Berlin - the capital city of Germany is a spectacle of contrasts, which, much like the British Marmite, you either love or hate. It took us four visits, three travel conferences, countless pints of German beer and around thirty days in total to fall in love with Berlin. And the catalyst for change? A circus. A hotel. A circus disguised as a hotel. The Circus Hotel. Welcome, to your own Berlin show.
This is a love story; the story of the cuckoo block, illusion cocktails, a flipflop giraffe and two koi fish.
Sounds like a trip, doesn't it? And that's because it was. The trippiest travel trip, that took us from the comforts of our sofa to a whole new dimension, a portal that can only be unlocked, if you dare to visit Berlin. The real Berlin. Let me start from the beginning.
It was Sunday when we decided to leave Dresden for Berlin. The day started slow. It was the first time in almost a year since we've packed our suitcases to go someplace new. It was almost unimaginable that I needed to fill up my car so I drive my car for more than 10 minutes other than to my local supermarket.
We triple-checked the suitcases, convinced that we've forgotten something important. Alas, by 10 am we were on our way to Berlin. We arrived at 12 pm and got our keys and the instructions from the hotel reception on how to park our car. We drove to the car park which was one of those cool parking spots where the platforms lift up to make room for more vehicles. Modern, sleek and cool.
After 10 minutes later, we found ourselves in front of The Circus Hotel. It was hot for Berlin, 27 C (80F). A white, renovated building that didn't particularly stand out from the rest of Berlin's structures. A bright yellow tram passed right in front of the entrance. People entered the underground at Rosenthaler Platz. It was busy. We went in.
We struggled to push the heavy doors of the hotel but we noticed the iron serpent and octopus door handles. "Ah, the devil's in the details", I said out loud. But like any good circus, the performers knew how to put on a show and entertain the visitor every step of the way.
The lift had information about the weekly events ran by the hotel staff. Free and paid for walking tours offered by local enthusiasts who want to help you see beyond the well-known attractions. The "Behind the curtain" concept, created by the hotel, has caught my eye, as these itineraries were curated by Berliners who truly love their city.
And then, there was the corridor walk. You know what I'm talking about. That walk when you aimlessly go around your hotel floor looking for your room. For the first time since I've been staying in hotels, I actually liked the details. Think urban achromic wallpaper, with clever wood panelling made from picture frames, and of course, the circus red carpet that leads you to your room.
We were intrigued. There were clever details everywhere, keeping us entertained and hungry for more. A rare sight in a hotel. But this, as I said before, was no ordinary hotel. This was clearly a spectacle for the mind.
Our door opened to a new world. From hypnotizing corridors, we entered a world of toned down, earthy colours. If Arizona were a colour palette, this room would be it. Soft browns with cacti green and matching minimalist desert posters.
But all of it would have been almost boring without a screaming, statement piece: a decadent, sensual, watercolour portrait that somehow just fitted the room.
There were eye-catching details in every corner. The minibar offered a variety of hipster drinks, colourful snacks and even vegan condoms. The most exciting thing for us was a cool yet silent hotel room. How? Turns out, the team came together to brainstorm how to defy the ugly laws of the aircon in a hotel. You know what I mean, those cold and loud aircon systems which you simply cannot switch off. But The Circus had yet another ace up their sleeves.
The system is innovative because the ceiling is fitted with clay modules and water pipes that flow hot or cold water. You can use the control panel to adjust the room temperature, but you need to wait just a little longer for the room to reach the desired temperature. This system is draft-free, allergy-friendly and completely silent. Oh, and it just automatically switches off if you decide to open the window, making it even more eco-friendly. A round of applause, everyone, the first part of the show was great.
This also warrants us to simply take the shoes off and jump in the bed...OH so soft and comfortable? That's thanks to the super ergonomic Birkenstock mattresses they installed in the hotel. Add the German-made giant fluffy pillows and you might just about forget it's time to go out and explore Berlin.
Moving to the bathroom, the performance didn't stop. Because ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever, I noticed a little gem in the bathroom mirror: you can call the reception to ask for just about any cosmetics if you've forgotten them at home. Face cream, perfume, toothbrush. And you won't get a soulless little bag of cheap items. There's a person that comes well equipped with a vintage suitcase packed with delightful and branded products for you to pick from.
The cosmetics and shower products in the bathroom had a story too. Turnes out the staff tried several products for months, before deciding on the right items that actually make your hair and skin feel incredible. That's dedication. But every act needed to be well-rehearsed by the professionals.
Just as we thought we've seen it all, we noticed a QR code on our window, which took us to an exclusive collection of Rosenthaler Platz short stories. Bedtime story, anyone?
I suppose now it's a good a time as any to tell you the story of the flip flop giraffe. On top of the TV, there was this colourful creature: a giraffe. It looked cute. I picked it up and to my surprise, it was lightweight and fun to hold. I put it back and didn't think much about it. Until the giraffe became a recurring character. And for a good reason. These little guys you can find in the hotel (and happen to be for sale at the reception), are made from flip flops. Ocean Sole Africa is a social enterprise turning discarded flip flops into masterpieces. The flip flop giraffe is made from recycled flip-flops that are collected from the beaches, waterways and landfills in Kenya. These products are hand-carved by Kenyan artisans and all unique.
