Friday, August 5, 2011

Charming Old World Hotels and the Senior Traveler: The Berlin Diaries: Part I



My initial reaction to Berlin was not all that positive, but the city grew on me. Berlin is not one of those beautiful cites you instantly fall in love with--like Paris, Rome, Lisbon. Berlin may not be beautiful, but it is exciting and has tremendous cultural resources, kind of like NYC.

My initial reaction had a lot to do with our Berlin hotel mini-disaster, which was in part due to our reliance on the Time-Out Guide to Berlin. The Time Out Guides are great for restaurant recommendations, but as their extensive pub/bar recommendations signal, these guides are geared to young travelers. We learned this when we booked a Time Out recommended hotel in Lisbon and discovered that we had to walk up 4 flights of stairs before we could enter the hotel courtyard. (Time-Out made no mention of the stairs.)

This time it was much worse. Time-Out recommended a garden hotel in a quiet section of the former East Berlin. The photos of the garden were really inviting, and since we planned to stay in Berlin for six days we booked a suite for 189 euros. When we arrived, exhausted from the train trip from Warsaw, we learned that our hotel was a 6th (!!!) floor walk-up. The hotel staff told us than our confirmation included an attachment stating the hotel had no elevator. (I’ve since checked the email—there was no such attachment.) The annoying 20-something woman at the front desk told us it should be no problem to walk up those steps. Maybe for her it would be no problem! Since having a heart attack while struggling up 6 flights of stairs was not the way we planned to celebrate Rick’s 70th birthday, we refused. The young woman showed us the only other room available—what amounted to an ugly little closet. She was clearly trying to push us into accepting the 6 flights of stairs.

We said no way to the closet and then she said she could arrange something in a “sister” hotel, which had an elevator. The room was in a ramshackle, unrenovated part of the hotel and the suite consisted of a dark, dispiriting sitting room/bed room and a large kitchen with table ware for about 15 people! It must at one time have been part of an apartment—not a hotel suite as we generally understand the term. It looked as if it had not been occupied for a long time. When the staff managed to get the primitive hot water system to work, the water was ugly dark brown—a clear sign the system had not been used in a while. There was no air conditioning—a problem as Berlin was experiencing a heat wave; internet access was spotty—I was disconnected every 3 minutes; there was no phone in the room. Despite the ugliness and lack of amenities, the hotel was charging the same rates as their much larger and much more attractive 6th floor walk-up. The management wanted to get their 189 Euros a night.

I managed to get a phone, which I promptly used to find another hotel, and as usual looked for something with old world charm. When I called what my guide book described as one of the most charming small hotels in Berlin, I said needed an elevator, air-conditioning, reliable internet service and a laundry service. (We had decided to wait until we got to Berlin to deal with dirty laundry, but to our surprise we learned that the hotel did not have a laundry service. The hotel management said we could drag our dirty laundry to a laundromat 3 blocks away—not exactly the way we wanted to spend our brief time in Berlin.)

The hotel told us they could accommodate us, but when we arrived we found that the elevator was broken and we were forced to walk up what I think was 8 flights of stairs! (The hotel was on the top two floors of the building.) I demanded they find us another hotel. Who would have thought that it would be so hard to find a small charming hotel with an elevator in Berlin?

The manager found us a small, modern hotel in a convenient West Berlin location in the heart of the gayborhood, with an elevator, air-conditioning, internet access, and a laundry service for 119 euros—-much less than the charming old world hotels. So we settled into our air-conditioned hotel with a comfortable bed (unlike the rickety bed with a lumpy mattress in our former over-priced hotel). There may be a lesson here. At this stage of life, a few basic comforts, like an elevator and air conditioning, matter more than funky charm. It’s nice to get both, but if I have to choose, I’ll opt for the air-conditioning and the elevator.

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