The Sunday supplement: being Frank
For the locals of the southwest German spa town of Baden-Baden, the luxury Brenners Park Hotel is part of the landscape. Its sprawling and elegant facade been a landmark in the ancient Black Forest town for more than 150 years. And almost as familiar a fixture these days is its celebrated manager, Frank Marrenbach.
The 50-year-old from Düsseldorf is a classic hotelier, polite, judicious and discrete. He has had the pleasure of hosting global heavyweights such as Bill Clinton, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama in Baden-Baden over the years, but reveals nothing about his illustrious guests. In 2016 Marrenbach, who also heads up hotels in Antibes and Paris, was named Hotelier des Jahres (Hotelier of the Year) – the highest award in his industry.
Why, you might well ask, are we telling you all this? The answer is very simple. Behind the reserved and understated veneer of his daily life, Marrenbach is a serious Porsche guy. And he drives, hard and fast, what for many is the ultimate incarnation of the air-cooled 911.
As Marrenbach explains, he spends a third of the year traveling, immersed almost constantly in a social whirlwind of diverse cultures and customs. “Because my profession requires nonstop contact and interaction with other people, I need spaces in which I can be alone. And one of them is the cockpit of a classic Porsche.”
Fifteen years ago Marrenbach bought his first 911—a 993 Carrera 4S. That was quickly followed by a 996 Turbo and a 964 RS, which triggered his passion for 911 race cars. “Just driving a Porsche transports me to a special state of being. But the intensity of an RS is what really challenges me—and what I’m out for.” Over the years, he’s acquired a number of RS models, because each one affords him a different type of pleasure and experience. “Driving a 997 GT3 RS is a completely different experience than in a 964 RS—and above 5,000 rpm it develops such an incredible sound that gives you goosebumps. Fascinating!”
The jewel of Marrenbach’s collection, however, is a Viper Green 1972 Carrera RS 2.7—the very first 911 to wear the famous Rennsport moniker and the first production car to feature a fixed rear wing. It was a case of love at first drive: “With the agility of its six-cylinder engine and its quickness and stability in every curve, it really keeps its promises. But an RS is never easy to drive, and this one is no exception. It inspires respect. If you want to control the car, you have to work at it.”
And work at it Marrenbach certainly does. He has completed Porsche’s driving safety program, and even hired a personal instructor – but it hasn’t all been plain sailing. “My first drive on the Hockenheimring was a disaster. I braked incorrectly in the second curve, and that really got to me,” he recalls. The perfectionist that he is, Marrenbach immediately set to work on the problem. “I like tackling an activity that needs improvement, and finding out how I can meet a challenge.” He practices on racetracks three or four times a year now. And every once in a while, he and his brother, who’s a development engineer for Porsche in Weissach, enter a rally in one of his RS models.
Marrenbach’s passion for Porsche doesn’t end there either. He has dedicated one of the rooms in his home to Porsche, a “contemplative space” as he puts it, which is lined from floor to ceiling with Porsche literature and models. At the heart of this incredible collection are his Christophorus magazines – the entire series of which now numbers 384 issues, starting with the first one from 1952.
Porsche’s long-running customer magazine is celebrating its 65th birthday this year—older than the 911 itself. Marrenbach is fascinated not only by the magazine’s topics, imagery, and prose, but also by the historical context of each individual issue. “Christophorus lets you travel back through German history,” he says, leafing through one of the issues from the first year. “When you read these articles you start to understand what moved people just seven years after World War II, and what their hopes for the future were.”
Marrenbach is also captivated by the rich source of company history. “In addition to revealing the spirit of the times, the magazine also reflects Porsche’s economic situation—the difficulties the brand was having in the early 1990s, and the renaissance it enjoyed after.”
Sometimes Marrenbach rises early when the hotel guests are still asleep and sets off in his RS for a drive through the Black Forest. “It might sound like a cliché, but it’s time that I take for myself. You can’t always do things that are purely relevant. If you want to do your job well, you have to give it one hundred percent—in every thought, every meeting, and every interaction.” So that’s how the former hotelier of the year clears his mind for the day ahead. Not sure we can better it.