Both Sides of the Wall in Berlin
The German capital is a city of dualities and dichotomies.
Berlin is a city of dichotomies like no other. Young compared to Rome, Paris, or London, it nevertheless exerts a weary gravitas thanks to its history. Political upheaval has come to all those cities, and there is plenty of evidence in each, but Berlin has the Wall, a historical milestone that represents ideological, metaphorical, and physical division; a trichotomy perhaps.
Yet the story of the Wall is history—recent for aging Germans who lived through the horrors of World War II and its construction by the East German GDR in the early ’60s, and ancient for anyone born within a few years of its demolition in the early ’90s. For the generation who grew up with a computer in every room and saw the rise and cultural domination of social media, the significance of the Wall, and its subsequent destruction, is a cultural footnote to be respected and honored as they make their way across the globe. And for the millennial on the move, Berlin is high on the list of stopovers.
As an enormous segment of the population, and raised for the most part in a stable political environment (well, no world war or global health crisis, at least) they are everywhere. It’s with this in mind that many new companies have sprung up to meet their demands, including Moxy, a fresh boutique hotel with the heart of a hostel, that recently opened its first Berlin outpost in the hip Friedrichshain district, coincidentally just a short walk from one of the longest remaining sections of the Wall. I checked in for their opening party and was witness to many of the surprises that make Berlin, and the hotel, unique.
The Moxy prides itself on catering to travelers of a certain mindset, and examples are everywhere, from the age appropriate staff—I didn’t see anyone working there who seemed over thirty—to the lack of phones or drawers in the rooms. “Everyone has a phone and no one fully unpacks,” I was told. The twenty-four-hour availability of decent snacks, drinks, and Wi-Fi were welcome touches for those out until the wee hours. Sustenance certainly came in handy after the opening-night party, which started with a grand bash in the hotel lobby, and included photo rooms upstairs, a food truck in the parking lot, and late-night club hopping for those with any remaining energy.
Inspired by the commitment to creativity I found at the hotel and the party, I went in search of other instances of true Berlin culture.
Billing itself as a personal world of experience, the me Collectors Room is part gallery, part museum, and part private/public space, occupying an environment that displays and promotes creativity. The Wunderkammer Olbricht exhibit celebrates the age-old cabinet of curiosities and includes over two hundred objects from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, from shrunken heads to early surgical tools. The combination of modern day hive-mind interactivity and baroque grotesquerie infuses the place with energy.
I’m not sure what inspired the owners of Keyser Soze to name their hip Mitte district café after the fictitious crime lord from The Usual Suspects, but somehow it fits. The spot reminded me of a restaurant in the East Village circa 1994, with stylish and friendly staff happy to stop and regale you with tales of hanging out in dark bars with Nick Cave and Blixa Bargeld in the ’80s, or of West Germans with a one-day pass to the East who would meet their lovers at the Wall at 12:01 and spend the next twenty-four hours in bars, clubs, and bed, making the most of their short time together. The seasoned waiter who regaled me with said stories was obviously of that era, and may have been describing his own exploits.
The story of the Wall is history—recent for aging Germans who lived through the horrors of World War II, and ancient for anyone born within a few years of its demolition in the early ’90s.
While the Moxy caters to the adventurous young traveler on a budget, the opposite end of the lodging spectrum is of course also available in Berlin, with the fabulous Rocco Forte Hotel de Rome being one of the more luxurious places to have a drink—or spend a week. Even though the hotel could not have existed in this location prior to the fall, it has a strange timelessness reminiscent of the bar in The Shining; one imagines the gracious bartenders having been at their posts for decades.
Two restaurants we found amazing for different reasons were Pantry, whose Asian-inspired European cooking was truly dazzling, and Crackers, which one cheekily enters down a black-draped hallway and through the kitchen, and exits hours later, after the restaurant has morphed into a nightclub. While the former was more traditional in its service and layout, it seemed the more modern of the two; Crackers’ hidden disco vibe harkened back to a more dissolute era.
An after-dinner drink brought us to a place that provided one final stop: the Hotel Adlon, which sits in the shadow one of the most iconic structures in Europe, the Brandenburg Gate—an arch that has, among other things, served as a symbol of Nazi dominance and a media vantage point during the fall of the Wall. First opened in 1907, demolished and forgotten during and after World War II, and rebuilt in the ’90s, the Adlon was also the hotel where Michael Jackson, apparently thinking he was doing what all normal fathers who could afford a suite there do, dangled his then-infant baby Blanket over the balcony.
The world looked on aghast at that incident, but in retrospect it doesn’t seem out of place for a city that has been the site of many such spectacles over the years. As we walked back to the Moxy from West to East, passing buildings built over five hundred years ago, riddled with bullets from a war seventy-five years ago, and renovated within the last ten, the diversity of Berlin came into sharp and welcome focus. FL