Lux 11 is a hip hotel hiding behind a traditional exterior and an excellent example of a place to stay in a sleek, contemporary European setting.
The Lux 11, Berlin
The Germans are - thankfully - useless at attitude. Every one in the nation is born with an enviable chip in their head that makes them invariably punctual and efficient and not inclined to be snooty. The receptionist at Lux 11 made a half-hearted attempt to be aloof - like a nightclub bouncer checking the guest list - but within seconds she reverted to German professionalism. We were expected, the room was ready (even though we were early), the heating was on, there were chocolates in a basket, and we were very warmly welcomed to Berlin.
Mitte is Berlin's hippest district. A few wise entrepreneurs, including the owner of Lux 11, spied an opportunity here when the wall was falling; the chance to turn a bleak, grungy, non-descript precinct into a vibrant neighbourhood with an enticing collection of avant-garde fashion outlets, cosy cafes, bistros, record stores and delis. A short walk away is the vast Alexanderplatz with its statue of the fathers of communism - Marx and Engels - and the 362m tall Fernsehturm TV tower, both defining symbols of the old East Berlin. In the other direction, expect streets lined with apartment buildings whose ground floors have been transformed into boutiques selling clothes, bags, sneakers, scarves and much more, many from Berlin's established and up-and-coming designers.
I am convinced that the Lux 11 staff training programme contains a session on the lost art of speaking softly - a great skill to have in the hotel industry. This was practised by the receptionists, managers, restaurant staff and chambermaids, and it fitted well with the hotel's hushed corridors and muted tones. It's good to remember that Lux 11 is essentially an apartment hotel, with one or two rooms likely to be booked out by executives in town on business for a month or more, so the service is not as hands-on or constantly indulgent as a normal high-end hotel - it's quality over quantity.
When a hotel is situated in former East Berlin and describes a room as a "monolithic space in which everything is finished in concrete" the imagination cannot help but conjure a chillingly austere communist throwback. The opposite is true. Our studio was painted in warm browns and calming greens, and the addition of soft lighting, sandy-coloured sofas and a central wooden pillar separating the kitchenette and living areas from the bedroom area gave the place a distinctly Nordic feel. It was below freezing outside and snow was falling but the radiators pumped enough heat to bring the room close to sauna conditions.
We only managed one very quick meal at the hotel's Italian-Asian fusion restaurant Shiro i Shiro but it was a good one: asparagus soup and a tuna tataki dish that was seared tuna slices with foie gras on top of risotto. The restaurant has a clean, open, sushi-bar look. The service was swift, the flavours were fresh and it was one night when we did not feel overblown after a vast and heavy meal laden with red meat - a definite favourite of Berliners. Although the nearby German restaurants and bistros are fun, it was nice to have a night off and hit the continent of Asia.
Lux 11 attracts young creative types from across Europe. Expect a lot of black polo-necks and Dolce & Gabbana jeans and - in winter - thermal beanies and even the odd felted Fedora. But there's little showing off - this is not a see-and-be-seen kind of place. It's a sneak-in-and-be-private sort of a hotel.
The wonderful design of the rooms gave us an overwhelming feeling of comfort and security. In the morning, the sharp winter sunlight flooded in through the tall windows as we drank coffee and had our first meal on high wooden breakfast bar stools, planning our day with maps and guidebooks. I also liked the design conundrum that faced us - was the painted concrete rectangular space under the shower head really a bath or just a large receptacle for catching the water and preventing the room from flooding? It had Starck-esque bath taps, and was deep enough to enjoy once filled, but we were never quite sure. Devotees of the Bauhaus school of architecture and design will love its whimsy.
The rather mean surcharge if you stay less than three nights -US$20 (Dh75) per night - but then, it's a good hotel so solve the problem by staying three nights and enjoying more of emerging Mitte. The name, Lux 11, is a tad reminiscent of a 1960s washing powder brand, and somehow does not do justice to the cleverly designed rooms and the overall professionalism of the place.
A member of the Design Hotels group, Lux 11 is an excellent example of a place to stay in a sleek, contemporary European setting. The attention to detail in the styling of the rooms is superb, from the blend of construction materials and colours to the functional and fun bath, the breakfast bar stools and the industrial radiators. The rooms look and feel like they have been put together not by a blur of builders eager to finish and get to the next job but by master craftsmen.
Double rooms at Lux 11 cost from $223 (Dh817) per night , including taxes. Lux 11, Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse 9-13, Berlin-Mitte, Germany (00 49 30 93 62 800; www.lux-eleven.com).