Armenian cemetery here when they first started to build the palace and only the rich could build from stone as in the case of Topkapı palace. Afterwards, like in Germany, France or England they decided to go with the trends and build a different kind of palace in the 14th century, and what we see today is the ‘Turkish Baroque’. You could see the gothic style, for example on the windowpanes, they look Venetian. The construction was built over a period of time, during different sultans until it was finished by Abdülaziz. There’s also a very interesting love story, that took place here. It is rumored that Abdülaziz, back then, had fallen in love with the wife of the French Emperor, Napoleon 3rd: Eugenie… We don’t know what captured her heart but it is rumored that the Ottoman Emperor built the Beylerbeyi Palace for her to stay in. This was of course an impossible love affair that came to an end. There are other stories with celebrities of course, but our other guests are just as equally important to us. There are fun things happening as well as the tragedies. For a general manager like myself, a hotel is like a theatre place and the curtain goes down every night as I go to bed. I feel like an artist, a psychologist, director at the same time. Those who succeed in this business are the passionate ones; they do 10-20% more than the others. At the end of the day, I don’t feel like I’ve worked. Each time I’m in charge of a hotel, I feel like I’m home. All my life, I’ve lived in hotels and every time a guest arrives I feel like they’ve arrived at my house. As Ciragan what we want to achieve here is to be ambassadors of Turkish
hospitality… I love to be with my guests, my staff; there has to be a leader, sure but what can he do without others? Nothing… We have to work for this passion together. It’s a business where you have to have fun. If you don’t like people, it won’t work because we’re actually selling dreams. When guests arrive, with a special occasion in mind, we have to deliver and make them say “This was the greatest day of my life…” Otherwise we’re not doing our job, we don’t want people to go out and talk about the price they paid – of course cheap luxury doesn’t exist – but instead be pleased with the whole experience itself as a part of something special.
Ralph Radtke: There were other buildings on the property when the palace was still intact, for example there was a Chinese pavilion which was later destroyed. There was another building called ‘orangerie’, which is also gone. On the other side of the building walls there’s the school, which was originally the ‘harem’ of the palace. The building of Four Seasons Bosphorus as we see now, Yıldız Park, Malta Köşkü and Galatasaray University were all in our territory.
Mr. Ralph Radtke please tell us about the ‘Best Hotelier 2015 Award’ you received in Paris, at the beginning of this year…
Ralph Radtke: Well, awards are a way of recognition of the work somebody has done, for all the effort. In my case, I was never hunting for awards; during the forty years I’ve worked I was never even ‘The Employee of the Month’. Certainly it is very valuable, my colleagues around the world voted for me. It was certainly a very emotional event. When I see my name and picture on the big screen among 800 people, it was an unforgettable moment. I only try to do my best, and I will continue to do so as long as my health is ok, even though I may be 80-90 years old. We also have quite a lot of global awards for everybody who worked in our hotel, but this one’s special because it’s personal, my success story.
If you were to describe Istanbul with one word, what would that be?
Ralph Radtke: ‘Magic’.
Thank you so much Mr. Ralph Radtke, for receiving us and this very enjoyable interview.
Ralph Radtke: Thank you, it was a pleasure for me…
- Foto: Cem Talu
- Foto_2: Cem Talu
- Foto_3: Cem Talu
- boats-city-cityscape-57553: Burak Kebapci