Travel

Diversity Regained
Berlin's Remarkable Renaissance
Mark A. Thompson
5/24/2013

The knock comes a few moments after the wake-up call. A light rapping on the door, followed by the ringing of the buzzer. The evening before, you'd landed in Berlin at the brand-new Waldorf Astoria Berlin; you cinch your robe and open the door. 

"Guten morgen," murmurs a willowy young woman attired in a skin-tight, dove gray ensemble, her dark hair in a chignon. She's bearing a silver tray and pitcher—and the cloth bag with the shoes you left out to be polished last night. 

“May I come in?” 

You nod and watch in a kind of subdued, sleepy awe as she places your shoes on the chaise before pouring your coffee from the silver pitcher. And in that moment, her elegant body silhouetted in the semi-darkness, her long legs tapering to a pair of four-inch stilettos, the silver pitcher in her hand, her lips barely parted, you realize anew why Berlin is synonymous with desire.

STAY

Berlin recently launched a campaign with visitBerlin and various Berlin hotel partners to inaugurate the “Pink Pillow Berlin Collection.” The world's first hotel network for LGBT guests is comprised of 23 members. Hotel members welcome LGBT travelers by providing guests with information on LGBT life in Berlin and insuring that guests feel safe and welcome.

For the ultimate in bespoke luxury, consider taking up residence at the brand-new Waldorf Astoria Berlin, ideally situated between the retail pleasures of Kurfurstendamm and the lush flora and fauna of the Berlin Zoo. Should you arrive before your room is ready, avail yourself of the pleasures of the Guerlain Spa. Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire is at the helm of Les Solistes, which is also where Waldorf Astoria guests indulge in a copious breakfast buffet accompanied by starched linens, heavy silver and fresh orchids. The 232 rooms at the Waldorf Astoria Berlin are luxuriously furnished in an Art Deco style befitting the hotel's eponymous flagship in New York—and there's even a Peacock Alley to fan your feathers.

In the midst of the modernist cacophony of Potsdamer Platz exists a sanctuary of serenity—the Mandala Hotel. A discreet 157-room boutique property, the Mandala Hotel complements its contemporary design with state-of-the-art technology. The capacious rooms and suites evoke the design hallmarks of Finn Juhl, the Danish architect and designer known for his clean, modernist lines. Breakfast is served in the Michelin-starred restaurant Facil, where fresh juices include blood orange, kiwi, carrot orange and mixed berry. The top-floor Ono Spa is an oasis of well-being, with a visually arresting rooftop reflexology walk around the building's perimeter.

Clad in Kirchheim shell limestone, the Hotel Concorde Berlin rises above Kurfurstendamm like a Cunard ocean liner during the glory days of ocean crossings. The award-winning architecture by Jan Kleihues is complemented by the architect's focus on interior design and lighting. From the curated art collection to the upholstery and the color schemes, everything at Hotel Concorde Berlin is a part of the overall design, which creates a sense of holistic harmony throughout the hotel. The expansive rooms and suites at Hotel Concorde Berlin are oases of relaxation, as is the Club Etoile Lounge with its splendid vistas above Kurfurstendamm.

EAT

One of the primary attractions in Berlin is the abundance of fine restaurants. Berlin is Germany's culinary capital, with more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the country. The 2013 Michelin Guide awarded 16 stars to Berlin restaurants, including four two-star establishments.

Named for George Grosz, the caricaturist painter of ‘20s Berlin, Grosz is located on Kurfurstendamm at historic Cumberland House, which dates from 1911 and was reopened in 2012. Restaurateur Roland Mary, the mastermind behind the charming and convivial Café Am Neuen See, the café and beer garden in the Tiergarten that sits alongside a little lake, has created an homage to ‘20s Berlin with his latest restaurant. Marble floors and mirrors, columns and romantic lighting, it all works together to create a grand brasserie suitable for Marlene Dietrich in a tuxedo, two men on her arms.

Meanwhile, over in the heart of Mitte at Mani, an open-air kitchen on the lobby floor of the eponymous hotel offers guests a gastronomic odyssey via an Israeli-French menu comprised of seasonal specialties. Standouts include falafel with prawns, beet root with pomegranate and parsnip with salty lemon and avocado, as well as “meschugge lobster,” which is as delicious as its name. With food this creative and stimulating, a Michelin star is forthcoming. 

Also located in Mitte is Pantry, which might be termed a locavore's delight for the owners' habit of frequenting the farmers' markets each morning. Huge leather armchairs and banquettes give the illusion of dining in the library of a gentleman's club. Pantry's locally sourced menu offers fare from within a 100-kilometer radius and the cozy atmosphere is enhanced by the warm professionalism of the staff, who offer the seasonal food with an almost familial pride. At Pantry, you feel immediately at home.

What would Berlin be without an absinthe bar? With its iconic signature cat lapping at a bowl of absinthe, Absinth Depot Berlin in Mitte makes it clear that absinthe is for everyone. For 12 years, Absinth Depot Berlin has been offering tastings to those as curious as a cat—and the selection of more than 100 types of absinthe, as well as an extensive selection of absinthe paraphernalia, will remind you of the head shops of your youth. Absinthe in the afternoon?  Of course—you're in Berlin.

Play

For many savvy nightlife insiders, the opening of uberclub Berghain in 2004 made it crystal clear that Berlin had become the LGBT nightlife capital of Europe. And while it's true that party people from around the world fly into Berlin to spend a three- and four-day weekend at Berghain, Berlin's nightlife is a smorgasbord of diversity with options available for any and all fetish, regardless of time of day or night. 

The neighborhoods of Schöneberg, Kreuzberg, Kreuzkölln, Friedrichshain, and even gentrified Prenzlauer Berg offer a plethora of choices for getting your groove on and finding your own German schatzi.

While wandering from bar to club, look for the historical markers and the 40 pillar portraits of the open-air exhibition Diversity Destroyed, which focuses on the fate of 200 Berliners during the tragic events between 1933-1938. 

The recent renovation of Berggruen Museum, located across from Charlottenburg Palace, has resulted in 10 additional exhibition rooms and 50 more works by modern masters such as Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Giacometti and Braque. You don't need a rainy day to spend a delightful afternoon at this attractive palazzo-style museum.

Unused and neglected during the Cold War, the historic art nouveau Hackesche Courtyards Theater was nevertheless added to the preservation list. Designed in 1906 by August Endell, the historic hall was carefully and completely renovated in 1994 and is now the home of the Chamaleon Theater, which presents innovative entertainment. The current resident is Dummy: Variete 2.0, a fast-paced, high-energy amalgam of circus and concert that features acrobats and vocalists whirling through time and space.

FLY

 AirBerlin, which is Germany's second-largest airline, flies to 150 destinations in 40 countries, and with their U.S. partner, American Airlines, travelers can access AirBerlin's flights from 59 North American cities. 

With an average age of five years, AirBerlin's planes are modern and clean, as well as energy-efficient. While the reclining seats tend to cramp personal space, the effect is mitigated by an on-demand entertainment system with an extensive selection of films and music. Complimentary beverage service is available throughout the flight, and the personable crew works to insure that you are as happy in the air as you are when you arrive in Berlin.


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