Toes wiggling in the pool, Earl Grey Tea cocktails in hand, this Mr & Mrs Smith are planning how best to use their weekend in the German capital. Berlin's Mitte district sprawls below, begging to be explored, a landscape of mostly grey communist facades familiar to me only from the film Good Bye Lenin!
We’re at Soho House Berlin. Now the largest outpost of the renowned members’ club group, it was once home to East Germany’s Politisches Büro. A Bauhausey building opened in the 1920s as a department store, it’s now a trophy of this quarter’s gentrification; its six stories occupy the all-white corner block at the start of Torstrasse, the main road that sweeps across the top of Mitte from Prenzlauer Allee to Friedrichstrasse. An hour ago, we’d stepped into a taxi at Schönefeld; it whizzed us into the city, past the last remaining stretch of the Berlin wall before dropping us off at a retro clock tower marked ‘hotel’.
Ambling into Soho House’s industrial-feel lobby, a world of cool hits us: there’s graffiti-art by Damien Hirst and have-a-go ping-pong tables, both pitched perfectly at Soho House group’s young-at-heart, work-hard-play-hard clientele. Checked in, and en route to the rooftop, we use our key card to scratch our initials into the leather lining the lift. Not our idea – the hotel’s interior designers got the scuffed-cowhide graffiti-party started. ‘Vandalism chic’, I suggest to Mr Smith.
A few moments later, we’re that couple, soaking up the sun from the top deck of this former Communist Party HQ, overlooking the iconic television tower. It’s a moment in my life I’ll remember in freeze-frame.
It's the height of summer: all around us bright young Berliners bask in the searing rays, surrounded y a sprinkling of international visitors. Twee white wrought-iron furniture cushioned in dusty pink florals seems more home counties than Deco chic, but populated with blond hipsters resplendent in this season’s haircuts and sunglasses, it’s like a scene straight from a Taschen book. We’d happily plot up here for our minibreak, but we have art, culture and history to discover on our doorstep. Mr Smith assures me that, if there’s one city where an adventure will unfold on its own, it's Berlin.
An absence of garish neon signs in Mitte adds to the ‘What’s coming next?’ mystique as we meander through the city’s most central chunk. Unobtrusive shopfronts conceal a world of contemporary creativity in the cafés, boutiques and galleries to be found at almost every turn: we discover white-hot womenswear on Mulackstrasse; delicious Modern Vietnamese cuisine on Rosenthaler Strasse; perfect cappuccinos and quirky concept art on gallery-lined Augustrasse.
Kunsthaus Tacheles on Oranienburgerstrasse is the next surprise in store. An artists’ collective amid a working ironmongery-cum-sculpture garden in the Jewish Quarter, it’s not your average art centre: every inch of this five-floor former department store is graffiti’d. And, to give you the full all-sensory description, Tacheles is also steeped in a scent unlikely to be peddled by Jo Malone any time soon: Old Urine and Oil Paint, anyone?
On our way back to the hotel, we pop into SoTo, a menswear store on Torstrasse. Friendly as can be, its co-owner Philip Gaedicke is a Soho House scenester, but one who couldn’t be further from NY or London’s cooler-than-thou stereotypes. Happy to share the word from the street, he suggests that we visit an art project he’s involved in. (After a little recharge back at our boutique bunk-up, of course... )
Somewhat incredibly, in a city with no shortage of hotel rooms, until this hip hideaway opened, nowhere offered modern cool quite like this – let alone modern cool with a pool, a Cowshed spa, a screening room and a see-and-be-seen bar and restaurant. Soho House Berlin's 40 rooms range from dormitory-style attic abodes to huge suites like the one we’re staying in: it may be a lot pricier, but it’s worth it for the feeling we have our own elegant apartment.
Freestanding tub filled with Knackered Cow bubbles (selected from the full-size gamut of Cowshed toiletries), Mr Smith pops an original jazz LP onto the old-fashioned record player. I settle back in the froth to leaf through a copy of Berlin: City-Lit Series. A reflection on the city’s recent history through literary snapshots, essays and soundbites, it’s a guide unlike others. As Mr Smith describes our panoramic view over mid-century concrete (courtesy of Soviet rule), it's hard to imagine that this same spot was once 19th-century Prussian terrain and, in the roaring pre-war Twenties, a hotbed of cabaret.
Galvanised to find our own colourful blast of nightlife in our new neighourhood, we start with G&Ts, flopped on a chintzy sofa in the birds-nesty bar and brasserie above. Well, you can take the members’ club out of London… After a quick side-tracking to France, care of snails and perfectly-cooked entrecôte at Bandol sur Mer, a six-tabled Torstrasse bistro beloved of Brad and Angelina, we seek out Berlin proper.
We’ve arranged to meet Philip at the grey tower block in Alexanderplatz that hosts not only the renowned rooftop club, Weekend, but also the cutting-edge art space he’s told us about, Made. Converted from a disused ninth-floor office space into an all-white workshop, theatre and gallery by architect Alexis Dornier, the Made studio regularly buzzes with up-and-coming artists and music events – drop-in crowds are drawn by word of mouth and posts on Made's blog (if you fancy checking out the latest happenings).
No sooner have we stepped into this space, we’re sipping vodka cocktails with a US rapper, admiring artwork studded with Swarovski crystals care of Tadi Rock, and thinking Berlin's interiors are more Star Trek than Stalin these days. Mr Smith was right: anyone staying at Soho House Berlin doesn’t need to stray far in search of an adventure – no matter what direction you walk in, you can be sure one will find you.