What is the first thing you think of when you hear Berlin? Maybe it’s über modern architecture and graffiti. Perhaps it’s quaint cafes and apple strudel. Probably World War II and the wall. Marlene Dietrich and Angela Merkel.
There is no getting around the fact that Germany’s capital has had many lives. It’s resolute resilience and astonishing reinvention is exactly why I’ve long-found this city so alluring — so unlike Paris or New York or Rome, where you know what to expect. Berlin has something — what’s German for je ne sais quoi? — something that can be found nowhere else.
The Hotel Bristol Berlin is a bit like that, too.
While staying there during our five-day vacation in Berlin I got to know the layered history of the Bristol Berlin. Built in the 1950s, the luxury hotel boasted Berlin’s first indoor swimming pool, as well as a Michelin-starred restaurant and the hotspot Bristol Bar. Bristol Berlin quickly drew an elite group of guests including Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas, President Ronald Reagan and the Dalai Lama. Black and white photographs throughout the hotel recall this glamorous era so you can close your eyes and imagine bumping into a Hollywood starlet in the hallway.
Following a recent renovation, the hotel now offers both sleek, modern rooms on its newer side and more traditionally-furnished rooms on its original side. There are 246 rooms in all, as well as 55 suites, three restaurants, a bar, spa and gym.
Luckily for us, the renovation managed to preserve all of the charm that first drew guests through its doors.
After a glass of German Riesling (for research, of course) we found our way to our room on the modern side: A quiet, light-filled oasis overlooking bustling Berlin. We had so much fun watching the sidewalk traffic below, I think we’ll ask for a balcony suite next time.
A welcome plate of fruit, chocolate, crackers and gummy bears awaited us in the sitting area. Our son squealed when he saw a brown teddy bear waiting for him in his crib. We were equally happy to discover a baby bathtub and bubble bath in our sumptious bathroom. While he splashed to his heart’s content in the tub, I opted for the heavenly waterfall shower and organic Zenology products.
But seriously, how do they make their beds so comfortable? Is it something about staying in a hotel and knowing someone else is going to make the bed or is it really just that good?
After a fantastic first night of sleep, we sauntered down to breakfast and found it set out as if by a fairy godmother (in my dream kitchen, no less). While I perused the locally-sourced pastries, yogurts and jams, my husband went in for the sausage and eggs. We sipped frothy cappuccinos while our toddler was enchanted by the friendly waitstaff. I’m sure any parent can attest to the gift that is a happily distracted baby while out at a restaurant.
I was worried when I first looked at the map of Berlin that we might not be staying in the right neighborhood, since attractions like the Brandenburg gate, Holocaust memorial and Checkpoint Charlie are a few stops away by public transit. After spending a couple of hours walking around the crowded, touristy streets surrounding those sights, I was thankful to return to our quieter, charming quarter. The cafe- and tree-lined streets of the Charlottenburg neighborhood reminded me more of Paris than I had expected. We zigzagged our way across Berlin during our stay, but never found another neighborhood like it.
Moreover, there is so much to see within walking distance of the hotel: The bombed-out Kaiser Wilhelm Church, the ultra-cool Bikini Berlin shopping center, the Bauhaus Design Museum, the artsy Paris Bar, the historic Quasimodo cinema, the sprawling Tiergarten park and the incredible Berlin Zoo. I can’t emphasize enough how enchanting it was to stroll through the Tiergarten with the sun shining and flowers blooming.
My favorite part of each day was returning to the Bristol Berlin for a 5 o’clock Aperol Spritz at Reinhard’s. While our glasses emptied and the cafe filled with fashionable, dog-toting people, we would recount what we had seen. From the bullet holes in buildings to the quiet memorials and bronze statues, there is so much to take in walking around Berlin. From our table at Reinhard’s we could ruminate on Berlin’s history while watching its present walk by.
That night we returned to Reinhard’s for a dinner of champagne, wiener schnitzel, warm potato salad and ligonberry jam. Although we visited many fabulous restaurants (including an elegant meal at the Bristol Grill that ended in flaming crêpes suzette), it was that wiener schnitzel on my first trip to Germany that I will remember. It is one of those nights that will remain lodged in my memory long after the details of our Berlin trip become faded with age.
Again, the city of Berlin is as multifaceted as its history. You could easily experience hundreds of different trips within the same city without overlapping with ours. I’m personally happy that ours included leafy tree-line streets, awe-inspiring architecture, remarkable history and stylish accommodations.
Have you been to Berlin? What are your thoughts? Meanwhile, I hope you’re having a splendid week. Here’s wishing you a sunny weekend.
*This post was sponsored by Hotel Bristol Berlin. All opinions are my own. Thank you to companies like Bristol who keep Bakersfield Blonde traveling!
Bathroom photo courtesy of Bristol Berlin.