History straight up on Bebelplatz
Day 1, 9h10am – Guten Tag, Berlin! Fresh off the plane, I exit the Terminal D of the Berlin-Tegel International Airport north of the city, hail a cab and head to the hotel. The drive is very pleasant, we go through the Berlin-Tiergarten, then take the aptly named Französische Straße, cross Kurfürstendamm – the local Champs-Élysées–, Friedrichstraße. At 10am, I set my luggage down in front of the very Prussian Bebelplatz, right by St Hedwig's cathedral: I'm immediately immersed in the history of Germany, in all its greatness and torment. On this square, on May 10th 1933, Goebbels organized a gigantic book burning. A monument was erected in memory of this event: the « Sunken library » (Versunkene Bibliothek) – a glass plate resting on the ground with a window onto a library of empty book-shelves. The works of Karl Marx, Bertolt Brecht, Sigmund Freud, and Stefan Zweig, to name a few, were destroyed… A verse from the last great romantic poet, Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) is engraved: « Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen » (« Wherever they burn books, soon they will burn human beings »).
Unter den Linden
My nights by St Hedwig
11am – The pretty columns of the Hotel de Rome stand near St Hedwig's Cathedral. The 19th century building used to house the Dresde Bank until 1945. I look forward to enjoying its spa, sauna and pool set up in the former bank vaults, as well as its large terrace looking out onto the Berlin rooftops. My room is spacious (it's the smallest, a Classic Room, 35 sqm!), the ceilings are high and walls are covered in oak panelling.
Hôtel de Rome
Currywurst for the gourmand tourist
12pm – I've now settled into my room. I head back out to Französische Straße, purchase a daily pass «Tageskarte» that allows me to use all of Berlin's public transportation (BVG), and get on line U6. Six minutes later, I step out onto Mehringdamm and get in line outside Curry 36, famous for its quality dishes, in order to taste their famous Currywurst, pork sausage covered in ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and curry powder with a side of fries. Once satiated, I'm ready to look for spiritual nourishment.
Roquairol with David Bowie and Iggy Pop
1h30pm – Back in the subway, line U7, direction Fehrbelliner Platz. Ten minutes later, I head out of the red subway station designed by pop art architect Rainer G. Rümmler which is worth a visit of its own! I could have treated myself to a Chinese picnic at Preußenpark, the outdoor meeting point for the city's Chinese community, but instead I chose to take bus 115 to Pücklerstraße. A five minutes walk to the expressionists hall of fame, Brücke Museum. This museum, on the outskirts of the Grünewald forest, shows major works from the German expressionist artists' group, Die Brücke. Intense colours pop out of the bright rooms. One of them, Roquairol (1917), by Erich Heckel, inspired the March 1977 Iggy Pop album cover The Idiot, coproduced and co-written by David Bowie, and was, again, the inspiration for the cover of the infamous album Heroes (still in1977) by Bowie himself.
Bowie's lair at the Schlosshotel
5pm – I didn't just come to Berlin to walk in my 70s idol's footsteps. Since I'm in Grünewald, I continue on to the Schlosshotel, this odd 1914 castle set up as a palace which was recently taken over by designer Patrick Hellmann. David Bowie stayed here for several weeks during his intensely creative visit to Berlin, afterwards he often returned and always stayed in room 90. I ask to see the room, unfortunately it's not available so I have a look at one of the 10 suites decorated by Karl Lagerfeld and stroll through the garden, remembering scenes from David Hemmings', Just a Gigolo (1978), which shot here. In true international bohemian fashion, David Bowie is not the only person associated with the hotel, the names of Joséphine Baker, Hildegard Knef, Romy Schneider or Joachim Löw, - head coach for the German national team - also come up.
