In almost every corner of Berlin, you can now find an ‘art hotel’, which could be anything from a five-star boutique with a curated selection of paintings and sculptures, to edgy installation projects with bookable beds for adventurous guests. Here’s the best of the bunch:
It would be difficult to imagine a more bizarre hotel anywhere in the world than Propeller Island City Lodge (Albrecht Achilles Strasse 58; +49 (0)30 891 9016, www.propeller-island.com; singles from €69, doubles from €94). Love it or loathe it, it’s impossible to deny that it’s one of a kind. Each of the 30 rooms, situated on the second to fourth floors of an apartment building, is the personal vision of Lars Stroschen, and all are truly, madly, wildly different.
Stepping into Room 27: Grandma’s is like visiting an elderly relative, but instead of the inevitable stacks of old newspapers piled on the floor, they laminate the walls. A frilly lamp, small bed and photo of grandma appear to complete the room, but there’s more to this Oma than meets the eye. Step into the wardrobe, and the back opens, Narniaesque, into a full bathroom.
Lucky grandchildren might play for a while in Room 3: Castle, where the bed is a palace and the walls the city it rules over. Naughty ones are sent instead to Room 26: Freedom, with its prison bed hanging from the wall, a few centimetres from the spartan toilet and sink, and next to a giant hole in the brickwork, seemingly dug by inmates attempting to escape their confinement. Or perhaps they were trying to get away from the residents of Room 31: Gruft, where two coffins provide sleeping quarters for the undead.
The swishest suite is Room 42: Two Lions. Cages on platforms and circus-tent curtains see the tamer become the tamed as the rooms’ guests are the show (to each other). Wannabe Einsteins will boggle at the black-and-white checkerboard equations in Room 2: Symbol, while those more prone to blue-sky thinking will feel at home in Room 11: Flying Bed, with its slanted floor and airborne bed. Glamourpusses can soak up the spotlight in Room 14: Hol(l)y-Wood, where the room’s armchair glows and curvaceous wooden steps lead to a stage, set off by a rose-tinted bathroom.
In my room, 25: Gallery, my husband scales a pole with metal rungs to reach a platform chair that’s two metres off the ground. At the same time, to a background of eerie music especially composed for the room, I wind a cumbersome hand winch that turns the circular bed 360 degrees. I feel like a worker in the underground factory-world of the 1927 German film Metropolis, being assessed under the watchful eye of Joh Fredersen, the creator of the city’s dual worlds. Like Fredersen, Propeller Island’s Stroschen sees himself as an inventor of an alternative, somewhat Utopian reality, with guests as residents expected to play a role in this bizarre universe.
Looking up from my factory underworld (or when lying in bed), I see exposed pipework creating a maze on the ceiling, bare patches of wall where the paint has been rubbed away, and rough patches on the wood floor, offering splinters to anyone who goes near.
Harsh granite and concrete form the surfaces of the bathroom, only partially concealed from prying eyes with transparent blue Perspex. Using the bathroom’s decontamination-style shower is a virtual impossibility for anyone shorter than 1.7 metres, as the taps are frustratingly out of reach. Conversely (or perversely), anyone taller than two metres will bang their heads or feet on the metal frame of the circular bed.
Yet despite the hint of menace in the decor and the irritating inconveniences, the room is strangely fun. Empty metal picture frames hover above the bed, offering anyone brave enough to climb to the platform seat different perspectives of sleeping beauty below. Two Bauhaus-style chairs are as comfortable as they are quirky. And the surety that you’ll never stay in another hotel like this one makes it worth the minor hassle (and splinter) or two. After all,as the owner makes clear on the website and throughout the hotel, Propeller Island is an art installation first and hotel second, so only the adventurous need apply.
Beyond the world of Propeller Island, the streets of Charlottenburg are surprisingly conventional, with wide, leafy avenues, pleasant shops and attractive apartment blocks. Before the fall of the Wall (or the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart, as it was known in East Berlin), this was the neighbourhood of choice for the art elite. From the early 1990s, however, galleries and artists migrated to the newly open areas east of Tiergarten, leaving the area somewhat cut off from creative energy.
Now Charlottenburg is slowly being rediscovered, and a handful of key galleries have moved back in. Seek out Factory Art (Mommsenstrasse 27; www.factory-art.com) in an underground cellar, where you’ll find the works of promising young international artists, and explore contemporary German paintings and sculpture at Galerie Michael Schultz (Mommsenstrasse 34; www.galerie-schultz.de).
