Those of you who plan to visit the famous Kurfürstendamm in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district will experience a renaissance: not only of the Hotel Zoo. The Ku’damm, as the former boulevard of magnificence between Rathenauplatz and Kaiser-Wilhelm memorial church is locally called, had lost its charm after the reunification. Investors and visitors were concentrating on the ‚Old New Centre‘ of the reunified city. Luxury boutiques and restaurants had left the boulevard heading to the new tourist hotspots of the city between Potsdamer Platz, Friedrichstrasse and Alexanderplatz. During the last few years though, after a gradual market saturation in Berlin’s centre, the Kurfürstendamm and its neighbouring streets is experiencing a growing revival. Little by little the area is returning to its former glory. West Berlin’s old centre is being resurrected and along with it a legendary hotel: the Hotel Zoo in Berlin.
The history of the hotel begins at the end of the 19th century. It was built in 1891 by the renowned architect Alfred Messel; responsible for the Pergamon Museum and the Wertheim department store amongst many other of his achievements. The hotel building started out as the private residence of a wealthy Berlin family for over 20 years. In 1911 it was then developed into one of the most well-known hotels in Berlin; the “Hotel am Zoo”. Dazzling film starlets celebrated at the hotel’s fabulous parties and it became the favourite haunt for Berlin’s Bohemia during the roaring 1920s. Having survived the war miraculously unscathed the hotel advanced to become a VIP establishment for Berlin’s International Film Festival the Berlinale throughout the 1950s. The infamous Zoo Palast, the central cinema of the Berlinale since 1957, was a mere 500 metres away. So it’s no surprise that the big name A-List celebrities at the time, thronged to be seen there. Romy Schneider, Grace Kelly, Gina Lollobrigida, Hildegard Knef all stayed here and attended film premieres and the unforgettable wild parties. But then time stood still at the hotel. There had been no renovation or modernisation work done since the 1950s and like the Ku’damm, the Hotel am Zoo lost its glitz and glamour.
Fast forward to 2012 and seven years after it had been sold, and finally the necessary renovation work was carried out by its new owner. Two years of continuous work, where the hotel was completely gutted (apart from its listed historic front) and redesigned from the inside out, breathed new life into its walls.
The “am” has been removed
On entering the reopened Hotel Zoo (the “am” has been removed) in the November of 2014 I feel as though I have been transported into another world. For a moment I am a young boy at the zoo nearby; (after which the hotel was originally named) and it’s story time. Leaving the Ku’damm behind, I walk through the seven metre high entrance at the hotel and along jade green carpet with interwoven images of hunting leopards which guide you inside the new hotel. I pass impressive heavy clay pots encasing large leafy plants, antique tiled walls subtly illuminated and a gallery of so-called ancestral portraits painted by artists from the Babelsberg film studios. Above me, the ceiling is enriched with stucco in the form of fantastic blossoms and on second glance; could they be ventilators? The concierge is waiting for me at what appears to be a hovering reception desk made entirely out of walnut wood.
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The living room
Words spring to mind such as surreal, jungle, fantasy, zoo.
What the hotel’s designers have created here is a world combining top-notch modern design, film and fairytales which take all your senses for a ride! The Catwalk is what the 22 metre long entrance hall is called; a nod to former glories when international film stars and models would stay here. A scenario, the hotel operators hope will become a common occurrence in the near future. The green carpet with its beautiful leopards was designed by the New York fashion designer Diane von Fuerstenberg and the American Interior Designer Dayna Lee, used to Hollywood’s film and glamour world and responsible for such stylish hotels as the W Hotel Westwood in Los Angeles and the Surfcomber Miami South Beach, had a free design-reign at the Hotel Zoo in Berlin.
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There is a good reason why the lobby isn’t called the lobby but the ‚Living Room’. The hotel’s living room is a mixture of British Club and New York Town-House style. It’s the heart of the hotel and gives you the feel of a safe haven within an elegant home. At the time of my stay it was also decorated with Christmas trees left and right of the room’s fireplace and added a lovely homely touch where I felt immediately at home. Baxter leather chairs invite you to lounge in front of the five metre wide fireplace whose glass-panelled back enables you to spy into a small conservatory. Red velvet sofas from George Smith, Tom Dixton wing chairs, a well stocked bookcase and a mix of bright yellow, red and purple shades in combination with the dark brown chocolate wooden floor give the room a cosy warmth.
Sitting in front of the fire, there is a more than six metre high door behind you. Made from walnut wood and in the style of the Wilhelminian era. Except that it doesn’t go anywhere, because you can’t open it. It’s fantasy! Together with the accompanying opulent mirrors, the heavyweight fantasy flower ceiling stucco, the seven metre high red curtains draped along the passageway to the bar and restaurant and an anonymous woman dressed in a bathrobe and looking down into the living room whilst lounging casually next to King Frederick II of Prussia in a huge four-piece painting; you feel like Alice in Wonderland.
The combination of American and English design, nostalgia and Zeitgeist continues throughout the public areas of the hotel and also into the 145 bedrooms and suites. Behind the living room is the stylish bar and lounge area which leads you to the future Grace Restaurant. Where possible the original 120 year old brickwork has been integrated into the design of the hotel. As in the loungey bar area with its green armchairs, aubergine saturated plushy benches and candle-lit tables, as well as in several rooms lovingly named Industrial Rooms because of their brick-walled charm.
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All the rooms and suites of the hotel have flat-screen televisions with Apple TV, Nespresso coffee machines and rainfall showers or a bathtub. Some rooms both. From my king-size bed I have a good view of the large open bathroom whose shower area is only separated from the bedroom by a pane of glass. The bathroom is spacious and comfortable but has one drawback: The makeup mirror had no light, which could irritate female guests especially as well as the missing full length dressing mirror in the bedroom.
Sure, there are a (very) few teething problems which every new hotel has to deal with but they can be rectified quickly. And just as quickly forgotten, are the room issues when you are introduced to the exceptionally good breakfast at the Hotel Zoo. Fresh mint and lime water at your table, exotic ingredients such as figs, cress butter, lemon curd, soya and lactose-free milk, fennel salami, Txogitxu and other ham varieties at the buffet (even fruit loaf). The highly motivated, polite and charming staff were nothing but commendable. A point I explicitly want to mention here. Particularly Elizabeth and Eric from the breakfast team, the evening bar personnel and Nadine Loyal from the front office. I am sure that this team will bring back the former glory to number 25. Kurfürstendamm. I had the pleasure of being part of one of the first wild party at the bar and it’s just a matter of time before Hollywood comes knocking at the door at the Hotel Zoo – Reloaded!
How to get there:
Walking distances from Hotel Zoo:
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (Emperor William Memorial Church): 5 minutes (400 meters)
S-Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten (Bahnhof Zoo station): 7 minutes (500 meters)
Zoo Palast (cinema): 7 minutes (500 meters)
Zoologische Garten (the Zoo): 10 minutes (700 meters)
Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe, luxurious department store): 13 minutes (1 kilometres)
Die Schaubühne (theater): 25 minutes (2 kilometres)
— Peter von Stamm (@petervonstamm) 24. Februar 2015