Patrick Hellmann Schlosshotel
High end shopping on Kurfürstendamm
6pm – I stroll down Kurfürstendamm. Before reaching Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, between Hermès, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Cartier or Gucci, I chose to walk into the Jil Sander store - queen of minimalism, three times artistic director the fashion house still named after her. I can't resist and get a simple and flattering knee length black dress. I continue on to Hohler Zahn (« Hollow Tooth»), the topped bell tower from the Kaiser William memorial church which was partly destroyed during an air raid in 1943. The 113 metre arrow was shortened to 63 metres.
Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser William memorial church)
Jazz Night and vegetarian menu at Cookies Cream
7pm – I get back on the subway, 400 meters from the Church, at the Zoologischer Garten Berlin. A few minutes later, I am back in my room. I put on my new dress and get ready. Around 9h30pm, I head down Französische Straße in my ballet flats, and walk 450 metres to Cookies Cream. It happens to be one of those famous Cookies Cream Jazz Nights, an event that brings together jazz, the art of improv' and unexpected culinary experiences. Up the stairs, I find myself standing before a hidden door and push it open to reveal an industrial space with concrete walls. All 15 tables are taken. Bookings are recommended here, but since a woman wearing an elegant dress will never go unnoticed, a creature soon comes over and swoops me over to her table with her friends. I pick a vegetarian menu, sure to still fit into my dress.
Spaghetti al pomodoro at La Banca
Second day, 11am – After sleeping in, my skin is in for a treat: body scrub and full regenerating body massage at the hotel spa. After this anti-aging treatment, around 12h30, I hang around on the sunny terrace then head down to the fifth floor restaurant to enjoy the best al pomodoro spaghetti in town along with a glass of Monteoro, Italian white wine.
Hôtel de Rome
Déambulation sur la Museumsinsel
15 heures – Je sors de l'hôtel, prends à droite sur Hedwigskirchgasse, puis à gauche sur la Französische Straße. Je traverse un bras de la Spree sur Werderscher Markt et continue tout droit sur Schloßpl. Après une petite balade de 700 mètres, je me retrouve au cœur de l'Île aux Musées, la fameuse Museumsinsel, l'une des principales attractions de Berlin, inscrite en 1999 au patrimoine mondial de l'Unesco. Que choisir ? La collection égyptienne au Neues Museum ? Les collections d'art antique de l'Altes Museum ? La porte d'Ishtar au musée Pergame, en attendant la réouverture au public du grand autel de Zeus ? Ou encore les chefs-d'œuvre de Donatello au Bode-Museum ? Je délaisse le magnifique port de tête du buste de Néfertiti pour la statuaire italienne. Si la Madonna Pazzi (Donatello) se laisse aisément vénérer, la Tänzerin d'Antonio Canova est un choc. Je l'embrasse du regard en tournant incessamment autour de son piédestal et, comme elle, au milieu de la salle, je lève, béate, les bras au ciel.
Museum Island (Museuminsel)
The Emperor's kitchen
9pm – The famous Viennese schnitzel or Wiener Schnitzel take 10 minutes to prepare. Dip the veal cutlets in flour and beaten egg, then bread crumbs. Cook in a pan with olive oil and butter, 3 minutes on each side until the bread-crumbs are crunchy. Set on a paper towel, then plate with fresh thyme and lemon. Serve with a potato salad… et voilà! You're at Borchardt Brasserie, the Emperor's old hang out under the stucco ceilings. The atmosphere here is lively, fun and loud, barely muffled by heavy crimson velvet curtains, no celebrities or politicians, I feel like I'm the star here.
Französische Straße 47
Next time, over on the East Side, along the Berlin Wall
Third day, 8am – Before my flight, breakfast at Hotel de Rome: a wonderful selection of cold cuts, cheeses, fresh squeezed juices, pastries, eggs, waffles, pancakes and strong coffee. Next time, I will make sure to check out the East Side Gallery - the largest open-air gallery in the world, along the Berlin wall - so I can see some street art. Marlena Dietrich used to sing “Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin”. I, too, still have a suitcase in Berlin.
East Side Gallery