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COUNT RUDI, the keeper of the secrets of Marbella Club

Interview by Maria Elena Paganini

“Every client is a king, and nearly every King is a client of Marbella Club.”


How did the concept of Marbella Club come about? It is a luxury hotel, but it doesn’t pretend to be a palace, with its typical Andalusian charm and character, which you created together with your cousin the Prince of Hohenlohe.

I am lucky enough to have been here almost from the very beginning. Frankly, for me it was the best stroke of luck of my life! At the time, my cousin the Prince of Hohenlohe had persuaded so many friends to come to Marbella. The word “glamour” is of course appealing, but for me there is more: class and style, but at the same time the atmosphere. Alfonso had fallen in love with the property which then became Marbella Club, an absolute paradise, offering so many features which made it the perfect spot. We preserved the Andalusian atmosphere, including a garden that was not landscaped in the French style, but which boasted many natural features. With the variety of local plants that my cousin planted here, the location itself with its wonderful climate, the mountain in the background which brought us water, and so many other things that today we all take for granted, but which did not exist at the time. The staff we met in Marbella in those days were not professionals, they were the sons of the local bricklayer or carpenter and we had to teach them how we believe one should attend to a client. It is not a question of great luxury! The luxury here is the garden, the mountain and its minerals, the joyful atmosphere, the greenery – that is what made it a success.
Alfonso had contacts all over the world, in Saint Moritz when he went skiing, in Hollywood and in the hunting society of England, in so many places! And he would say to everyone “you cannot image what Marbella is like!” And people would come full of curiosity and when they arrived they would say that this was all very low key, until they stayed and then their visits would become longer and longer.
We were proud of the simplicity that we had achieved albeit with all the creature comforts that you can offer a visitor, and many decided to make their homes here. It was never the intention that we would make a fortune out of the hotel; the idea was simply to attract people of the same mentality.
“Elegant simplicity” or “simple elegance” is how Marbella describes itself.


Once I read an interview where they said that you were the keeper of the secrets of Marbella Club; which personality has had a special impact on you?

Many…..friends and clients have all been people who are on the same wavelength; the Prince’s character, my contacts and those of Maria Luisa have all contributed to this place being fortunate enough to attract so many celebrities, particularly from the world of cinema, politicians, presidents of governments, and royalty, some of whom are ruling at the moment, and others who are in exile, as well as business people who come to enjoy themselves, not to show off.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, for example, these are aristocrats who, throughout their lives, have shown how much education and style they possess, particularly the Duke. I was disappointed that he did not become King of England and Emperor of India, amongst other titles….but his heart delivered him into the arms of a woman. When he came to Marbella Club he was so pleased that we treated him with respect but without overdoing it, without theatrics. The best moment was when he entered the dining room and walked past some British gentleman, and they all stood up until he sat down. That is what is so enjoyable here. “Every client is a king, and nearly every King is a client of Marbella Club.

Your wife is a princess, a descendant of Emperor William II and a cousin to Queen Sofia. What can you tell us about her?

She is the ideal wife and a perfect mother. I was very lucky to find a wife like Maria Luisa, a woman who has brought so many qualities to our family which we have passed on to our children. This is what her imperial family taught her even after they had lost everything, not just their castles, but the Prussia that was, and which has now been wiped off the map.


What are the most important values that you have passed on to your children?

We always want to pass on what we were taught by our parents from childhood to our children, a sense of responsibility and duty, of honour without vanity, and always to be at the service of one’s neighbour. We were born to do our duty and nowadays we feel duty bound to serve the people of Marbella. Marbella is my country, my home. God gave me the opportunity to rebuild the life that I had lost in Eastern Germany after having escaped from our castle when the Russians came. If we had not been so quick we would have spent the rest of our lives in Siberia as the Russians had planned. I feel I must repay this stroke of good fortune here in Marbella, with my work.

Do your children live in Marbella?

