“See art” was the brief offered by my mother, who works in Los Angeles’ contemporary art scene, each time I asked what she wanted to do on our weekend break to Berlin. While Berlin’s cavernous galleries and monumental museums could (and did) fill all our waking hours, there was the issue of where to rest up in between. Certainly the German city offers its share of the world’s best hotel beds, but I wondered if more artful sleeping arrangements could be made as well.
A chance cocktail-party chat in Marrakech with a stylish Mexican magazine publisher led us to Das Stue (rooms from around £170), precisely the sort of address I had been seeking. I even said a silent “gracias” to Javier as we walked into this former Royal Danish Embassy on the edge of Tiergarten. Museum-quality black-and-white photographs adorn the striking travertine-marble walls, including several by Frank Horvat, Irving Penn’s shot of Marlene Dietrich from 1948 and the last known portrait of Marilyn Monroe by American photographer Bert Stern. Another 85 or so hang throughout the hotel, all from the owner’s private collection of vintage fashion photography. While I stepped upon the polished parquetry to ogle more art – by Jacques-Henri Lartigue and Cindy Sherman, alongside Diane Arbus’ Lady Bartender and William Klein’s Piazza di Spagna from 1960 – my mother delighted in the leather hippo by Omersa, chicken-wire gorilla by Benedetta Mori Ubaldini, and other statuettes placed here and there by Spanish architect and interior designer Patricia Urquiola. We both gravitated to the bar, not for a drink but to gaze out of the floor-to-ceiling window at an ostrich prancing in his pen, a resident of the neighbouring Berlin Zoo.
A model-beautiful receptionist led us to our temporary lair among these 78 guest rooms, sharing in fluent English some of the building’s fascinating back story en route. “Albert Speer told the architect Johann Emil Schandt, who also built the KaDeWe department store, to build in a neo-classical style,” she said as the lift silently ascended. “But the Danes did not really want to move in, and the King himself never came to stay in the royal apartment, in all likelihood because of Hitler. The building was finally sold in 1978.” Our cosy quarters, which we would share with an endearing giraffe sculpture, extended to a skinny balcony overlooking other historic residences in the ritzy neighbourhood.
My mother washed off remnants of her transatlantic flight in the deep bath while I investigated the minibar – which was stocked with Spanish ham, reminding me to book dinner downstairs. I usually prefer to dine somewhere other than at my hotel but several Berlin residents had insisted it would be a mistake to skip the cuisine of Catalan native and Michelin-starred chef Paco Pérez. Cinco (third picture), his haute outpost, had long since been booked up so we snagged the last table at Casual, his triangle-shaped restaurant alongside the bar.
Though we chose this hotel to feed our art appetites, it is for the food that we shall return. Both nights we opted to dine here, drawn back by the tuna avocado molé nachos we devoured and a refreshing quinoa and baby spinach salad topped with citrus slices and goat’s cheese. My first night’s dinner of spaghetti arrabiata with lobster was followed by night number two’s delectably juicy cheeseburger with a generous dash of vegetable goulash. Even the drinking water, an Austrian import called Vöslauer impressed us, as did the homemade pretzel bread served with pepper butter and Spanish olive oil. Dutifully jogging all that indulgence off the next mornings allowed me to further appreciate our location alongside Berlin’s greenest enclave as well as the imposing grey-stone mansion itself, which had already begun to feel like home.