25hours Bikini Hotel, Berlin, makes Mary Gostelow smile from arrival to departure
Having walked past a couple of times and heard others talk about it, I was curious about 25hours Bikini Hotel in Berlin. Is this luxury, or what? It is certainly different, and well-publicised on its exterior, so you cannot miss the existence of this 149-room fascination, though it is a little difficult to work out where to go in. Its arrival space on the ground floor is dominated by a 1967-vintage Mini station wagon, complete with UK number plate. Some might be reminded of 2015 movie The Lady in the Van, where Maggie Smith lived in an old car, but no, no-one sleeps in this one. Overhead, three silver bicycles hang from the ceiling. I smiled, for the first of many times.
Main reception is up on the third floor, which has a terrace looking towards the ruined Kaiser Wilhelm church. I went quickly up to the eighth floor, to room 804. A whole-wall window looked down at Berlin Zoo; across this window, from wall to wall, stretched a fabric hammock. Other unusual features included the deliberately-rough concrete ceiling, and outline wall stencils, by Israeli artist Yoshi Sisby. Light bulbs hang from the ceiling on red wires: silver wires hold up the two-way mirror above the single washbasin, accessed from the wash area or the bedroom area. I have most of the necessities for luxury, including a non-automatic minibar and an easy-reach safe.
25hours is the collective idea of four friends, led by company CEO Christoph Hoffmann, who is based in Hamburg, and now that AccorHotels has taken 30% of the shares expect the brand to grow fast, beyond its current seven properties in five destinations. Each hotel, says the CEO, is unique, but they are certainly all fun. Down on the ground floor, an old gas-station pump is purely decorative, nothing to do with the fact that the real bicycles just nearby are loaned out for free (going rate in Berlin is €12 a day). Up on the third floor, stroll past reception to an open-plan boutique, and on to a news corner, with today’s newspapers, German only, but books that include tomes, in English, on tattoos. There is also a working log fire here.
There is also a bakery café, with breakfasts and later snacks to-go. I was nearly destined to dine here, actually, as when I arrived, on a Sunday mid afternoon, the receptionist asked if I had a dinner reservation. I immediately thought which luxury hotel’s restaurant is full on a Sunday night? Well this one is, as I was to discover. She did, fortunately, manage to get me a slot, for two hours from 7 pm. Yes, I had to be gone by 9 pm as the table was already booked then. As I was to discover, dining upstairs in the tenth floor rooftop restaurant of 25hours Bikini hotel is highly popular with locals, and where locals flock you can be sure that hotel guests are not far behind.
At 7 pm precisely I went up to the tenth floor rooftop restaurant, to find out what it is about dining here that pulls in such crowds. You enter via the adjacent Monkey Bar, for which you similarly should have reservations – they control numbers back down on the ground floor and stop when there are 300 upstairs. Through the Bar and on to Neni, the restaurant, and you feel as if you are in a conservatory that landed on the top of the hotel. This is a place for ambience, and sharing plates that come from around the Mediterranean: the name Neni comes from the initials of four Israel-born brothers, Nuriel, Elior, Nadiv and Ilan. Their mother, Haya Molcho, is a chef with considerable following not only in Vienna, where the family now lives, but much further afield (father of the family, Sami Molcho, is also celebrated internationally, as a mime artist).
The first Neni restaurant, which opened in Vienna, set the tone, and here, too, the food is Mediterranean wiith a big emphasis on Tel Aviv. I started with a platter of babaghannouj, served with rounds of Arab bread held in a fabric basket. I went on to a Jerusalem platter, which turned out to be chicken bits with hommus and capsicum, and I drank the house red, Recanati Yasmin Red 2016 from Jezreel/Ella Region, 50-50 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
It seemed like only a few hours after this very pleasant dinner that I was back up at Neni again, as the sun rose – how I love breakfasts that start at 6.30 am, or even earlier. Now I saw into the restaurant’s protrusion, an alcove with its glass walls holding hydroponic plants. The big lampshade overhead has a shade made of pages of gardening books stapled together.
In daylight I can see the restaurant properly. Just as with the adjacent Monkey Bar, the far end of the space leads to an open terrace, highly popular all summer long. The interior has the protrusion alcove mentioned above, but the main part is built up, two steps high, with a central raised area with the outline of a shed indicating a greenhouse, and lots of plants everywhere – the designer of the whole hotel is Werner Aisslinger. There is an open kitchen, where now chefs are ready to cook eggs on demand to supplement the buffet’s hot dishes, held in brightly-coloured Le Creuset casseroles. I now know, by the way, that while most of the world is becoming omelette mad at breakfast, Germans, who may have boiled eggs at home, definitely want their eggs scrambled when they are in hotels.
The buffet is splendid, fruits, and masses of dairy, nuts and cereals, and the cold cuts and cheeses that are ubiquitous. It is help-yourself coffee, make your own toast from with the breads that I always associate with central European luxury hotels. I love the bright paper mats and the lively music, and the sun is streaming in. All this, for €19 inclusive, gives such a feeling of value that I leave this fascinating hotel with another big smile. And that, these days, is luxury enough for any traveller. I cannot wait to return, with a dinner reservation made long in advance.
Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world.