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Monday, 26 November, 2001, 23:07 GMT
Mystique of the Afghan talks hotel
Neville Chamberlain holding the no war pact from Adolph Hitler
Chamberlain stayed in the Petersburg during talks with Hitler
Mike Wooldridge

It may have been security that led to the decision to switch the Afghanistan talks from Berlin to Koenigswinter, near Bonn, but for the Petersberg Hotel it marks another chapter in a long history at the centre of international events.

Leonid Brezhnev
Brezhnev wrote off a Mercedes on the road to the hotel
The Afghan delegations are the latest to be welcomed into its seclusion, while the world waits to see whether history, of a kind, is made here in the coming days. Whether they can agree, as the United Nations hopes they will, on the shape of a transitional government to bring Afghanistan out of the Taleban era.

The security is formidable when this famous hotel high above the Rhine is taken over for such talks.

The one, winding road up to the hotel from the river - easy to seal - helps to ensure that. There is a helicopter pad. For good measure, Nato jets are securing the airspace.

The fog of war

To add to the mystique of the place, it was shrouded in mist as the delegations arrived from a war zone that has consistently been enveloped in more fog than most.

Shah of Iran
The Shah of Iran was another of the hotel's famous guests
The Petersberg's past guest list includes President Clinton, the British Queen, the Shah of Iran, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat - and former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

He stayed in 1938 during the crisis over Sudetenland, and would cross the Rhine for discussions with Adolf Hitler in a hotel on the opposite bank.

It was, of course, to prove to be one of the Petersberg's more ill-fated historical associations - only a year later Britain was at war with Germany.

After the Second World War, the Petersberg was the headquarters of the Allied High Commission. And it was at the hotel that West Germany's first Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, took over the instruments of the German state from the envoys of the Allies.

Portentous location?

European socialists would meet there to discuss post-war reconciliation. It has been used too for out-of-the limelight talks on Bosnia and Kosovo and the Middle East.

The citizens of Koenigswinter treasure the stories that inevitably go with such a history. Well remembered is the former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev writing off a new Mercedes 450 SLC which had been a present from the then Chancellor, Willy Brandt, on the road to the hotel.

There could hardly be a greater contrast than between the dusty plains, the craggy mountain ranges and the grinding poverty of Afghanistan, and the Petersberg - spa centre and now luxury hotel with prices that range up to $1,500 (1,000) a night.

But the Petersberg's healing powers have been put to good use in troubled environments before - and thousands of Afghan exiles in Germany will be among those who are keenest to see whether it is again this week.

See also:

26 Nov 01 | South Asia
Officials arrive for key Afghan talks
25 Nov 01 | South Asia
Rabbani 'still Afghan president'
23 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan talks delayed
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
US hopeful before Afghan talks
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan women to attend talks
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Q&A: What will Afghan talks produce?
14 Nov 01 | South Asia
Rabbani's Afghan comeback
12 Nov 01 | Americas
Powers search for Afghan settlement
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