“ Address: Gabriele-Tergit-Promenade 19 10963 Berlin / Tel: +49 30 700 779 0 „
An article in today's Times lists planning a holiday as one of the nine secrets of contentment. Why? Well, a recent study published by the Dutch Breda University concluded (after interviewing 1500 people) that it was the planning rather than the taking of a holiday that gives us a significant boost to our happiness; apparently the anticipation of a trip is preferable to the reality of travelling (having travelled by Easyjet, I can perhaps believe this). But the thought of flying cattle class sat next to a stag party aside, I certainly do enjoy planning my trips. Holidays, for me, generally require a great deal of research and reading of guidebooks and travel websites. They require months of preparation. Yet during a recent phone call to wish my mum a happy birthday, something strange happened: I was struck by an uncharacteristic desire to be spontaneous. My mum's birthday was one of those landmark ones and we both ended up bemoaning the fact that we wouldn't be travelling anywhere with our respective husbands that year. Mine was too busy, while my dad is just not one for travelling. Struck by this and a desire that mum should get to mark her birthday by more than just a lacklustre meal at a local restaurant, the words "do you fancy a weekend away?" just popped out. Half an hour later, and we had agreed to go to Berlin for a long weekend in mid-March.
Without my usual weeks of comparison, contemplation and research to fall back on, I let Expedia guide the way in choosing our hotel. Our requirements were for a twin room costing under £250 for 3 nights, somewhere close to the places we most wanted to visit, and preferably a hotel that would feel like a bit of a treat for my mum. I had suspected that these would end up being incompatible aims, but for once the shopping gods were on our side: out-of-season prices happily combined with an Expedia special offer to give us the Scandic Postdamer Platz - a four star hotel in central Tiergarten which had a twin room for £207 for the 3 nights we wanted. I was unfamiliar with the Scandic name, but the price and location were good and the Expedia reviews positive, so I booked.
=== The Area ===
Located just off Potsdamer Platz, the Scandic is in an excellent location for exploring Berlin. Despite its name, Potsdamer Platz is more than just a square; it is now a whole quarter of the city and a showcase for urban renewal. Once the home of luxury hotels and fashionable nightclubs, the life was drawn from the area in the Second World War, and it was later famously bifurcated by the Wall and the "death strip" surrounding it was several hundred metres wide here. After 1989 developers snapped up this land to create a vibrant reinterpretation of the old Platz, and it now has one of the most popular shopping malls in Berlin, Europe's largest casino, three multiplex cinemas and a host of restaurants and bars. Within a 20 minute walk of the hotel you can easily access the Brandenburg Gate, Sony Centre, New National Gallery, Holocaust memorial, Checkpoint Charlie Museum, the Berlin Hi-Flyer and a range of other museums. The Platz is also something of a public transport hub, which makes it an excellent starting point for exploring further into the city.
=== The Hotel ===
Unless you travel regularly around northern Europe, Scandic are probably a chain that you haven't heard of before; I certainly hadn't before booking my stay with them. Based in Sweden, the chain has 160 hotels located mostly in Scandinavia, but is now expanding into Belgium, Holland, Germany and Poland. Their Berlin branch, just off Potsdamer Platz, is one of their newest hotels. And while it may be in Germany, the interior couldn't be anything other than Swedish. Imagine if Ikea did a premium line, and you will be some way to imagining what it is like.
The lobby is a simple white affair with comfortable seating and terribly efficient staff. Having heard some horror stories of other Expedia bookings not reaching the hotel, I had emailed in a panic to ensure everything was in place; I got a reply from reception within the hour calmly reassuring me that my room was booked. Check in was quick and courteous, and within a couple of minutes we were heading for our room.
From the lifts onwards, the design of the hotel got a bit more...eclectic. To say the lifts had pictures of trees in them does not do them justice; the walls were decorated with one large forest picture, with a leaf canopy across the ceiling, all subtly lit from the background. Upon exiting four floors up, we found that the corridor walls and carpets had a silver birch design and hidden speakers played tracks of birdsong as you walked along them, which was quite a surreal experience. I guess it was intended to create relaxing atmosphere in the hotel, and it did raise a smile from us every time we walked along them.
Our room was an excellent example of why Scandinavian design is so popular; simple yet stylish, very comfortable and effortlessly practical. We had plenty of storage space, an easy to use safe, a recycling caddy (why can't other hotels do that?), mini fridge (note: not mini bar), hairdryer and two of the most comfortable beds I have ever found in hotels. The bathroom was expensively simple, and provided soap and shower gel dispensers mounted to the wall; well, the soap one was at any rate, the shower gel was left in its dispenser on the side of the bath. I was rather glad I had brought my own with me, as when these dispensers are not mounted it is almost impossible to get the contents out of them. I notice from the website that you are supposed to get complimentary slippers, but these were not given to us - because we were on a cheap rate or because it was overlooked like repairing the dispenser was?
The first night I spent in the room, I found it awfully warm. The windows won't open very much for safety reasons, and they overlook a busy street, so noise is also a bit of an issue here. I guessed there had to be some sort of climate control, but couldn't find it and went to bed as it was late. By the morning the window had swung closed in the night and the room was stifling. I found what I was looking for when I went looking for a morning news report - it turns out that the control panel for the room is in the TV (any messages from reception also pop up here - you get a message alert waiting for you on screen, so at least they are easier to find than the temperature controls). You are limited to setting your desired room temperature to within a relatively small range and it doesn't seem to have a huge effect, so we resorted to propping the windows and curtain open while in the room, which seems a silly waste of heating in a hotel that wants to be sustainable.
=== Breakfast ===
The last time I stayed in a four star hotel, breakfast was a stuffily formal affair; we were shown to the table, had to order all our selections from the waiter, and were watched the whole time by another member of staff who appeared to be worried that anyone wearing jeans into their hotel might be about to make off with the cutlery once their back was turned. The result was a tortuously uncomfortable affair that might put me off hotel breakfasts for good, if the Scandic had not reminded me that it is possible for four star establishments to make their guests comfortable and relaxed at breakfast time. After a polite check on our room number, we were invited to enjoy our breakfast and left to sit where we wanted and help ourselves to what we wanted, with waiting staff quietly clearing the tables around us. The choice was simply stupendous; I won't waste your time by listing the options here, but the buffet (both hot and cold) was all of excellent quality and must surely have catered to every conceivable European breakfasting taste. We also found that we were able to make sandwiches from the buffet for lunch and carry them out in napkins without anyone being in the slightest bit bothered; worth noting if you end up paying the Euro20 charge.
===Concluding Thoughts ===
I may have been unfamiliar with the Scandic brand when I chose this hotel, but it is one I wouldn't hesitate to select again. Despite the little niggles of my room being a bit hot and the shower gel dispense not being fixed before we checked in, our stay was very comfortable and all the staff we encountered were helpful and polite. The location was excellent for anyone wanting to explore Berlin's history and culture - or do some shopping during their stay. It made my mum's birthday very memorable indeed.
We paid £69 per night for our twin room - Expedia listed the standard room rate at the time as £110.
If breakfast is not included in your room rate it costs Euro20 (approx £17.50 at the time of writing) per person.
The hotel has secure parking and a gym, but I didn't use these facilities.
The hotel meets EU Ecolabel standards for sustainability (http://www.eco-label.com/default.htm).
Scanic Berlin Potsdamer Platz
Phone: +49 30 700 779 0