Twenty-five years ago, the wall came down and a new Berlin was born. Ever since, Europe’s wild child has been growing, playing, maturing and generally trying to figure herself out. What was an ignored and inexpensive haven for creatives has now become the third most visited city on the continent, and a magnet for young emigrants. Raves and clandestine speakeasies have given way to designer bars where a cocktail goes for $23. Berlin seems to have left her rebellious teen years behind, now transformed into a semi-professional twenty-something with eyes on the future.
Though residents argue about just what that future looks like, hotels and increased tourism will surely be a part of it. This is especially clear in West Berlin, where the five-star Waldorf Astoria Berlin opened last year; luxury hotel Das Stue in late 2012; and Marriott’s Hotel am Steinplatz, the first of the chain’s Autograph Collection in the country, in January. Set in a ’50s building by architects Paul Schwebes and Hans Schoszberger, 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin also opened in the new year, and is the area’s latest addition. Playful, quirky and accessible, it differs from the hotels and the conservative neighbourhood that surround it.
The 25hours brand is known for trendsetting, locally inspired interiors. The company contracts new teams of architects and designers for each property, which ensures that none of its seven hotels are alike. For Bikini, it asked long-time local resident Werner Aisslinger to collaborate. “Berlin is a big laboratory for young people and artists,” says the furniture designer, who went with an urban jungle concept to bind together the hotel’s 149 rooms, Neni Berlin restaurant, Monkey Bar and the lobby. Yoshi Sislay’s improvised illustrations, rendered in black permanent marker, fill the walls with reflections of metropolitan life.
Between those walls are furnishings chiefly designed by Studio Aisslinger. The Bikini Wood Chair and Bikini Island Sofa were created with the hotel in mind, and later picked up by Moroso. “This is a win-win for everyone,” says Aisslinger, “The hotel likes having the first version of the line, and Moroso gets a big order right away.” His Bikini Wood Chairs are used in the hotel’s 10th-floor restaurant, Neni Berlin, which serves eclectic world cuisine developed by chef Haya Molcho. The centrepiece is a mock greenhouse, set atop an elevated platform to allow diners a view of the city zoo nearby. Four-metre-high doors open onto a sunrise terrace with vistas stretching to East Berlin.
The terrace wraps in a semicircle, leading to the Monkey Bar’s deck. Inside, Bikini Island Sofas dominate half of the 220-metre-square space, forming inviting nooks where guests can sip cocktails. Seven floors below, more of the sofas fill an ample lounge area, along with the designer’s Hemp chairs, Tree lamps and green Swing sofa. “The idea was to create corners,” he says of the many habitats, adding that “Berlin is a city where around every corner there’s something new; it’s a city for experiencing creativity, culture and subculture.” His lobby-lounge corners include a café, a bread oven, a library, a work centre, a chill-out zone with hammocks by Bless and a boutique curated by Gestalten.
When East Berlin opened up in 1989, the young and artsy headed to Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. Now a re-evaluation and revitalization of Tiergarten, Charlottenburg and the West is taking place. Rumor has it that millennials are eyeing the West, tired of the hype and tourists in the East. If she comes, Bikini awaits, a snug terrarium in Berlin’s urban jungle.
Budapester Strasse 40, Berlin. Rooms start at $160 per night.
Where to eat in Berlin: Pauly Saal Restaurant
East Berlin remains home to the reunified city’s avant-garde. In the Mitte neighbourhood, a fashion hot spot, Pauly Saal opened in 2012, in a former Jewish girls’ school. The building is among the oldest in the city, located in what was once the Jewish district. “I always tell people we are dancing on ghosts,” says Henrik Tidefjärd, founder of the lifestyle tour company Berlinagenten, and this is true. One can hardly walk a block without treading on cobblestones dedicated to World War II victims.
Returned to the Jewish community in 2009, the school now houses several businesses, including Pauly Saal, which occupies the former gymnasium. Suspended from seven-metre-high ceilings, four Murano chandeliers illuminate 80 cozy seats. Owners Stephan Landwehr and Boris Radczun are behind the ’20s-inspired interior, which has as its centrepiece a nine-metre-long missile sculpture by Cosima von Bonin – a work of art that caused some controversy when the restaurant opened. While some critics objected to it, others countered that it represents the school’s history. The past is also present in the locavore menu of meat-centric German dishes. Forget currywurst and gravy, and instead try the smoked eel and calf’s head with beetroot and horseradish, or the glazed piglet with escargots and parsley butter. Awarded its first Michelin star last November, Pauly Saal is one of a handful of pioneering establishments that have redefined Berlin’s food scene.
→ Auguststrasse 11, Berlin. Entrées from $30, prix fixe lunch $52