Hotel De Rome – Berlin’s Historic Bebelplatz Reviewed

The building housing Hotel De Rome on Berlin’s historic Bebelplatz hasn’t always been a hotel, but it has always housed well-healed crowds. From 1889 until 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the building served as a bank headquarters, and many of the building’s original fixtures and fittings have been preserved and re-imagined, giving this modern hotel a historic twist. For the past decade, Hotel De Rome has housed guests here in Berlin’s Mitte district, right in the thick of it in the former East Berlin, moments from iconic tourist attractions like Museum Island, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, as well as hipper new foodie neighbourhoods like Kreuzberg.

Reception

The polished marble Romanesque columns and grand stone flooring of the former bank remain, but the formal feel they lend this grand space has been challenged by modern design touches by Tommaso Ziffer and Olga Polizzi, who have lightened the mood with suave velvet sofas that punctuate every corner of the room, and a statement hanging neon artwork birdcage – startling in red – above an arrangement of fresh flowers that changes with the seasons.

The Bar and Restaurant

La Banca serves modern Italian food in a stylish room on the ground floor. The historic space has been sympathetically modernised to house floor-to-ceiling glass windows; a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stately restaurant. It’s best to dine during the day, for cared-for buffet breakfasts or lunch, as you’ll be able to see out the windows into the lush greenery of the patio. It’s sadly not lit at night. We could hear live music coming from the bar, but there were more people in the dining room when we ate which made the physical separation between drinking and dining seem rather arbitrary, but still the bar is a simple space with a promising list of cocktails, and bar food.

From the a La Carte, we swerved the red meat to enjoy abundant fish dishes when we dined; our waiter convinced us of the freshness of the catch by simply bringing it out on a trolley, for all to see. There’s formal elements – our dragon head fish for two was filleted front-of-house (excellently) by our waiter – but the wine service was fresher and conversational; our excellent sommelier pairing dish to dish (his affiliation for German wines, notably Riesling, did not go unmissed) and a genuine sense of care for the German viticulture was felt. Other dishes not to miss included a raw seafood tartare, though it could have done with a citrus kick, a boisterous dish of octopus, oregano and tomato, and a tagliatelle (the pasta is made in-house) with pistachio and king prawns to write home about. My guest was irked to miss the beef fillet but felt glad after the dragon head, in its homemade sauce, was a dizzying array of flavour and texture. It’d be nice to turn the outdoors lights on at night and get some music going, otherwise the space services best informally, during the day.

The Rooms

The high ceilings of the former bank carry the weight of history in their walls; if you’re treating someone then book a first-floor historic suite (formerly the bank directors’ offices) and sleep beside wooden upholstered walls lined with bullet shrapnel from the Second World War. The rooms retain their original timber fittings, coffered ceilings and weird hidden doorways in bookshelves, so if you’re a Bond enthusiast you’ll picture Bernard Lee’s M sitting with fire in his eyes in this very spot.

But downsize and you’ll be pampered anyway; I was chuffed to spot bespoke Malin + Goetz products in the bathroom of every room, made exclusively for Hotel De Rome. The peppermint shampoo gets my vote, and the extra effort extends to a delicious vitamin b5 moisturiser from the brand (a few of which left the hotel smuggled in my weekend bag). Why, then, is there a 7 Euro Milka bar in the fridge? I know plenty of artisan chocolatiers that would bite at such a chance as to be stocked in this luxurious five-star hotel. Back to the pluses. There’s a gorgeously ornate hand-drawn map of the Mitte area of Berlin the hotel resides in in your stationary set that’s worth smuggling home too.

Coffee drinkers will take at least 8 minutes deliberating over which fancy coffee pod to use from the in-room coffee machine, but kettles for tea need to be requested ahead of time, which felt like a fuss.

The Facilities

One floor below ground the hotel offers a fully-functional gym, open from 6am until 10pm, and a spa, with sauna and steam room. I’m relieved to find a good selection of teas here (!) and there’s fruit-laced spring water to pour yourself, and apples to take from the complimentary healthy bar. The 20-metre swimming pool is now in the place of the former jewellery vault, and the original granite columns you’ll see in old photos are now half-sunken in the pool, reimagined in the modern design. A varied selection of massages and wellness treatments are available, culminating in the hotel’s ultimate novelty, a former vault of the bank that now serves as a massage room, and/or private dining space. You get a gritty sense of this room’s prior occupation as you pass through the vault’s door (the door is twice the size of my torso, I’m not thin) but it’s the hotel’s best, and most unique, bookable space.

Behind the restaurant, at the hotel’s rear there’s an opulent ballroom, suitable for weddings and corporate functions and anything in-between, that previously served as the bank’s main hall.

Afternoon tea is also served in wintertime from the lobby, but go from April to September for rooftop drinking, on the Champagne garden overlooking the University buildings, the Opera and the Bebelplatz, famous for being the scene of the Burning of the Books in the war.

Conclusion

An opulent, and ultimately classical, hotel in the beating heart of Berlin’s Mitte district, where warm service suits all walks of visitor.

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