Unfortunately not. We have two children, Sofia, named after her godmother the Queen of Spain, and Federico. We are very proud of them, both have been successful in their careers and in their lives. Sofia has a Major Events Organisation covering the whole of Europe with excellent contracts, for example Bentley for Europe, Chanel and Tiffany. She is based in Valencia but in reality she spends her life in aeroplanes!

I remember that one day I asked Federico to help me when there was a general strike in Spain during the high season in the hotel. I asked him to come with his school friends and I left the restaurant entirely in their hands. He was only 16 years old but they did a brilliant job, all the customers were delighted. That was when he said “I think I want to work in the hotel business”, so I sent him to the best catering school in the world in Lausanne where I also studied. He has worked in the best hotels such as the Savoy, Rosewood, and now he has been booked for the Conrad which has just been bought and refurbished by the Emir of Qatar, and he is the director of the Room Division of one of the best hotels in the world.

Do your children have titles of nobility?

Yes, they are counts but they do not want to use their titles, they don’t like to be noticed. They are Sofia and Federico von Schönburg.

What do you think of the Spanish Royal Family?

They have proved to be very positive. After the crisis caused by King Juan Carlos’ abdication we were a bit afraid of what might happen, but today King Felipe VI has been a great asset to the Royal Family, thanks to his education and his character, and to the blue blood from both sides, being also a descendent of a branch of the family of the Emperor of Germany. So, really, very few people in Spain have had such a solid background. Most of all I admire his sense of duty, the way he knows what his obligations are and perhaps this is what is most important for Royalty.
The Royal Family have many obligations and very few pleasures. He is resolving problems every day and he manages them extremely well, such as changes in government, amongst other things.

What do you think of the present Queen, Letizia?

She has a great sense of human values, and that is very nice, she follows the advice of her mother-in-law and her husband and helps where she can help, and in her own way. She does not try to be another Doña Sofia and I hope that she will be remembered as a great Queen amongst the Spanish Royal Family.

Going back to Marbella Club, 62 years later, is there an era that you look back upon with nostalgia?

This place has been wonderful, I look back at everything with nostalgia. I remember when I arrived in an aeroplane on a runway full of cattle, and they had to chase them away in order for us to land, and I was a young hotel manager who was still very green, as they say, but here I was able to fulfil all my dreams. My very life has been a dream.

How much does Marbella Club owe to Count Rudi?

(Laughs) love, perhaps……….I don’t believe that Marbella owes me anything, Marbella knows that I am part of it and this is my greatest reward. It doesn’t matter which politician or political party is in power, all appreciate my presence and they treat me as one of their own.

Do you still have a dream waiting to be fulfilled?

All I want is to is to consolidate everything that I started here so many years ago, I want it to continue to flourish when I am no longer at Marbella Club, whether it be because I have gone to Heaven or I have retired, I want everything that we planted here to continue bearing good fruit. We did everything with such idealism……….both Prince Alfonso, and myself as his right hand man. I would not like it if good manners were forgotten, if it were to degenerate into something inferior, if people forgot style, I want class to be maintained. Nowadays we don’t expect dinner jackets and ties…………well, except for Christmas and New Year, perhaps!

You have been formally recognised by both the Spanish and the German Governments for the development of tourism.

And for helping nations unite; tourism makes people travel to different places and I have taken part in creating this great potpourri that Europe is becoming. I have been very lucky.

What would Count Rudi say to a young entrepreneur who has a dream such as yours?

If you have chosen this profession, you must be seriously in love with your work because if you are not, you can become a slave to the hotel business, you have to be on the lookout for so many small details!
On the other hand, quality management is number one. The customer must receive more than he expects.
And to finish off, the word “family” is the most important for me, the staff must feel that they are part of the hotel, the customers must feel that they are part of the hotel, and I am also part of Marbella Club, albeit without any financial interest.


Published in Blog de Maria Elena Paganini |