Old movie romances and hangover breakfasts: Mary Gostelow visits Berlin

The gal stays at new Hotel Orania.Berlin and Provacateur Hotel.

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The 41-room Hotel Orania.Berlin, which opened only August 2017 at Oranienplatz in the Kreuzberg area, must have got a lot of things right. One guest has just checked in for a 22nd visit. On the restaurant side, the gal was sadly not able to dine there, but the venue looked most enticing and apparently all 65 seats are filled every night for dinner. The bar looks super, and a sheet of paper lists concerts every night, with additional jazz specials on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The building goes back to the year 1914 when it was built as a café with three letting bedrooms. Fast forward over a hundred years, through periods of hosting C&A and other retail companies, and it was bought by Dietmar Müller-Elmau, a renaissance man whose many talents include founding hotel software platforms Fidelio and Opera; he also owns his family-heritage castle Schloss Elmau. Here in Berlin he wanted to save the building and bring it back to life. He designed the interiors of what is now a 41-room Small Luxury Hotels of the World treasure (SLH is really helpful in making it all work, says hotel manager Jennifer Vogel who, with her husband Philipp Vogel, GM and executive chef here, previously worked at Hotel Adlon Kempinski, also in Berlin).

There are so many features. The ground floor wraps around in a big-C formation, from the hotel’s entrance on Oranienplatz, immediately past a 360-degree real log fire (with a stack of Berlin local logs in a stylish black trolley), past the bar and casual dining area to the main restaurant and open kitchen. Here, you might choose winter beets with goat cheese and green wheat, a veggie delight sharing menu or oven-baked chocolate cake with vanilla sauce. Up in the rooms, even the smallest of the rooms is charming because it looks out at what is basically the five-floor wall of an inner courtyard but in fact gives a vista of beaches, sunsets or old movies, projected as needed.

The top floor is one big salon, the size of two tennis courts. Here is a splendid Steinway, tuned to such perfection that it is often used by megastars practising before concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic. There are hundreds of polysyllabic books around. Special events are hosted here but every night there are free concerts with additional pay-for jazz twice a week. Last night (15 March 2018), for instance, at 7 pm there was an hour-long jazz special (tickets €12), starring saxophonist Felix Wahnschaffe and pianist Wolfgang Köhler. This was immediately followed at 8 pm by a free piano recital from Benedikt Jahnel.

And now, for a completely different Berlin hotel, one that would cause some travellers’ jaws to drop in amazement. Where, for instance, you can be met by a bellman looking as if he is straight out of Cabaret, complete with Charlie Chaplin moustache and full morning suit. Well, for unique one-off experiences, head for Provocateur Hotel, Berlin, part of the Gekko Group, whose founders Berliner Micky Rosen and Romanian Alex Urseanu were honoured this January by Germany’s most important assessment, from AHOZ General Hotel and Gastronomy, as hoteliers of the year.

This is a hotel, says GM Julia Himburg, for those who want something different, who love cabaret plus burlesque plus sexy elements. Every one of 58 rooms has a wall-set screen that plays a 45-minute black and white romantic movie when so required. Main television sets have home pages that ooze Hollywood. All rooms have high ceilings, dark one-colour walls, unvarnished wood floors. Bigger rooms have prominent, raised-on-pedestals bathtubs. There are several glossy colour magazines, including Playboy, German-version with several pages of voluptuous frauleins topless and, in many cases, bottomless too; all seem to have had a Brazilian wax or airbrushing. This was, in today’s #metoo world, somewhat surprising.

The basement of the building used to have indoor bowls, back in 2011 when this was built as a townhouse for a wealthy individual. Today that space is being reimagined for weddings and other purposes. A lovely courtyard comes into its own during summer. The rest of the year, the deep-burgundy velvet snug/main bar/restaurant serves as a meeting place for locals. On a Sunday night when the main kitchen, which serves Chinese-French from Vietnamese chef Duc Ngo, gives way to such snacks as braised short rib meat with cucumber slices in soft yeast buns, and wontons filled with bamboo and shrimp. I ate in my room, with a glass of Becker Family Pinot Noir 2013, from Schweigen, on the Alsace border, but downstairs the bar was filling up, with Berlin ladies dressed to the nines in mid-calf cocktail dresses and, in at least one instance, a noteworthy hat.

At breakfast, a hubbub of young German team members was cleaning and polishing. I went for my usual yoghurt and eggs, though the avocado on toast that Julia Himburg chose looked delicious. The menu, in a leather cover, is all à la carte. Its first listing is a hangover breakfast. You get a cigarette, a coffee and a vodka shot. Really? Yes really, and the cigarette is real, but you have to go outside to smoke, of course. They have sold two of these breakfasts in the last two months, says the charming young male receptionist. This is indeed a most unusual luxury hotel.

Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world.  Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com

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