Published November 19 2016, Scandinavia Standard
Berlin is poor and gritty. Patched together over decades. Building sights belong to its natural landscape like branches to a tree. It’s people don’t mince matters and their rough humour is nothing for the thin skinned.
‘Yet’ it’s impossible to write about Berlin without making it into a declaration of love. For maybe more than any other, Berlin is a city of freedom. An open city of honest, rugged, sincere, and affectionate beauty. With a subtle tenderness that will never let you go.
It’s confidence and restless energy are intoxicating. It has never cared what others might think of it, instead it waltzes on, always on the verge of becoming. Berlin doesn’t settle, Berlin doesn’t play it safe. And so the adventurous can’t help but flock to it and make it into what David Bowie called “ The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine”.
If you hail from the sort of place that goes into hibernation over winter, then Berlin - with its vibrant atmosphere - is the perfect weekend-getaway.
We’ve put together some of our favourite things to do in Berlin during the cold season that is upon us!
WHERE TO STAY:: 25HOURS HOTELS BIKINI BERLIN
25hours bikini hotel Berlin will make the hearts of the urban jungle explorers amongst us beat faster. Hammocks in the lobby and rooms (!) invite guests to hang loose and you’re able to refuel at any time by plucking a banana from the bunches at reception. The designer rooms are nothing short of inspirational and, as throughout the hotel, love is in the smallest of details.
Overlooking the Berlin Zoo, you might hear the monkeys calling in the morning if you listen closely - from the roof top terrace where breakfast is served. A breakfast which by the way deserves it’s own novel of appreciation. A fresh and diverse buffet awaits with cultural delights such as Shakshuka, home made Currywurst, and warm rice pudding teamed with apple compote. The inviting spread even includes a honeycomb from which you can get your honey directly. To top it off the hotel is environmentally conscientious.
Hands down simply one of the best hotels in Berlin.
WHERE TO GRAB A COFFEE :: Bonanza Coffee Roastery
Like most great discoveries, Bonanza Coffee Roastery is a little off the beaten and you probably wouldn’t find it without a local leading the way (unless you had say, a really helpful insider guide like this one).
Located just a stone’s throw away from Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg, don’t be fooled when you turn into a little side street and pass ponies and donkeys on the way. You are in fact still in the heart of Berlin and not at all lost. Keep going until you come to the courtyard of a redbrick factory building. Your caffeinated rewards will be plentiful. With a Scandinavian feel to it - even though the interior is by Dutch designer Marick Baars - this place is spacious, never over-crowded, and serves excellent coffee. Their FRAP with crushed salted pistachio garnish is a winner.
Monday – Friday 09:00am – 6.00pm
Saturday & Sunday 10:00am – 6.00pm
WHAT TO SEE AND DO :: CLÄRCHENS BALLHAUS SPIEGELSAAL
Time travel are the operative words when describing Clärchens Ballhaus. The venue is an institution that has been around since Fritz Bühler opened it on 13 September 1913. He was killed shortly after in the First World War and so his widow Clara took over, hence the name. It has weathered the turmoil of the 20th century and if the walls could talk you’d be stuck there for months listening to its stories.
Depending on the day of the week, you’ll be transported back into different decades from walz over swing to disco. If you’re unfamiliar with the moves don’t worry, they offer dance classes too.
A highlight is the Spiegelsaal (mirror saloon). The faded decor whispers of the splendour and high spirit of the turn of the century - marks left by WWII aerial bombs, grenade and bullet holes from the fierce Battle of Berlin warn of it’s insolence.
Clärchens Ballhaus is open daily from 11pm until the last guest leaves.
WHERE TO SHOP :: MYKITA
In true Berlin fashion here’s a mental leap from the ever present past of the city to the futuristic visions it harbours. MYKITA is a ‘when in Berlin’ sort of shopping spree moment where you can give your personal style an upgrade.
Years ahead of the Berlin start-up scene, the daring eye glasses design and manufacture brand launched in 2003 and has since deservedly earned roaring success. The queen B herself has been spotted in a pair. The ultra light steel frames are photochemically etched, the same way computer chips are made. Their hinges don’t need screws, an innovation Mykita holds the patent for. You will be hard-pressed finding wilder glasses than these!
WHAT TO DO :: VABALI SPA
Vabali spa is THE place to unwind in the evening after a long day of exploring the city.
The spa is a separate realm amidst the chipper bustle of Berlin, where relaxation reigns. There’s eleven different saunas - both indoors and outdoor - as well as steam rooms, relaxation rooms, massage pavilions, and a Kneipp basin. There’s also indoor and outdoor pools if you fancy a dip.
Forgot your bather? Don’t worry, you won’t be needing it. Vabali spa is a textile free area -apart from the restaurant, sorry, but you will have to wear a bathrobe - and you’ll be able to fully embrace German Freikörperkultur (free body culture).
There’s an array of complimentary treatments handed out at certain times in front of the saunas such as coconut scrub or chocolate masks - delicious! You can supplement these with with a choice of massages and other wellness treatments. To complete wholesome experience Vabali’s WellFit restaurant serves fresh, regional organic food and drink.
As for exploring the city, mostly all you need to do is walk Berlin’s phenomenally wide streets that stretch into the distance, as Mark Twain described them, ‘straight as a ray of light’. It’s a never-ending journey with the constant promise of something humbly spectacular along the way.