Where to start with luxury boutique hotel SO Berlin Das Stue? This is a place where you can spy on ostriches, fill up on inventive Mediterranean 'appetite noshes', and reach all of Berlin’s best bits in an easy stroll. The former Royal Danish Embassy has a pearl-white spa with Alpine-influenced treatments, whimsical animal motifs and flawless design, courtesy of Spanish interiors whizz, Patricia Urquiola
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A small bottle of Bollinger champagne in your room
Noon, but flexible (until 4pm), subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £195.79 (€232), including tax at 7 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of 5% per room per night on check-out.
Rates usually exclude breakfast (from €10). Stays in the Bel Etage and Penthouse suites include a buffet breakfast of hot dishes, made-to-order eggs and crêpes.
Das Stue's building was built in 1938–1940 by Johann Emil Schaudt, the man behind Berlin's KaDeWe department store – Berlin's answer to Harrods. Be sure to spend some time in the three-storey library, at the front of the original building and next to the staircase. Admire the original parquet flooring and interior designer Urquiola's comfy seating options. If you need a drink, just pick up the telephone and order one from the bar.
At the hotel
Spa with sauna and three treatment rooms, fitness area, library, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, Nespresso coffee machine, minibar, slippers, bathrobes and Diptyque bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The Penthouse Suite is vast and drop-dead gorgeous, sitting on the top floor, overlooking the courtyard and the zoo. You can also gaze over the park from your own terrace in this suite. Alternatively, opt for a room on the second floor (the Bel Etage), in the refined former reception rooms of the Danish Embassy: suites 220 and 204 are beautiful, and their charms include floor-to-ceiling windows; suite 220 has a free-standing bath.
The bright white Susanne Kaufmann Spa has a 14-metre indoor pool, three treatment rooms and a Finnish sauna. Treatments are influenced by traditional Chinese therapies.
Binoculars and safari gear for appraising your beastly neighbours; threads worthy of a German hipster for the swish little bar.
Lucky little Smiths will love staying here, thanks to the direct zoo access. Cots are free and extra beds (€60 each a night) can be added to Junior Suites and Suites. Babysitting costs €25 an hour (up to two children) or €30 for three or more children.
Sit at one of the cosy corner tables at the Casual.
What can you comfortably conquer nine courses in? Relaxed threads are fine for the Casual (unsurprisingly). Add some zebra-print, feathers, faux fur or leopard to honour the local residents.
Aside from its name, the only casual thing about the restaurant is the ambience. Low-key cosy-cool, each dish served at The Casual carries the artful signature of master chef Rico Kägebein. Serving a range of hot and cold 'appetite noshes' alongside fine mains and desserts, their inventive take on tapas is something to behold; here, even nachos are a special occasion.
Das Stue means 'living room' in Danish – nowhere is this more apparent than in the cosy bar, which connects to a petite terrace that happens to back on to the ostrich area of Berlin zoo. On Friday there's live music, and Saturday nights DJs spin a slick selection of tunes.
Begin the day with an à la carte breakfast from 6.30am to 11am during the week, and 7:30am to 12pm on weekends. Lunch is served from 12pm - 3pm weekdays (and from 12:30pm on weekends), while dinner runs daily from 6pm to 11pm.
Order items from the restaurant menus around the clock, but expect a limited selection from 11pm.
You’re right at the heart of Berlin: Das Stue sits in the peaceful Embassy quarter and is right next to the zoo, which guests can access through the hotel's private entrance.
Berlin Tegel airport is nine kilometers (a 20-minute drive) from the hotel; Berlin Schönefeld is 40km and a 45-minute car ride away (www.berlin-airport.de).
Services from all over Europe call at Berlin's massive Hauptbahnhof station (+44 8718 80 80 66; www.bahn.de), two kilometres from the hotel.
The nearest town is Potsdam, 45 minutes away. There’s a public car-park a 10-minute stroll from the hotel, with spaces for €18 a night.
Worth getting out of bed for
Ask the concierge about borrowing bikes, getting tickets to the zoo, enjoying a picnic in Tiergarten Park, touring the city on motorbikes, or having a fitness class or yoga session. The hotel is within easy reach of the Berlin Philharmonie, Potsdamer Platz and the Neue Nationalgalerie. For shopping thrills, head to Kurfürstendamm Boulevard.
On a sunny day in Berlin, there are few better places to be than Cafe Am Neuen See, a cosy little eatery in the heart of the Tiergarten, with a prime view of the lake. Locals cram themselves onto the outdoor seating and share pizzas and beers. Housed in a former industrial space with a cobbled courtyard, Panama is a globe-trotting small-plates spot on Potsdamer Strasse. True to its name, the restaurant has a Central and South American lean, but the chefs aren’t afraid to mix and match to achieve the perfect dish – the wine list is equally bold and progressive. A restaurant beneath a bridge, with just an unmarked steel door as its entrance? Simply arriving at Tausend is exciting. Try delicious fusion food – ceviche, tapas, sashimi and so on – at this brilliant restaurant and bar, which also boasts excellent barmen, potent cocktails and serious style credentials (expect an artsy crowd). Book ahead. Bandol sur Mer at 167 Torstrasse flourishes the French flag with its excellent snails, foie gras and entrecôte steaks. It only has six tables though, so make sure you book ahead. Try a modern take on Vietnamese staples at Monsieur Vuong, a stylish spot for lunch or supper at 46 Schönhauser Strasse.
