There’s no easy rubric for Berlin. The fractured city layout is really a conglomeration of three cities—East Berlin, West Berlin, and No Man’s Land between. What’s more, all three are in flux as the city drives to reinvent itself for the 21st Century. Neighborhoods like Kreutzburg, Mitte, and Prenzlauer Berg are taking on new faces with each passing day, making Berlin all the more challenging to comprehend for first timers, especially compared to more historically settled cities, like Paris or Rome.
Because of this, a longer stay is required if your goal is to discover the Berlin beyond the historical tourist landmarks. If your first reaction to the suggestion is a tightening of the stomach over your budget or a gagging in the throat about sharing showers for more than four days in a hostel or pension, Accor Hotels‘ Ibis brand may offer the perfect solution.
Ibis represents the “economy” level of Accor’s global hotel empire, which includes brands in all categories including Sofitel, Pullman, MGallery, and Novotel. Ibis is further divided into three subdivisions, each with its own colored pillow symbol—Ibis (red), Ibis Budget (blue), and Ibis Styles (green). In Berlin, the first two jointly occupy a large dorm-like building in Kurfürstendamm, across the platz from KaDeWe, Berlin’s Grand Dame of department stores. Encompassing 348 rooms in total, the two operate side by side, with basic accommodations on the left side (starting at $67 per night) and a higher level on the right (starting at $89).
The difference between the two mostly involves room size, amenities and services, but also design. The lobby,reception, and dining area of Ibis (red) blazes with bright pop culture design reminiscent of the late 80’s, including chalky scribbles, mock graffiti, and pink, blue, red, and yellow colors throughout. The result is youthful, energetic, and fully in synch with the Berlin’s modernizing spirit. The effort succeeds just about everywhere except for the dining options, which are little better than microwavables. The solid breakfast buffet however, is well worth the extra $10.
The room itself shows equal fervor. Usually, choosing an “economy” level hotel means having to hold your nose at any number of affronts—uncomfortable beds, bad plumbing, mysterious odors, and sticky surfaces. My room on the sixth floor, on the other hand, was pristine, bright, and very comfortable. Much of this had to do with Ibis’ new signature “Sweet Bed,” —the result of 10 months’ research by Accor’s in-house team of doctors, sociologists, and sleep experts. As for the bathroom, the essentials of cleanliness, water pressure, and heat are also well covered. Just bring your own shampoo.
Two days later, I moved to the Ibis Styles in Mitte. As the name indicates, design takes an even greater importance here. It’s most apparent in the spacious reception and dining area, which features street art style wall art depicting the Berlin Wall and lime green banquettes. Another wall quotes Kennedy’s famous “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” quote alongside a large painting of the famous Berliner jelly doughnut.
Upstairs, 145 rooms spread across six floors, with the nicest taking up the front tip of the building’s triangle shape to provide a great view of the always bustling Rosenthaler Platz. My room, a standard with one double bed (starting at $89), was more or less similar to Ibis (red), with the exception of the room subdivisions, a groovy leather headboard, and an open-spaced shower (be cool with roommate nakedness), .
Another benefit of Ibis Styles Mitte is access to the nightlife of nearby Mitte and Prenslaur Berg, which are home to many of Berlin’s best bars and pubs. Most are within easy walking distance. Also nearby is Auguststraße, famous for its cutting edge art galleries, which often host evening events. Wherever you go, if you return late night, get in line outside the kebab shop across from the hotel. It’s worth it.
From a budget perspective, the Ibis brand is as good as it gets. The great value for money, however, is not what impresses me most. It’s the quality of staff, who performed just as professionally as those at elite hotels. In fact, guests might even get the impression they were at a higher rated hotel. The attitude easily makes up the usual drawbacks to economy hotels, namely the danger of running up an above economy bill with all the additional charges for breakfast, phone calls, parking and Internet. It’s a strength that runs through Accor hotels the world over—however large the corporation, the service still feels personal.
All photos by Mike Dunphy