Everywhere could benefit from some of what Berlin has. It more than punches above its weight on the important museums front, but there’s something much more exciting here than old master paintings.
The fall of the Wall in 1989 left a wealth of blank canvas. It’s a canvas that’s been gleefully pounced upon, usually by people with plenty of ideas and not so much money. It has ensured that a creative culture is pushed relentlessly to the forefront, whether street art or tech start-ups. English is increasingly an equal lingua franca to German, as twentysomethings from around the world flock for the magic combination of hedonism, freedom of expression and relatively cheap rents.
All of this shines through in Berlin’s hotel scene. All manner of ideas are thrown into the mix, while hoteliers seek to execute visions as much as provide somewhere to stay. Price tags are steadily rising, but Berlin is also a surprisingly cheap place to stay by international standards. So you can usually afford to be picky. But this is Berlin: there’s a place for everyone to be who they want to be.
As hotel gimmicks go, being able to look out of your window towards monkeys and giraffes is a pretty excellent one. It’s not quite the Serengeti, but the 25hours’ position next to the zoo is pretty nifty. The hotel is wild inside, too, with all manner of ideas thrown at the decor. This means video art installations, bikes hanging from the ceiling and hammocks next to the in-house bakery. But perhaps the most useful asset is the position above the Bikini mall, which herds together indie boutiques, shops and stalls.
ROOMS: From €148 (£131), room only.
Most great hostels tend to be relatively small. That’s not the case with Plus — it’s a sprawling complex with extraordinary facilities. How many hostels, for example, have their own astroturf five-a-side football pitch? Or a basement pool that most leisure centres would be happy with? The rooms — all en suite — fall into the perfectly decent, clean and acceptable category.
ROOMS: Dorm beds from €13.40 (£11), private doubles from €56.80 (£50), room only.
There’s a velvet rope in front of the lift, and once the doors open, flashing paparazzi lights come from the images of the photographers on the back wall. There’s a heavy sprinkling of movie magic about the Hotel Zoo, on the Kurfürstendamm, long Berlin’s showiest shopping street. The shimmer continues upstairs, with studded silvery furniture, giant mirrors, designer towels and glass giraffe sculptures standing guard.
ROOMS: From €246 (£218), room only.
A whirlwind of ideas — singer on the bar, drag queen by the entrance, downstairs cabarets and burlesque shows — has gone into making the Provocateur a den of decadence. The concept is 1920s Paris meets modern Berlin, and that makes for a high raunch factor with red-painted walls and lashings of red velvet everywhere else. Dimmer switches by the bed, cocktail sets in the minibar and a ‘hangover breakfast’ option of a cigarette, coffee and vodka show that the focus isn’t exactly on guests who have come to spend their time sleeping.
ROOMS: From €135 (£119), room only.
Hotel am Steinplatz
Once one of the city’s top hotels — the likes of Bridget Bardot and Yehudi Menuhin lived here — the Hotel am Steinplatz was turned into a retirement home in the 1970s. But it’s now burst back into its old glory. The facade is still the same, but there’s not the faintest whiff of fustiness inside. The rooms are classy, and in the lift, you’ll learn about Beate the goat who lived here during the Second World War.
ROOMS: From €234 (£207), room only.
Beyond the initial shock factor that comes from the unapologetically stark, modern look, the Miniloft apartment hotel starts to make sense. Walls are concrete, the bed’s very low to the floor and the wardrobe is a fabric rack hanging from a rail. But once you’ve bought into the aesthetic, everything suddenly turns rather handy. The kitchenette and sofa bed are a boon for those travelling with kids, and you can order a food pack if you arrive late.
Apartments: From €139 (£123), room only.
For the swim
Back in 1902, when public baths were seen as a symbol of cultural greatness rather than a slightly grimy place to hold an aquaerobics class, the Stadtbad Oderberger was like a swimming pool inside a church. Alas, time took its toll, and it’s only now that the complex has been turned into a hotel — with the 60ft pool preserved — that the glory days have returned. The pool is the unquestioned highlight, but there’s charm elsewhere, too. The rooms have a slightly Scandi feel — wooden floors, white walls, simple furniture — but they’re given personality by how they’ve been made to fit the original building.
ROOMS: From €121.50 (£107), B&B.
Potsdamer Platz is the prime representative of the new Berlin, with the giant Sony Centre straddling a space where the Wall once snaked through. Opposite is the Mandala, an internationalist, peacefully calm take on a luxury hotel that is oddly in keeping with the area. Rooms are big — 430sq ft at a minimum — and slickly presented. There are a few unexpected bonuses clearly aimed at longer stayers, such as the laundry rooms and the kitchenettes, but the real star is the Facil restaurant, which flaunts two Michelin stars. It’s light and airy, and the menu is consistently creative and changing.
ROOMS: From €225 (£200), room only.
For hippy spirit
Inside a hangar-esque hall are several caravans and a few wooden cabins, some of which are kitsched up with skis on top. Each acts as a separate room, each has a little table and chairs outside, and the common spaces between are filled with books, vintage record players and board games. This oddity in hipster central Kreuzkölln is somewhere between an indoor campsite and a commune, and it’s utterly loveable for it. Some of the caravans can be a bit of a tight squeeze, so unless you’ve a particular penchant for them, the cabins are the best bet.
ROOMS: Caravans and cabins from €70 (£61), room only.
For a local feel
One look at the arty businesses that share the Michelberger’s building on Warschauer Strasse should give ample indication of what it’s about. The creative vibe continues inside, where lampshades are made of magazine covers, and a piano, guitar and bongos are stacked up ready to play. And darkened hallways with TVs on the walls lead to bright, simple rooms.
ROOMS: From €73.50 (£65), room only.
Published in the May 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)