After experiencing a night at Propeller Island, the serene five-star Brandenburger Hof (Eislebener Strasse 14; +49 (0)30 214 050, www.brandenburger-hof.com; doubles from €225), just a few streets away, feels like the Utopia of wealthy citizens above the factory underworld. Art dealers, curators and collectors, opera lovers and philharmonic fans mingle in the glass-roofed lounge-garden, reflecting on the mutli-faceted human-shaped mirror by Bulgarian-born Berlin artist Mariana Vassileva. A meal of gourmet new Nordic cuisine in the hotel’s Michelin-starred Die Quadriga restaurant takes place under the ruby glow of Four Girls on a Swing by Spanish artist Salustiano. Rooms feature iconic furnishings by Bauhaus and Modernist designers, including Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Eileen Gray and Frank Lloyd Wright.
While Brandenburger Hof is the hotel of choice for the art world’s elite, if you want to feel like you’re spending the night at a museum, book into the four-star Arte Luise Kunsthotel (Luisenstrasse 19; +49 (0)30 284 480, www.luise-berlin.com; doubles from €79). Each of the 52 guest rooms of Luise has been handed over to a different artist, who has been given full reign to create whatever masterpiece they like out of the space available.
Berlin first-timers might want to ponder Moritz Götze’s triptych in Room 432: Berlin History. The cartoon-and-newspaper reliquary trots from the country’s Prussian history through to modern times, and a window-ledge panel points out city highlights, with a telescope to help you locate them. Or explore the city’s geography and recent past in Room 307: Berlin City Puzzle. Scattered on the walls are paintings, objects and collages by Jo Oberhäuser, documenting the last few decades of the 20th century. For a more personal perspective, Guido Sieber’s Room 211: Die Berliner Gesellschaft (Berlin Society) showcases caricatures of prominent and ordinary Berliners.
For something saucier, check into Elvira Bach’s Room 101: Drei Damen in Rot (Three Women in Red), which exudes seductive feminine power. The bold black-and-white interior features a solitary wall of red, and painted on it, a woman in three stages of dress (or undress, depending on your perspective). Nathalie Daoust’s Room 206: Cabaret channels the seductively seedy air of Liza Minelli’s famous film, portraying the naughty dance shows of the jazz age via a barely clad mannequin prancing on the dado rail.
Wannabe aristocrats bed down in Room 102: Königssiute (Royal Suite), where German painter Thomas Baumgärtel has sprayed his signature fruit – along with a few banana-yellow crowns – all over the gold-and-velvet room. What started 25 years ago as graffiti art has now come to be seen as a symbol of quality, with the “Banana Sprayer” leaving his mark at “interesting art locations” throughout Berlin and Germany, as well as in Austria, Switzerland, London, Paris, New York and Moscow. You’ll spot plenty of them on the streets around Arte Luise.
I’m feeling ogled again in my room at the Luise, but this time it’s from the huge eyes of a life-sized bronze owl, painted midnight blue, looking down from the top of the wardrobe. A filigree pelican perches on a tree trunk in the middle of the room, with the steely glare of a jaguar staring at it from a vast painting above the bed. Africa comes to Germany, courtesy of Berlin nature-artist Dieter Finke in Room 104: Safari. Nature also makes an appearance in Room 422: Nest, where a bird beak protrudes one metre from the wall above the bed, keeping an eye on its enormous eggs, which rest on the walls and take the form of sci-fi-style nightstands.
The space-age gets another makeover in Room 431: Future Comfort, a serene space dominated by a cocoon-shaped shower imagined into reality by Jochen Schmiddem. He went on to create a set for Spielberg’s film Minority Report and also designed the furniture and fittings for Arte Luise’s reception and lobby.
Step out of Arte Luise and you’ll stumble across an art gallery every few steps. Miriam Bers of GoArt! Berlin (www.goart-berlin.de), who provide art tours and consultancy, explains that “A good artist must be exhibited in Berlin nowadays, like London ten years ago.” This might explain why a city with a population of 3.4 million now has 450 art galleries, with a significant number of them found in a handful of streets around Arte Luise.
“In the 1990s, artists moved into this area, newly opened since the fall of the Wall, because it was cheap,” says Miriam of this part of Mitte. “And like everywhere, first the artists come, then the galleries come, then the money comes, and suddenly, everything is more expensive.” What was an edgy, hip district just over a decade ago has already become a grande dame on the city’s art scene.
Stroll down Oranienburger, Invalidenstrasse and Auguststrasse (nicknamed Gallery Street), all just a few steps from the hotel, to buy (or just browse) works by the world’s leading contemporary artists.