The best was yet to come. Our room faced the inner courtyard. From above, you could already see how incredible this oasis of greenery really is. Beautiful ivy stretched on the white building, leading your eyes to two floating structures. Koi fish made from a wire material, suspended in the air as if we're looking down into the pond. But when the night came, these koi fish became bright and shiny, illuminating the inner courtyard, making it look magical and whimsical, as a true night circus would.
I could spend hours talking to you about our experience. It's rare for me to fall in love with an establishment. To me, this could become an institution in Berlin. Perhaps it's because you can sense the labour of love the owners and their partners put into creating magic. And then, just as you least expect, the hotel in-house designer strikes again...
The breakfast area is divided into three sections. A dark and intimate area with statement blooming art above leather seats.
A bright and modern boho area with a biophilic design thanks to all the tropical calatheas, climbers and grasses around. And finally, the outdoor seating area, cleverly separated by large bamboos and grasses so you feel like you're in an oasis of calm, making you forget you're actually in Berlin, a city 9 times the size of Paris.
The breakfast offers coffee from Vote Coffee, a local roaster ran by a German-New Zealand couple, Philipp and Laurel. The hotel also have a partnership with Codos, which is a coffee shop and pastry place located next door. The breakfast was right on point. Fresh pastries, hipster granola, Turkish eggs or vegan burritos set you up or the day.
Beyond The Circus Hotel, there's much to be discovered in Berlin. Thanks to the convenient location, we were within walking distance from all main attractions in Berlin, Brandenburg Gate, the museum island, the Berliner Fernsehturm, Alexanderplatz for shopping and just a 40 min walk to Checkpoint Charlie.
Walking in Berlin is all about grey, grit and cement. Only that, for the first time ever, we've seen beyond this. The beauty of Berlin lies in its contrasts, which can be observed everywhere. A modern Scandinavian style coffee shop in a ran down block of flats. Gorgeous gardens that lead to a grimy passageway full of graffiti. Come to terms with the fact that this is your new reality, and this chaos will tickle your senses in an unexpected way.
From an achromatic sad mess, Berlin suddenly became a seductive mistress that lures you in. The deeper you are willing to go, the more addictive this city becomes. And while there might be a specific dress code for different parts of the city, we've noticed that a comfortable outfit and a pair of trainers can just as much get you into a fancy rooftop bar in a 5-star hotel, as it can get you into an alternative bar that sells algae cocktail.
Perhaps it's the company that matters too. Because when we asked our friends Kash & Sabrina to take us around Berlin and show us where the locals go, we had an awesome time. Turns out you can be comfortable and joyful in an outdoor seating area, right next to the tram, with the most potent gin tonic served from a hole in a wall type of bar. Embrace Berlin, and these places will not only surprise you but make you feel alive.
Speaking of feeling alive, Berlin has long been known as a decadent city. In fact, Berlin was the most decadent city in the 20th Century with two periods of decadence, the Weimar Republic of the 1920’s and 30’s and then the late 70’s in West Berlin.
Berlin sure can be a kaleidoscope of stories, images and reflections. Some lively and some downright bizarre. Knowing the city just a little bit more, I feel as if Berlin is a place of refuge for people who have a creative and artistic flair. And if you've lived in Germany, anywhere else but Berlin, you'll realise that the capital city it's a completely different place, within conservative Germany.
No good trip is complete without one too many cocktails with friends. Kash & Sabrina took us to a courtyard through a passageway where we sat down in a cocktail bar with an attitude. All their cocktails were inspired by the P*rnstar Martini, so you get two complementing drinks as a cocktail. You can either mix them or drink them separately, whichever you prefer. I called them illusion cocktails because the drinks and the establishment itself were an unusual sensory experience. You've got to try it for yourself, to know what I mean.
Pawn Dot Com Bar - Torstraße 164, 10115 Berlin, Germany
Of course, The Circus Hotel has its own cocktail repertoire, with its own bar called Lost My Voice. And if you just fancy taking a drink with you when you picnic somewhere in Berlin, the bartender can serve your cocktail in an elegant takeaway bottle. Isn't this the new definition of cool? But then, there's also a rooftop bar at The Circus Hotel where you can chill with your drink and watch as the vanilla sky goes dim.
As we've had our final breakfast in The Circus Hotel, before checking out, we noticed yet another hidden gem on the wall in the hotel lobby. A typical East Berlin block of flats which is usually such an eyesore. Not this one. This was a clock. A German cuckoo clock, which is one of the most purchased German souvenirs, by the way.
"What is this?", I asked. It's a cuckoo block, one of the managers replied. The artist, Guido Zimmermann created these as serial unique specimens limited to just a few pieces. Turns out, he'd also created modular nesting boxes for sparrows, cast from concrete, as well as typical East German tower blocks for wild bees and insects.
We finished off our coffee and handed over the key. This was a visually striking performance, that cleverly engaged our imagination. Dazzling, really.
We pushed the heavy doors yet again and made our way out, into the real world. We turned back one more time. This time, it really was the final curtain call.
Acknowledgements - We were invited by The Circus in Berlin to experience their newly renovated hotel. It really was a wondrous affair. Book your stay here, you will like it. - Rosenthaler Str. 1, 10119 Berlin, Germany
Thank you, Maja, for your endless patience in answering all our questions. Thank you to the owners Andreas and Jim who carved out time in their busy schedule to chat with us and recommend cool things to do in Berlin.