Berlin’s Boutique Hotel i31
By Monique Burns
In Berlin, the German capital, as in other great metropolises, finding a good, reasonably priced hotel in the center-city is well nigh impossible. If you do find a hotel that’s clean and comfortable, you’re lucky. If it also has free Wi-Fi, a gym and sauna, a bar, and a breakfast room serving hot and cold dishes, you are very lucky. And, if there’s a lush garden where, on sunny days, you can bask on chaise-longues beneath oaks, acacias and Japanese maples, or meditate alongside a bamboo-lined koi-and-goldfish pond, consider yourself blessed.
Recently, at Boutique Hotel i31 in Berlin, I got lucky. Very, very lucky. Smack in the heart of the city, in Mitte, Berlin’s most central district, Hotel i31 is within walking distance of the famous Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden and Museum Island. Berlin Hauptbahnhof, or Central Station, is a 15-minute walk away. The nearest U-Bahnhof, or subway station, is a block and a half away at Naturkundemuseum, the stop for the Natural History Museum, displaying the world’s tallest dinosaur skeleton as well as the taxidermied polar bear, Knut, former star of Zoo Berlin. Bus 245 and the Zinnowitzer Strasse Tram both stop about 100 yards from the hotel’s front door. If you’re driving, Hotel i31 is only five miles from the A-10 autobahn and offers daily parking for 15 euros (about $17 at the time of this writing). When it comes to location, you will absolutely love Boutique Hotel i31.
But Boutique Hotel i31, which opened in May 2013, offers much more to guests. Sandwiched between tall buildings, the hotel’s contemporary-style entrance is handsome but somewhat formal. Step inside, however, and you’ll find yourself ensconced in a comforting cocoon of high design. In the lobby, across from a cluster of curvy Mid Century Modern-like chairs, upholstered in orange and lime fabrics, the all-white front desk, manned by friendly staffers, topped with a bowl of green apples and lighted by silvery, teardrop-shaped pendant lamps, segues into a cozy bar area with black counter stools, and white barrel-style club chairs paired with little round black tables.
Just beyond the lobby, the spacious breakfast room has widely spaced dark-wood tables and chairs, which call to mind a Parisian bistro. Though there’s a separate charge of 17.50 euros (about $19.50) for the breakfast buffet, it’s worth every penny. There’s a wide assortment of fresh wholesome foods—breads, croissants, pastries, jams and jellies, yogurts, cheeses, hot and cold meats, and eggs, available soft or hard boiled, or cooked to order. If you’re a light eater or want to save a few bucks, choose the French, or continental, breakfast, with two croissants, jam, orange juice and coffee, for 5.80 euros. If you’re vegan, vegetarian or lactose-intolerant, the staff can rustle you up a yummy breakfast that meets all your dietary requirements.
Both the lobby and breakfast room face a long wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that give onto the hotel’s courtyard garden, a 7,500-square-foot space verdant with mature plantings of acacia, oak and Japanese maple trees, a rectangular pond filled with goldfish and koi, and a wood-planked patio with café tables and chairs, and chaise-longues. If it’s nice weather and you’ve got time, find a sunny spot and kick back for a while. If not, drink in the healing views with your breakfast, or with a late-afternoon tea, coffee or cocktail.
Two lobby elevators whisk you upstairs, where the 117 air-conditioned rooms—all with free Wi-Fi and wired Internet access—are just as thoughtfully designed as the downstairs public areas. There are five room categories whose subtle variations are explained in minute detail on the hotel website. Rooms are pretty spacious at 195-300 square feet, and designed in clean, contemporary style with brown and/or white decor, and lime-green accents. Large beds are topped with deep, downy European featherbeds. Contemporary-style baths, with showers or tubs, feature big mirrors, separate w.c.’s., thick bathrobes and hair dryers. The shower is done in minimalist style with a glass door and a floor level with the bathroom floor—a design I generally detest as it usually leaves the bathroom floor and bath mat sopping wet. But, here, someone took the time to properly angle the shower floor toward the drain, so the design actually works. Superior rooms have Tassimo coffee and tea makers.
You’ll find other small but significant touches in the rooms. One is a big umbrella, handy in spring and fall when Western Europe has frequent showers. The other is the minibar stocked with free premium soft drinks: Gerolsteiner mineral water (flat and fizzy), Fritz-Kola (regular and diet), and Niehoff’s Vaihinger apple and orange juices. Did I say free bottled water and soft drinks? Yes, I did. What’s more, the all-natural German-made drinks are absolutely delicious and are restocked daily. If you’ve ever come back to your room, after a long day of work or sightseeing, thirsty as all get out, and wondered at the injustice of paying $7-$10 for a small bottle of soda, water or juice, the idea of free soft drinks, all day, every day, will leave you pleased as punch.
What with the garden, the fresh breakfast foods, and the free apples and soft drinks, it’s clear that Hotel i31 is committed to providing guests with a healthy, as well as relaxing, stay. You’ll also find a Wellness Centre with a free gymnasium—featuring state-of-the-art strength-training and cardio machines, treadmills and exercise bikes—that’s open 24 hours a day. Real bikes are available, too, for a daily rental fee of 12 euros. The hotel also has a Scandinavian-style sauna, which, for some quirky reason, costs several euros. But, afterward, you can go back to your room and replenish all those lost fluids with all the free bottled water and soft drinks you want.
Caught up in the enthusiastic vibe and comfort of the Boutique Hotel i31, you might suddenly stop and wonder: Can I really be this lucky? Surely, this hotel must have at least one flaw. Well, yes—and no. The Hotel i31 does lack a full restaurant. But, being centrally located, it is ringed by a variety of moderately priced neighborhood restaurants, including Thai, Italian, Middle Eastern and German. Each night, after a long day of sightseeing, I’d dine in another country, so to speak, and was actually more pleased to have the choice of different eateries, with different foods and decor, than I would have been if my only option had been a hotel restaurant.
Handsome design rooms, big comfy beds, free Wi-Fi, a 24-hour gym, a stylish breakfast room serving hot and cold foods, a parking garage, a bar, free in-room water and soft drinks—plus a courtyard garden. All starting at about $150 a night. Right in the center of Berlin. Wasn’t I lucky? No, I was blessed.
IF YOU GO
Boutique Hotel i31. Invalidenstrasse 31, Mitte, 10115 Berlin, Germany. 49-30-96-53-57-000 or 49-30-33-84-00-0. www.hotel-i31.de/en