Whether you are visiting Berlin to explore its history, indulge in fine dining and shopping or enjoy the nightlife of this vibrant city, you will find the Hotel Zoo Berlin is the uber stylish retreat at the heart of the action.
With a top location on the main Kurfürstendamm (Ku’Damm) with its high-end shops, world-class restaurants and cafe culture, it is the perfect base from which to discover the diverse attractions of Berlin.
This charming hotel has a glamorous history and, with the elegant yet quirky interiors and outstanding hospitality, combined with the exquisite cuisine at fine dining restaurant GRACE, guests can be sure of a stay that will be unforgettable.
Built in 1891 by famed architect Alfred Messel, the building was transformed into a hotel in 1911 and began its life as one of Berlin’s most fashionable hotspots, the Hotel Am Zoo. During the heady days of the roaring twenties the hotel became a favourite haunt of artisits, bohemians and socialites, and saw guests such as Marlene Dietrich and writer Thomas Mann.
The hotel escaped damage during WW2 Allied bombing and flourished again in the 50s becoming the official VIP hotel of the Berlin International Film Festival. So, once again, it became one of the places to see and be seen for celebrities and stars such as Grace Kelly.
Fast forward to 2012 and the hotel closed for the first time in its history for a two-year renovation headed by US designer Dayna Lee. Having worked on Hollywood set design she used her expertise to bring a sense of unique flair to the hotel, creating a townhouse feel and incorporating original features with a fine attention to detail.
Reopened as Hotel Zoo Berlin, the hotel has now entered its latest re-incarnation as one of Berlin’s most sought after and exclusive boutique accommodations and trendy nightspots.
This six storey building with its original sandstone facade and gilt balcony railings has a discreet entrance which I nearly missed several times – look out for the plant pots outside!
Coming off the busy street and through the glass doors I entered the double-height bare-bricked foyer which leads to the reception area. A carpet decorated with leopards cushioned my arrival along the catwalk lined with exotic plants, hurricane lamps and leather seating.
I love quirky design details and the walnut reception desk decorated with pressed flowers beneath black glass was my first clue that I was going to like this hotel…a lot.
The ambience throughout is stylish, but not stuffy, and there are nods to the nearby zoo but not too kitsch. Bright colours and artwork are bold but do not overwhelm, there is nothing bland here, individuality reigns!
As I was shown to my room by bellman Dieter, we passed through the living room which was the star of the show for me. Formerly a courtyard it has now been re-imagined as a lofty yet cosy space. Double-height ceilings, white walls and exposed brickwork and dark wood floors are softened by plush raspberry pink sofas, green and brown leather seating and glass top side tables and reading lamps.
A double sided fireplace is flanked by floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Winter Garden, one of two outside spaces on the ground floor. On the opposite wall is the original six-metre walnut door, preserved as a reminder of the hotel’s history.
The lift had a cute feature, when guests get in a lot of flashbulbs go off mimicking paparazzi. Luckily, they are not real as my face just registered blank horror, not my most flattering look. The hallways have huge mirrors along them, ideal for checking you are looking fab when off out for the night, or even just people watching in the living room.
All 127 rooms and 14 suites are uniquely designed with some showcasing the original brick walls and exposed steel beams of the original structure and others having a softer, contemporary decor.
My spacious high-ceilinged room was decorated in a soft palette of cream, white and brown with touches of lilac. With large windows and a mirrored wall reflecting even more light in, it was a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.
An entrance area held the wardrobe and amenities such as Nespresso and tea making facilities, mini bar, safety deposit box, hairdryer and umbrella. One slight snag was the trendy coffee cups, big but with no handles, so had to be carried in posh flannels!
Dark walnut furniture anchored the scheme and I liked the huge desk with a handmade leather writing box, complimentary water, crystal glasses and old style telephone.
The king size bed had a taupe button back headboard and was dressed with crisp white linen and plump pillows. Ideal for settling back, ordering room service and watching a film on the TV.
Pleated oversized lamps either side of the bed lent a warm glow to the early evening and, while some rooms have views over Kurfürstendamm or the city rooftops, mine was of the inner courtyard decorated with plants and giraffe sculptures.
I was intrigued by the rather racy framed photographs dotted about, it turned out they are from Swedish photographer Andreas Kock’s ” Stalker” series which he staged in the hotel after it closed for renovation. I think I had ” Rockstar” and “Poledancing”!
The bathroom was a restful haven in taupe and white, with more mirrors (including a magnified one, bonus points for that), fluffy bathrobes and towels from Belgian fashion boutique, Maison Martin Margiela and luxury cosmetic products by April Aromatics.
