Come see the new Waldorf Astoria in Berlin, the invitation read. How new? I asked, stepping into the soaring lobby one sunny March morning. Oh, we opened last week. You’d never know it.
The building – 31 storeys and 118 metres high – with its looming tower, was corporate, rather than homely, but so bursting with life that it felt as though it had always been a fixture on the landscape. It occupies one of Berlin’s best intersections. Opposite are the two zoos, while across the street in another direction is the Beate-Uhse Erotik-Museum. I went purely in the interests of investigative journalism, of course.
The Waldorf is a sister of the renowned Manhattan hotel, and part of the Hilton chain. There are 182 deluxe or superior rooms and 50 suites (one has a grand piano), boasting great views.
For business travellers, there are more than 2,000 square metres devoted to conference and meeting facilities, there’s a spa and wellness area, complete with a pool, whirlpool hot tub, and sauna and steam rooms. Best of all, the windows in the large bedrooms actually open. What a rare treat. The television hidden in the bathroom mirror was also delightful.
A friend and I tackled the four-course tasting menu in the fanciest of the hotel’s restaurants, Les Solistes, run by Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire. Though the space was vast and soulless, the staff exuded warmth, seeing to our every need and then some: I asked for peppermint tea with my dessert, and the utterly unnecessary ritual this set off – including the snipping of delicate leaves from a living plant, and a baroque steam contraption to warm the pot – had me in stitches. The food was pretentious, flawless and artfully presented. They worked their socks off in the kitchen and out on the floor, but ultimately the food felt clinical. I guess I’m more of a bistro girl.
Like every great city, Berlin is a collection of neighbourhoods. This one, Charlottenburg, has a reputation for being boring, but that’s simply not the case. The Waldorf is five minutes from Berlin’s “Fifth Avenue”, Kurfurstendamm Boulevard (Ku’damm, to locals), and a few minutes from Europe’s biggest department store, KaDeWe.
I so loved Cafe im Literaturhaus (Fasanenstrasse 23) that I went two days running for lunch. It’s five steps off busy Ku’damm, but set in a tranquil garden full of chirping birds.
A bit of walking took me to Wald Konigsberger Marzipan (Pestalozzistrasse 54a; www.wald-koenigsberger-marzipan.de), a hole in the wall where they’re still making delicious marzipan according to the simple recipe that tickled Tsars’ tastebuds before the family was driven out of Russia. Sublime stuff, and a reminder that the sickly-sweet nonsense sold in supermarkets is not the real thing.
Also visit Manufactum (Hardenbergstrasse 4-5), where you can buy everything from cologne to clothes, dental implements to luggage. The selection is small, the prices often high, but of such quality that you’ll itch to max out those credit cards.
There is, of course, The Zoologischer Garten and Acquarium, directly opposite the hotel, where you can talk to the animals. Equally close is the Museum fur Fotografie (Jebenstrasse 2; www.helmutnewton.co), endowed by Helmut Newton, who donated more than 1,000 of his own pictures.
These are just a few highlights in a huge capital city with much to offer visitors of every age. Staying at the Waldorf ensures that you’ll be in the thick of things, amid settings that are beyond comfortable, being looked after by a fleet of friendly hospitality experts who truly know their business.
THE FACTS Waldorf Astoria Berlin, Hardenbergstrasse 28, 10623 Berlin; prices from 280 for a double room. Germany’s first Guerlain Spa, tel: +49 30 814000 0; www.waldorfastoriaberlin.com A Berlin Welcome Card allows unlimited public transport, discounts at shops, restaurants and museums, and maps. A zones A and B card is 30.90 for five days, www.visitberlin.de