A historic hotel to stay in sophisticated Berlin – in collaboration with Hotel Art Nouveau, provided by Crumbs of Rain
Hotel Art Nouveau and the Art of Staying Still
When I descend to the street level from Savignyplatz S-Bahn station, an uplifting sight welcomes me to this Western Berlin district: a row of bookshops with a café attached is tucked away in the red-bricked archways supporting the train tracks. On the other side of the narrow walkway, red and white checked table clothes cover the small tables of an Italian restaurant. A few Berliners dressed in dark winter clothes are strolling towards the station – unlike in London, which is EU’s only city bigger than Berlin, no one here seems to be in a hurry: in Berlin, time seems to tick in its own pace, and no one seems to be interested in running after public transport.
I did not know what to expect from my first visit to Berlin but for sure it wasn’t this: a leisurely, elegantly sophisticated yet urbane atmosphere.
Savignyplatz’s area is the former West Berlin’s bohemian district, but after the times of the wall and division, many West Berlin art laborers moved to the edgier East Berlin governed by punk and outspoken alternative cultures. Nevertheless, Savignyplatz has recently experienced a cultured boom, and an atmosphere of elegant intelligence prevails on its streets.
Savignyplatz is situated in prosperous Charlottenburg district of former West Berlin, and you can reach it in about fifteen minutes with public transport from city centre Berlin. Berlin’s tourist offices provide different priced “WelcomeCards” for public transport, which proved to be very handy. The blocks around Charlottenburg are strikingly lucky, as the streets are lined with several houses which survived the II World War devastation. The street levels are now filled with flower and clothes shops, art galleries and various ethnic restaurants from local German cuisine to Thai and Italian restaurants.
One of the old surviving buildings in the area is Hotel Art Nouveau, where I am going to spend my first night in Berlin. The building was constructed in 1906 and is one of Berlin’s oldest buildings used as a hotel. The oldest building that has been continuously used as a hotel is The Savoy only a few blocks from here.
Hotel Art Nouveau is located in Leibnizstrasse, named after a famous German mathematician and philosopher W.G. Leibniz. The ground floor is classically bourgeois with white and peach colored walls and grand, glittering mirrors. The most striking element in the lobby is an original Jugend, that is Art Nouveau, elevator. When you step into the elevator, apart from the iron doorway, there are wooden framed glass doors to close behind you. Inside the elevator, there are two narrow wooden benches – I can imagine how during the over hundred years of the building’s existence elderly housewives have rested their feet sitting on these benches, letting their shopping bags lean against their ankles, or how business men dressed in slightly worn suites have sat here with hats on their laps, just to take a moment’s break before stepping into the domestic sphere from their busy business lives.
In the corridors of the building, there lingers an atmosphere of lived history, and you step into the hotel on the fourth floor as you were visiting a home: by ringing the doorbell. Gerd, who has amicably welcomed me in the capacity of Crumbs of Rain, greeted me and soon showed me to my room, which for a writing traveller was balm to the eyes: an old wooden desk was inviting me to spend a few moments writing before the sun set behind the low rooftops in the horizon, and it was time to go and explore Berlin in the nighttime.
In the morning Gerd was in the breakfast room, wishing me and my sidekick, who had joined me last night, good morning.
And a good morning it indeed was! The night in the hotel had been peaceful: you don’t need to suffer from noises next door or wake up in the middle of the night when other guests stumble back to their rooms in the early hours of the morning.
Gerd kindly showed us what the breakfast included: a samovar for hot water, selection of teas, meats, cheeses, cereal, muesli, nuts and yoghurts. A big bread basket contained fresh croissants and selection of bread rolls and rye breads. Food is organic whenever possible, and the atmosphere very easy going and cosy. In fact, it is the hotel’s principle to create a space for a home-like feel in the middle of a big city. The coffee was waiting in a thermos, but this did not worry the coffee snob in me: after a few basic brews in Berlin, I had deducted that Berliners make a good cup of coffee, which makes the weak Finnish filters pale in comparison. Literally.
When travelling, or actually, in general, breakfasts are one of life’s little highlights, and from all the breakfasts during my existence, the breakfast in Hotel Art Nouveau was one of the most memorable. And this was not achieved only by the good quality of foodstuff, but especially by the atmosphere in the room and the view from the windows. A German radio channel was playing in the smallish breakfast room and on the balcony of the opposite building, an elderly gentleman with a bushy grey hair aired his thoughts in a striped morning gown – Berliners do not seem to care what other people might make of them.
And for a moment, I could imagine living in the area, which is a feeling you don’t achieve in impersonal chain hotels and thus one of the reasons why I choose these historic, often family owned hotels to stay in during my travels.
While we were slurping our morning coffees Gerd told us how after the II World War the hotel had been a typical German home: a widow had owned it and rented out her rooms to people who needed them. Now, Hotel Art Nouveau has 22 rooms in total in two floors.
Soon the breakfast room started to fill up with other guests and Gerd, with a coffee cup in his hand, moved to wish his good mornings. And even though I cannot speak German I think some of the guests were regulars: one lady was in Berlin for concerts and seemed to be enjoying the scenery behind the window, a middle-aged group of four were chatting over their breakfast rolls, and perhaps a businessman in town for work matters was flipping through the morning newspapers. No one (apart from myself…) took out their smartphones; the ethos seemed to prefer skimming through papers rather than The Internet, time was let pass without an electronic interference.
So thank you elegantly sophisticated Berlin, thank you historic Hotel Art Nouveau! You remind the travellers constantly checking their Instagram accounts of the good old virtues of staying still and taking in the moment: with the aid of the rustle of the newspaper and a good cup of coffee, you remind us of the art of staying still and just looking out the window.