Food and drink
A memorable evening spent in GRACE restaurant was, by far, the highlight of my stay. The welcoming and friendly team headed by executive chef Martin Bruhn and restaurant manager and sommelier Benjamin Weidenberg made me feel right at home and I gave myself up to the mood, knowing I was in safe hands!
With over 20 years experience, Martin has been at the helm for five years and has confidently curated an exceptional menu of global cuisine inspired by South America and Asia.
He was keen for me to experience a range of dishes from across the menus (sharing plates, a la carte and seven or 10-course tasting) and said he aims to deliver complex, interesting combinations but in an easy way for people to understand.
Ben was the perfect host, a combination of easy charm and expert knowledge. At first, he was disappointed that I didn’t want to try the wines (one glass and I am tipsy with a bright red face) but we agreed he would talk me through each of his choices for my upcoming courses.
He explained that, unlike most Berlin restaurants, GRACE is unusual in that they showcase a lot of light Californian wines which complement the style of cuisine. World wines from Australia, South America and Europe are also on offer along with an impressive range of spirits, beers, ales and ciders.
Bringing in new ideas and trying something a little special is the order of the day. Wine flights are not set in stone and he pairs wines for each dish depending on individual tastes and pockets, even popping in a Norwegian cider with the tasting menu to cleanse the palate.
My culinary journey kicked off with mini tuna, beef and lobster tacos in a chili mayo, with lots of textures and strong flavours setting my tastebuds on fire. By the time I had indulged in the spicy miso pork belly with ginger and lime, then creamy rock shrimps with cashew nuts, green papaya and cilantro, I was out of superlatives to compliment Martin, having used up brilliant, fantastic and amazing.
Thai inspired salmon and coconut ceviche served with guacamole, tomatillo and banana chips, miso glazed zucchini with truffle and sweetcorn, tamarind foie gras with sugar snap peas, crispy panko and sweet basil, it just kept on coming, each artfully presented dish full of unique flavours that did not overwhelm but enhanced.
Traditional yet exotic, the Peruvian roasted lamb with roasted veg, celery and aji panca (a Peruvian red pepper) was like a little mini Sunday roast with a twist, and I finished my global tour with a Guanaja shock, a heavenly chocolate mousse with apples and blueberries. The burst of fruits and crunchy chocolate pieces in the mousse made a fresh tasting and sublime end to a very special evening.
GRACE bar is an atmospheric space and with its low lighting, velvet and leather seating it makes the perfect spot for pre or post dinner drinks. Large wooden animal sculptures, flower filled vases and a library wall add interest to this cosy area.
As a nod to its history, the extensive drinks menu includes the finest Champagne and classic cocktails from the 1920s and 1950s with a modern twist. Anyone for a Cantonese Kitty Cat or Banyan Mule?
In fine weather, the place to be is the rooftop terrace, which offers a lounge and a bar area for up to 100 people. All round glazing protects against wind and the 270 degree panoramic views over the city offer a stunning backdrop while top DJ s bump up the vibe with club tunes at the weekend.
Served against a backdrop of soft music, breakfast was an impressive selection of self-service and hot dishes cooked to order, from pancakes to porridge and, of course, caviar, darling.
There were well set out displays of antipasti, cold cuts, exotic fruit, yoghurts, cereals, meats and cheeses, juices and a good selection of breads, rolls and pastries. I pretty much had a bit of everything, but managed to resist the chocolate covered doughnuts that caught my eye. Instead, I satisfied my sweet tooth with honey straight from the honeycomb – a novel idea and a very tasty one too!
YI-SPA offers a selection of treatments including body massages, facial and body treatments while the 24-hour fully equipped gym gives guests a chance to keep up their fitness regime.
With 200 square metres of flexible conference and event space, the hotel can cater for business events with ease. State-of-the-art technical equipment is standard and lunch can be served by arrangement in GRACE restaurant.
The hotel concierge can organise everything from renting a Porsche to recommending art galleries and tours to suit your tastes. Cinema, theatre and opera tickets can be arranged and staff can help to plan excursions if you want to explore some of the natural environment that surrounds the city.
In a nutshell
A true gem, this luxury hotel has it all; a top Berlin location, stylish and sassy interiors and a restaurant that serves outstanding cuisine. Quirky and fun, a memorable stay is guaranteed!
Rooms can be booked from £119 pppn.
Address: Kurfürstendamm 25, 10719 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 884370
Photography courtesy of Hotel Zoo Berlin, excluding the image of dessert credited to Catherine Gratwicke