As tourists have begun to twig that it's a relatively affordable destination as well as a friendly one, new hotels are appearing in all categories, shapes and sizes.
The 364-room Meliá at Friedrichstrasse station, from the Spanish Sol Meliá chain, lends its cool, modern silhouette to the Spree. While it's perhaps not the nicest of façades, it should prove a popular choice for the stop-over business crowd. Unfortunately for it, however, it sits just across the bridge from the Artist Riverside Hotel – one of the most affordable and delightfully over-the-top hotels we've ever encountered.
For more majestic fare, the Hotel de Rome, a luxurious addition to Unter den Linden, comes courtesy of the Rocco Forte Collection. Plush it certainly is, but it's also surprisingly friendly. An additional 2,000 rooms are now underway at various sites around Alexanderplatz, as well as plans for Berlin-Mitte's first easyHotel – a no-frills enterprise of basic beds in pre-fab units (in easyJet's signature orange, and likewise inexpensive.)
That's just East Berlin. Although Mitte continues to spruce up and expand, attention is once again returning to the West, and rightly so. After an initial defection to the 'new' Berlin, many hotel owners are now focusing again on the old West's charms.
The Spanish Silken Group is putting the finishing touches to 205 rooms in a hotel near the KaDeWe, due to open in early 2009. A recent addition to the scene is the Hotel Ellington on Nürnberger Strasse. This extraordinarily cool and elegant hotel, perhaps the most important addition to the city skyline, truly – and finally – brings some modern world-class sophistication to Berlin.
Note than smoking is now forbidden in all German hotels – both in public spaces and in private rooms.
The city's historic administrative quarter is alive and well, with an ever-growing number of hotels in all price brackets, and many new beds planned over the next couple of years. While many tourists have started to defect towards less trafficked areas, the faded post-Wall hip of one of the city's oldest quarters is still a hotspot. You may not find much of the historic pension charm of Charlottenburg here, but for shopping and sightseeing it's one of the more exciting parts of Berlin.
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Friedrichshain hasn't quite panned out as the city's new bohemia, but with decent transport connections, a still somewhat 'Eastie' alternative feel, good cafés and lots of nightlife, it continues to be a great area to stay in, especially if you're on a tight budget.
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From the cool of Kastanienallee to the funky chic of Helmholzplatz, this neighbourhood just north of Mitte may be charming, but it has a surprising dearth of decent hotels.
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The former centre of (West) Berlin's alternative scene, Kreuzberg has some of the city's most picturesque streets, liveliest markets, coolest cafés and most interesting alternative venues. Don't miss the post-Mitte renaissance on Schlesische Strasse.
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This is the smart end of town, with fine dining and elegant shopping, where five-star luxury hotels sit happily alongside the traditional charms of pensions housed in grand Gründerzeit townhouses.
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Wilmersdorf may not be the most interesting of areas, but it does play host to Berlin's most decadent luxury hotel (Schlosshotel im Grunewald Berlin, Brahmsstrasse 10, www.schlosshotelberlin.com), its most discreet hotel (Brandenburger Hof Hotel, Eislebener Strasse 14, www.brandenburger-hof.com), its coolest designer hotel (Ku'Damm 101, Kurfürstendamm 101, www.kudamm101.com), its wackiest hotel (Propeller Island, Albrecht Achilles Strasse 58, www.propeller-island.com) and the world's oldest women-only hotel (Frauenhotel Artemisia, Brandenburgische Strasse 18, www.frauenhotel-berlin.de).
With an average four-star room price of €140 per night, Berlin still ranks down among the least expensive European capitals – compared, at least, to €314 in London, €298 in Paris, €221 in Moscow, €192 in Rome, or even €174 in Amsterdam.
Many of the larger hotels now refuse to publish any rates at all, depending instead on direct booking over the Internet (for which many offer a discount), which enables them to vary their prices daily according to need and greed. It's wise to reserve in advance whenever possible: on any given weekend in Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg many hotels are extremely busy. Be wary of cancellation policies too: it's best to ask before you book.
Berlin Tourismus Marketing
This privatised tourist service can sort out hotel reservations as well as tickets for shows and travel arrangements to Berlin. It provides a free booklet covering more than 400 hotels – but note that the hotels have paid to be included. It also has lists for campsites, apartments and holiday homes (the latter costs €1.50). Its website is quite comprehensive, although much of it is only in German and there are no phone numbers or direct links to hotels – you have to book through BTM. This can work to your advantage, however, as it makes deals with hotels and often offers discounts. Allow plenty of time if you visit one of the Berlin BTM branches: the staff here are often inattentive. Booking online or by phone is recommended and also saves you a €3 fee.
Am Karlsbad 11, 10785 (2647 48801/www.btm.de). U1 Kurfürstenstrasse. Reservations/information (250 025/www.visitBerlin.de). Other locations Hauptbahnhof, Neues Kranzler Eck, Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Pavillon at the Reichstag.
If you want to explore the campsites of Berlin or surrounding Brandenburg, ask for a camping map from one of the BTM information offices, or download a PDF from its website (www.visitberlin.de). The campsites are far out of the city, so check timetables for last buses if you want to enjoy the city's nightlife. Prices don't vary much between sites: for tents, you'll pay about €5; for caravans, €7, plus €5 per person (€4 for 3-14s). More information can be obtained from the Deutscher Camping Club.
The three official youth hostels in Berlin – ugendgästehaus-International (261 1097), Jugendgästehaus am Wannsee (803 2034) and Jugendherberge Ernst Reuter (404 1610) – all have single-sex dormitories. They're crammed most of the year, so make sure you reserve your place in advance.
You can book online or call the hostels directly. You have to be a member of the YHA to stay in them; to obtain a membership card, go to the Mitgliederservice des DJH Berlin International (also known as the Jugend-Zentrale). Take your passport and a passport-sized photo. Junior membership (under 26s) costs €12.50; family membership is €21. Individual hostels also have a day membership deal – you pay an extra €3.10 per day.
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For a longer stay, call a Mitwohnagentur (flat-seeking agency). Agencies can find you a room in a shared house or furnished flat for anything from a week to a couple of years. Start looking at least a month ahead, especially at holiday times. This is all private accommodation: you will be living in someone's home, often with furniture and belongings.
If you're staying for a couple of weeks and find something through a Mitwohnagentur, you will probably pay €50-€80 a night. For longer stays, agencies charge different rates. Ask for the total figure, including fees, before booking.
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