They were stunned by what they saw. "It’s almost like the building is a ghost," said Bennett in a Skype interview from Basel in Switzerland, where he and Mueller live. It appeared as if nothing had been disturbed since the hotel closed its doors in 1998. There was no evidence of life; no graffiti.
In the week before they left Joburg for Cape Town, Bennett and Mueller managed to wangle their way back into the hotel for a few hours every day for about three days, this time taking a camera, tripod and a torch with them.
"It all had to go really quickly because we had [limited] time," says Mueller.
The Carlton Hotel is 31 storeys high and has over 600 rooms, and Bennett and Mueller had to use the fire escapes to get up and down. "It was kind of scary, but we didn’t have time to be afraid," says Bennett. The lower floors, particularly, were dark. "You could hear pipes... knocking sometimes," adds Mueller.
At times it felt unsafe as well as spooky. In the presidential suite, where Nelson Mandela stayed, a pipe had burst and the floor was covered with water. "Things [were] starting to grow," says Bennett. "Plants." At other times, says Mueller, it "would look almost [as if] somebody had moved out a few days ago" and you could still feel "the luxury atmosphere".
Now the photographs, along with a compilation of snippets from books and newspaper articles that make reference to the building, have been compiled in a book, Inside the Carlton Hotel Johannesburg, published by German publisher Kehrer Verlag.