Five star hotels are often fussy, pretentious places. But a weekend of simple, understated luxury in one of the world’s most dynamic cities is hard to resist. And so I decided to get over myself, raise my standards and check in to Rocco Forte’s Hotel de Rome in Berlin.
A former bank, opened in 1889, it rejoices in the high ceilings, grand marble hallways and soaring pillars of an optimistic age when corporate headquarters were still built to last. It started its new life five years ago and is rated as one of the Leading Hotels of the World.
All the rooms have been tastefully decorated in muted, relaxing colors. But for a real feel of the past, you can check into one of the ‘historic suites’. These are the bank executives’ former offices and still retain original wooden paneling, oversized double doors and more.
Naturally bathrooms are spacious and stylish – mine had an enormous walk in shower, a double-ended bath big enough for all the bubbles you could dream of and every possible product.
But for real pampering, check yourself into the spa – although you may never get back out. It’s set in what used to be the vaults of the bank and the enormous safe doors you walk through are more than a foot thick.
One of the most secure rooms is used for giving guests manicures with the products and towels kept in the safety deposit box cabinets. So if you do get locked in there, I suppose you could try scratching way out, Shawshank-style.
For the energetic there is a gym with cardio equipment and weights. But the 20 meter pool is the real attraction despite most guests overlooking it – I managed a 1K swim without anyone else even entering the room. And afterwards you can relax and soothe your muscles with a sauna or steam session. If you opt for a massage you can choose between 100% biological products from The Organic Pharmacy or Shiseido.
The roof of the hotel is even more spectacular as the basement. At the end of the day, enjoy the evening sunshine with a glass of Champagne as you look over the view of the historic center of the city, spectacularly restored since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Communal areas of hotels are usually chintzy, boring or both. But the bar at the Hotel de Rome, with regular piano music, a great selection of whisky and cocktails is actually quite fun. The Mediterranean restaurant with it’s quiet, shaded terrace is the perfect place for a slap-up breakfast. And if you can, sneak a peak at the spectacular, airy Ballroom. Once the main banking hall, it is now famous in Germany for the Keinohrhasen starring the handsome Till Schweiger who crashed through the glass ceiling wearing just his bathrobe and landed naked on the floor.
But to be fair, it’s the sights just outside the hotel that are truly unmissable. The faÃ§ade overlooks the Bebelplatz, the square where the Nazi brownshirts held their most infamous book burning on the evening of 10 May 1933 in front of the historic Humboldt University.
The incident carries particular resonance for LGBT people as four days earlier, on 6 May, student yobs had raided the Institut fÃ¼r Sexualwissenschaft [Institute for the Science of Sexuality] and books from its library, hauled to the square, were among those burned in the ceremony. The institute was run by Magnus Hirschfeld who campaigned on rational grounds for gay rights and tolerance. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, those ideas didn’t thrive in Germany in the years after 1933.
The hotel’s location is really first class. The State Opera is just next door and you are a short walk from some of the world’s best museums, the Brandenburg Gate and the route of the Berlin Wall.
For those who are looking for less cultural pursuits, the shopping district nearby is one of Berlin’s biggest and shiniest, including a branch of the Galleries Lafayette, much loved by style-conscious gays. Berlin also boasts, of course, a vibrant alternative art scene and is an undisputed capital of exciting, hedonistic and varied nightlife.
Every single attraction is a reasonable walk, cycle, bus, tram, metro or taxi journey away. Best of all, uber-efficient Lufthansa is now flying to Berlin (and about to relocate to brand, spanking new Berlin Brandenburg Airport when it finally opens next year) so travelling here has never been easier. Both the current airport and the new one are a journey from the center, making this one of the world’s most accessible cities by plane.
You can book Lufthansa flights here and check out the Hotel de Rome and make a reservation here. General LGBT tourist information for Berlin is available here.