Berlin is currently one of the most exciting cities in the world. Evidence of its tumultuous history is everywhere. The Sputnik-inspired Fernsehturm (Television Tower) stands directly behind the Gothic St. Mary’s Church, whose stubborn angle in an otherwise rectilinear square is a reminder of the medieval streets cleared to make way for an expanded Alexanderplatz, the communist showplace of East Berlin. Just across the river, bullet holes from World War II pock the neoclassical colonnade of the Alte Nationalgalerie. Improbably, the Stadtschloss — the seat of the Prussian kings demolished in 1950 — is being rebuilt nearby. And in bustling Potsdamer Platz, the soaring Sony Center incorporates the ornate wall of a prewar ballroom into its otherwise contemporary façade. Sections of a much more infamous wall stand a few feet away.
This was my fourth visit to the city since the Berlin Wall fell, but I had no trouble occupying my time almost exclusively with attractions I’d never seen before. The trouble was forcing myself to skip favorite sights. I missed the Pergamon Museum, home to the magnificent blue-tiled Ishtar Gate from ancient Babylon (the wing housing the Pergamon Altar is closed for renovations until 2019). Nor did I revisit the iconic bust of Nefertiti in the Neues Museum, or the Romanticist masterpieces in the Alte Nationalgalerie. I didn’t ascend the spiraling glass dome atop the Reichstag, or take a river cruise through the heart of downtown. Perhaps most distressing, I didn’t have time to contemplate the Brandenburg Gate from a room at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski, one of my favorite city hotels in Europe.
Hotel de Rome
I consoled myself with a stay at my other longtime Berlin favorite, the Hotel de Rome. In an ideal location on Bebelplatz within easy walking distance of the Brandenburg Gate and Museum Island, this 146-room property is one of the few major Berlin hotels to occupy an intact prewar building. Remnants of its former life as the headquarters of the wealthy Dresdner Bank are everywhere. The granite pillars of the vault now stand in the swimming pool, above which a gold mosaic wall shimmers, serving as a reminder of the space’s former purpose. One walk-in safe has been transformed into a room for manicures and pedicures, but another remains tantalizingly locked — the hotel has only three of the four keys needed to open it. Original mosaic floors decorate some of the hallways, and the barrel-vaulted one on the first floor still has ornate plaster bas-reliefs. Here, three historic suites feature 16-foot ceilings and original wood paneling. But the Hotel de Rome is a stylish contemporary hotel, as well. In the center of the lobby, a red neon birdcage-shaped chandelier hovers over minimalist flower arrangements in black vases, flanked by dramatic black oversize sofas. Classical urns painted a glossy lipstick-red guard the entrance to the bar, La Banca, where the far wall has the words “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind” spelled out in more neon.