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Hilton Addis: renovation or distortion?

Dear Editor,

I was at the Hilton Hotel in Addis this week and was flabbergasted by what I saw. Saddened, my patriotic soul urged me to share what I witnessed with readers. Over the years, many things have changed but not to the better and I have always ignored it trying to convince myself that it’s okay, telling myself ‘The place needs renovation’. But now, I couldn’t take it anymore, cheat myself as usual. This is way beyond renovation BUT distortion. Stepping in the Lobby, the Hilton I have always known, been sentimental, is simply gone, unrecognizable to my sight nor my memory. A compete change has taken over, awash with cheap and tacky stuff. ‘Not the lobby I know’, I told myself. For a second, I felt that I stepped in somewhere else and it took me a while to come back and realize that a so called ‘renovation’ has taken place.

Most of the wall areas that used to be ornamented/decorated with Ethiopian traditional artefacts; part and parcel of the unique and rare furniture of the Hilton Addis are no more to be seen neither touched nor inhaled. The beautiful Saint George Furniture; the Lalibela Cross, the graceful antique chandelier; the local traditional table and leather seats draped with Ethiopian colorful rugs among many, are all gone, replaced with cheap and tacky furniture that you see in a regular brothel.

For many years since its establishment in the 1960s, what makes Hilton Addis stand out is the building’s unique architectural design of the famous Ethiopian Lalibela Church which its interior is based on; much of its unique characteristics designed to reflect the pride we have in Ethiopia and this has been well preserved till now. 

I am writing this as a concerned citizen who, like many, feel great attachment with The Hotel; like many, I have childhood memories and I’m connected one way or another. So witnessing this change for me is devastating and mostly causes pain to my soul. I hope many of you who are ‘Hilton Addis Lovers’ share my sentiments, that this is a destruction of our tradition and disrespect to our identity and dignity. For an Ethiopian, Hilton Addis has a unique significance as one of the Country’s sophisticated ancient hotels with unique architectural designs and like many of our ancient buildings should be preserved and protected, not destroyed like most Addis Abeba’s ancient buildings, neglected and knowingly/unknowingly demolished. 

Yes, I agree that the Hotel needs renovation. And this goes not only for Hilton Addis, but to all ancient buildings in the city of Addis. If there is a need for renovation, there is this thing called ‘renovating while maintaining originality’. You don’t have to destroy to renovate unless your aim is to distort. It is possible to remodel without losing touch with the past and without compromising quality. Had there been a will, the renovating team of Hilton Addis could have maintained the look and feel that is consistent with the rest of the hotel’s architectural characteristics.

Dear readers, it’s with great sadness I share with you that the once preserved historical lobby ‘designed to reflect the pride we have’ is long gone. Today it is the Lobby, and we don’t know what tomorrow holds. This might be among several heritage we lost and are losing along the way. What are we leaving behind to the new generation if we are not capable of keeping/protecting what we have? It seems that the wealth they know we have and we had is the Chinese cheap stuff, overwhelming the city, which they think is what Ethiopia is made of. Unless we embrace our local antique heritage and if need be, hunt down some original pieces to add authenticity to our space, we will lose It all! Remember the Mexico roundabout ornament?

Lulit Kebede

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