Diplomatic Relations Restored: Das Stue, Berlin
The very best of Berlin, courtesy of the Royal Danish embassy via the cream of Spanish design and culinary talent. Harmony in action.
One of the most striking things about Berlin is how much old architecture is missing. Old and new. Barely any buildings, other than some of the new homogenous glass rectangles at Potsdamer Platz, rise much above twelve floors. History, obviously, is the reason for this. The Communists dismantled many of the classic edifices that the Allies had collaterally bombed and the city has only in the last five years become a target for ambitious/rapacious property developers. In the East, as the Wall went up, the DDR committed to constructing multiple clones of their dreaded 11-storey public housing blocks, a nightmare in grey Lego. However, much of what is still intact and beautiful was, luckily, part of West Berlin.
As part of the initial preparation for the construction of Hitler’s Welthauptstadt (world capital), Albert Speer had the avenue now known as the Straße des 17. Juni widened, and the city’s famous Victory Column (Siegessäule) moved there from its former location in front of the Reichstag. The Tiergarten is now more than one of the world’s most beautiful inner city parks. It comprises a ‘Kulturforum’ filled with buildings of interest, stretching from a 1963 concert hall by architect Hans Scharoun and home of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, the ‘Staatsbibliothek’ library and the Neue Nationalgalerie built by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1968.
At the southernmost part of Tiergarten, where tour boats glide up and down the Landwehrkanal away and towards the city centre, is a small quadrangle of streets that comprise the still intact 1930’s embassy quarter. Diplomats always know which side their bread’s luxuriously buttered. Next to the stentorian modernism of the Spanish embassy is the gracefully curving old Danish embassy designed by Johann Emil Schaudt and inspired by Danish classicism. Sadly, for any Danes needing consular assistance it has now been shut. Happily for the rest of us, it reopened as the perfectly formed 79-room Hotel, Das Stue.
One wonders if the neighbours had anything to do with it, since world-renowned designer, Patricia Urquiola – she of the famed Barcelona Mandarin Oriental – has been let loose inside. Using the ready-made proscenium of height and light that Schaudt bequeathed, Urquiola marries the cool Nordic geometric stonework to hot Latin flourishes of colour and texture. Leather rhinos, hippos and buffalo, as if spilled out from the nearby Zoo, create a sense of animalistic chaos that loosens the order created by the beautifully preserved parquet flooring. Bold one-off chair pieces in yellows and oranges and big studio lamps invite you to schlump with aggressive abandon in her jazz-cat cool libraries, on the landings, framed by a breathtaking staircase, with triple height vertical windows.
The stunning bar is already a major feature in Berlin life, bringing back a touch of the Weimar era’s sensual indulgence. The tired simile ‘like out of a movie’ really applies – 60’s espionage meets Salvador Dali. The playlist is a hipster music snob’s wet dream. I’ve travelled around the world and never before perused an afternoon drinks menu to the beard-stroking joy of mid-period Frank Zappa and early Steely Dan. Full marks, right there, daddio. In the kitchen, the Iberian connection continues: Paco Perez, who has earned four Michelin stars in his two restaurants in Spain, offers two dining experiences – The Casual, where I breakfasted in style and the fine dining of Cinco, which received a Michelin star within its first year of opening. I also had the lightest and most reviving of lunches at The Casual, a deconstructed Nicoise with heavenly heritage tomatoes and a dish of perfect tempura vegetables. Expect incredible things at Cinco, where all five senses (and one’s attention) are required for the 24-course tasting menu.
The rooms, designed by Spanish interior decorators LVG Arquitectura, are thus a cool relief from overt stimulation. The Bel Etage floor is of particular note, utilising the refined splendour and rarefied scale of the old reception rooms: At 70m², with five-metre-high ceilings suites 220 and 204 are just beautiful and include floor-to-ceiling windows; suite 220 is covered in Horst P. Horst’s icy sculptural portraits of Deitrich and Garbo, sports a free-standing bath and can be combined with the other two suites to create 400m² of sublime salon. Other floors have rooms that feature bright sunlit elegance, verdant views, the sounds of rampant zoo fauna, incredibly tasteful decor and a big Apple iMac as in-room entertainment centre.
That a hotel of such small occupancy can have such a sense of light and scope is further enhanced by, arguably, its best asset – great staff. Berlin is already the most friendly and accessible of European cities, where English is spoken frequently and an international community is slowly developing. Das Stue’s staff ramp this connection up a notch. Thanks to the smooth machinations of general manager Jean-Paul Dantil, nothing is too much trouble for any of them. The hotel hires out push bikes that make traversing the city (through the park or along the canal) a genteel pleasure. And when I check out, leaving a white shirt on the white bedding (how often does that happen?) it turns up folded in a 4″x4″ box at my house a few days later. I never knew you could fold a napkin into such a small space, let alone a shirt. Das Stue proves that the best things come in smallish packages – give or take a triple height ceiling or two.
Tel: +49 30311 722-0 www.das-stue.com.