If mid-afternoon pangs set in while you’re in Mitte, make a beeline for Princess Cheesecake, a konditorei (cake shop) with an almost cult-like following. The light, fluffy and eye-catching cheesecakes are the centre of attention, but the coffee and ganaches pull just as many people through the door. It's a pint-sized place, so seating can be scarce.
Fiendishly good cocktails can be imbibed at low-lit Bryk Bar, 21st-century speakeasy Buck & Breck and retro-styled Hildegard, where the tipples are named after influential authors.
There was the usual signage around the pool, albeit a little classier than the traditional ‘no running, no bombing, no heavy petting’ cartoons redolent of the municipal baths of our youth. We moved up to the sauna. ‘No bathing costumes’ suggested the illustration. Ha ha. Those Germans and their zany sense of humour. We pulled open the door and: Oh! Turns out: not a joke. There’s a lady sitting in there completely starkers with full-on nudey bits. Hot. Steamy. Uncomfortable. In shock, these prudish Brits ran and jumped into the pool. No heavy petting though. Not there anyway.
‘Das Stue’ – sounds wonderfully German, doesn’t it? Say it with me: Das Stue. Yeah, it’s Danish and it means ‘living room’. In fact it is so Danish, it’s the Royal Danish Embassy. Or at least this 1930s-built Nordic Classicism beauty was until they gutted the place of flunkies wafting about proffering trays of Ferrero Rocher and turned it into a sizeable hotel of 79 rooms with 22 suites. It’s as achingly hip as a geriatric ward. Monsieur, with this luxury you are really spoiling us.
What the Spanish owners haven’t done is spoil this grand old building. Gold star to the architects and interiors doyenne, Patricia Urquiola. As first impressions go, Das Stue boasts the most impressive entrance since Pippa Middleton sashayed into Westminster Abbey. Marble staircases frame the high-ceilinged hallway. A spectacular light sculpture hangs down over an enormous alligator’s skull, jaws agape lending an idea of how the Natural History Museum might look as a hip hotel. And you can see right the way through to the buzzing bar’s panoramic windows that back onto Berlin Zoo. Yes, here at Das Stue, you’re guaranteed a true bird’s-eye ogle of living-and-breathing beasts that include full-size feathery-flanked ostriches.
‘Sir, you have been upgraded.’ Five of the most beautiful words in the English language. Our room wasn’t a room, it was a loft apartment with so much floor space we could have performed some gymnastics. Mrs Smith was doing cartwheels with glee. We looked out the window and could see some gazelles and a couple of ostriches down below, as you do. Quite literally a room with a zoo.
We’d pre-booked full body massages to have soon after arrival in order to hasten the transition into relaxation mode – a little trick of ours in order to maximise the benefits of a short weekend away. It’s a Susanne Kaufmann Spa at Das Stue. That didn’t mean a great deal to me I confess, but we now know she is a big noise in the quiet world of German pampering. The relaxing effects of her signature massage were, however, somewhat undone by the aforementioned shock in the sauna straight afterwards. Had we been in the mood for more group activity, the spa also hosts yoga classes and group runs in Tiergarten Park.
Giggling, we padded back up to our suite in our robes via a grand staircase with landings that double as libraries. The walls that are not lined with books showcase tasteful vintage black-and-white ’50s and ’60s fashion photography from the likes of Helmut Newton. No Athena posters here; these prints are all part of the owners’ private collection.
Back in the loft apartment. Our bed was so big and comfortable it had its own time zone. I sat on it to play with the pad that controlled the Apple entertainment system while Mrs Smith ordered up two Aperol spritzes and ran a bath. In this sense, it felt very much like home.
The decor is a chill-out mix of muted colours with lots of both dark and blonde wood – but with flashes of colour in the cushions, rugs and artwork. The furniture combines design classics and more modern pieces that somehow work well together. This design fusion continues in the bar downstairs where neon wire sculptures of zoo animals – a giraffe, a couple of chimps – sit among quirky pieces of statement furniture. As for the ear candy, on Friday and Saturday nights, well-known DJs are drafted in to get the party started.
Adjacent to the bar is the main restaurant, one of Berlin’s best, called ‘5 – cinco by Paco Pérez’ which is overseen by the four-times Michelin-starred Catalan chef and protégé of Ferran Adria. His avant-garde 20-course experience menu is a sensation of molecular gastronomy – designed to tickle all five senses – which explains the thinking behind ‘Cinco’, sister to Miramar, in Llançà, Spain.
If foams and spheres are not your bag and you want more everyday fare at more affordable prices, there is The Casual restaurant rustling up mod-Med cuisine with a Catalan flavour. However, we felt like we really ought to venture outside so for lunch on our second day, we ambled all of three minutes’ walk into the leafy, green Tiergarten Park, where the Electors of Brandenburg once went a-hunting – the lungs of Berlin – for a pizza alfresco in the park at an idyllic spot overlooking a lake at Café Am Neuen See. At the next table? Yep, naked sauna woman. This time wearing clothes.