The newest gallery to make its mark on Auguststrasse is Me (Auguststrasse 68; +49 (0)30 86 00 8510, www.me-berlin.com), although it functions more as a museum than sales room. Chemist, doctor and endocrinologist Thomas Olbricht has spend the past 25 years creating one of the most extensive private collections in Europe, and Me is to Berlin what the Saatchi Gallery is to London. Olbricht’s taste runs to the philosophical, with themes of death and transience playing key roles, leading some to describe the collection as creepy. Skulls, skeletal part-feathered giant birds, disembodied heads and grotesque figurines make up a significant portion of the collection. If catacombs and crypts are your thing, check it out. If not, just stop off in the café for an espresso with the area’s influential art elite.
Nearby is another personal gallery, but this is one you can sleep in. Former gallery curator Christiane Waszkowiak promotes new artists via her 30-room mitArt Hotel and Café (Linienstrasse 139 – 140; +49 (0)30 2839 0430; doubles from €110), with a small selection of works in the rooms and cafes by her favourite up-and-comers, including Jens P Drichel, Jeanne Fredac, Babara Gockel, Gerhard Knodel, Annette Kühl and Brigitte Städler.
Around the corner from mitArt is a dichotomy: a long-established counterculture art collective. You’re as likely to see wasted hippies as Jil Sander-suited scouts in search of rising talent at Kunsthaus Tacheles (Oranienburger Strasse 54-56a; +49 (0)30 282 6185, http://super.tacheles.de/cms/), where creatives from around the world have come for 20 years to paint, sculpt and design anything and everything. As expected in a squat-cum-hovel-cum-exhibition, found art and graffiti feature heavily, but the work of some residents is surprisingly professional, and there’s even an occasionally open café (Zapata) and nightclub (Studio 54) popular with art students.
If they can’t bag a coveted six-month residency at Kunsthaus Tacheles, young artists flock to Flamingo Beach Lotel (Lichtenrader Strasse 32; +49 (0)30 440 45286, +49 (0)172 623 4045, www.L32.hainweh.de; single bed in a shared room €19, private double room €32), which dubs itself a “living project”. Like Luise, each room is designed by a different artist, but whereas the Luis’s room designers are all known artists, the rooms in Flamingo Beach show more youthful energy than professionalism. Some are strokes of genius, others more amateurish, but this fits in with the ethos. After all, unlike the Luise, this is meant to be an experimental environment, and it’s suitably aimed at those who might feel more comfortable in a hostel or convivial hotel rather than those in search of retreat from chaos. A room with a bed fashioned from cardboard and packaging tape explains: “Fold yourself asleep”. Another has silver birch trees glued to the walls, with the ceiling painted to resemble a sky, giving the feeling of sleeping in a forest. Soft toys play prominent roles in more than one of the rooms. And the ever-present zoom of planes from next-door Tempelhof Airport ensures that socialising is easier than sleeping.
Those over the age of 25 might find the nearby Berlin Artist Apartment (9 Simon Dach Strasse; [no phone] www.berlinartistapartment.com; four-person flat from €89) a more attractive option. Situated in fashionable Friedrichshain, this comfortable flat has been time-warped from the 1940s, complete with mid-century furnishings, childlike paintings, three-dimensional framed pieces and carefully grouped collections of objets.
Sophisticates might prefer to sashay into the sleek Oberholz Apartments (Rosenthaler Strasse 72a; +49 (0)30 240 855 86, www.sanktoberholz.de; from €220 per night, plus €25 final cleaning charge), bang in the middle of trendy Mitte and a stone’s throw from the twinkling eye of TV Tower. The parquet floors, cream walls and dark chocolate interiors are evocative of a swanky design hotel, but with the bonus of 125sq m space. Three bedrooms, a kitchen, lounge and dining room make this a place you can spread out, entertain or even hold business meetings. The art here is more subtle than in-your-face Propeller Island or Flamingo Beach. A cow grazes the walls in the dining room, while a rooster struts behind the futon in the smallest bedroom. A hive-shaped city of tiny black-and-white houses rests above the sleepers in another bedroom. Artists are all from the Berlin art scene, including Felix Broede, Luci & Coma, s.wert and Gerard Janssen.
Best of all, each apartment has three balconies overlooking buzzy Rosenthaler Platz, a popular meeting point where West has merged into East to create a mish-mash ménage of traditional bars and tres-chic eateries, quirky boutiques and big-name retailers, established galleries and rebellious graffiti artists. Metropolis crashes into reality in ghetto-glorious technicolour. See it before the scene changes.