There are two things I've now found which help in getting through the winter in London- one is obviously a sunny holiday somewhere (Ib and I are off to Fuerteventura next week, thank goodness!) and the other is a quick stint somewhere bloody freezing. In November we popped to Berlin for a long weekend; a wonderful city, but God, it was cold. Coming back to the UK, though grey and drizzly, London felt positively balmy!
My husband has been to Berlin a few times without me and has always sworn that I'd love it, so we decided to go for a long weekend so he could show me around his favourite spots. I organised the hotel- the wonderful Michelberger which is probably the 'coolest' hotel I've ever stayed in; they have The Big Lebowski playing on a loop on TV screens in the corridors! But otherwise Ib took care of everything; he speaks basic German and knows what transport to get everywhere, which made it feel like a real holiday for me; I didn't plan anything but instead just let him be in charge. Often when I'm doing travel writing on a trip, it can feel not entirely holiday-like as I'll take responsibility for organising everything to make sure we get the best deals and see all the good stuff. It's nearly always worth it, but just the same, it was nice to have a weekend where plans were entirely in my husband's hands.
We stayed in a very basic room which felt quite hostel-like; small but with a clean, minimalist look and comfortable bed. There are some more exciting rooms available for slightly higher rates, such as the library room, pictured above, literally lined with books!
This is the gorgeous restaurant attached to the hotel- you have to walk through a little courtyard full of Christmas trees to get to it. Breakfast was wonderful- including all my favourite elements, from homemade granola to bacon and eggs. Huge brownie points for the fact that they have proper PG tips as their English breakfast tea; a wonderful surprise since it's often virtually impossible to get decent tea in Europe.
And you can also tune into The Big Lebowski on the TV in your bedroom!
The main reason Ib wanted us to visit Berlin was to go to Liquidrom; an amazing 'spa', though I use the term loosely, as it's not really like spas as we have them in the UK. They have all the normal facilities; saunas, plunge pools, steam rooms and so forth, but they also have a wonderful outdoor, salt water hot tub which is an utter delight, particularly when the air temperature is zero degrees or below! The other best bit is a wonderful, swimming pool sized, salt water floatation tank- the only place where you're obliged to keep your swimwear on. You float around amongst soft lights as a DJ plays relaxing music that you can hear under the water; it's idyllic and you can easily spend an hour in there without noticing any time pass.
In the rest of the building people wander around in various states of undress. Anytime I visit places where nudity is the norm- Burning Man is another good example - I start off a bit shy but soon remember how good it is for your self esteem. It's positively enlightening to see how different everyone's bodies are; real un-photoshopped bodies that remind you that everyone has a bit of cellulite, some broken veins or stretch marks. All the Germans there were so incredibly comfortable being naked; I didn't once feel like I was being leered at or objectified. And this is in a place that has a bar, so most people have had a drink or two. Can you imagine this working in the UK? Men would get off-their-face drunk then try and grope you in the back of the sauna. Ew.
The bar serves great drinks as well as comfort foods like pizza and pies which are perfect for when you realise you've worked up a huge appetite just getting hot and cold in and out of the water. You can then sit and enjoy your food and drink on a lounger underneath a blanket. It costs 20 euros for two hours which is just about the right amount of time, and it's open til midnight. We went on our first night in Berlin, and then, sad as it might sound, in a city famous for it's nightlife; we then went again on our second night! It's that good.
Other Berlin tips include Burgermeister- which does what it says on the tin. Amazing burger joint worth a visit, though there's no indoor seating, so good for take-away or perching outdoors in the summer. We didn't have time to go to all the museums Berlin has to offer, but we did visit the Pergamon Museum which has an incredible collection, particularly of ancient Islamic art.
Have you been to Berlin? Do leave your tips in the comments below, as I'm keen to go again, perhaps when the weather's a bit warmer!