In a city with such a storied history, it came as no surprise that one of its grandest hotels has a rich history of its own. As Front Office Manager Wendy Stendel guided us on a tour of the hotel, we learned that the Westin Grand, opened in 1987 as the Grand Hotel Berlin, was the showcase hotel of the German Democratic Republic’s state-run hotel chain. While East Germans were not allowed to stay in the hotel, western tourists, including West Germans, were wooed to cross the border and spend a night in the “opulence” of the East, in large measure to attract hard currency.
After German reunification, the hotel temporarily fell into a state of disrepair, but was purchased by Westin and restored to a lavish state. From the pictures below, you might recognize that the hotel was featured in the Bourne Supremacy movie, the second installment of the Bourne series. A hotel associate jokingly stated that it took over a month to film the three minutes of footage from the hotel that made the final cut.
Hunter was in Frankfurt for a visit and we drove up to Berlin on a Friday evening, arriving just before midnight. Upon check-in, we were offered an upgrade to a fancy suite, but after consultation turned it down for two reasons. First, the suite only had a single bed and because of the heavy antique furniture in the room, there was not sufficient space to add a rollaway bed. Second, the deluxe room we settled on featured a balcony, which meant Hunter did not have to go down the hall, down the elevator, across the lobby, and out the door to the driveway (the temperature was about 30ºF, -1ºC) in order to smoke a cigarette. The Westin is a 100% smoke free hotel indoors. While a suite would have been nice, in this situation the deluxe room was the better choice.
I first walked through the hotel in 2006, where I was highly impressed with the rich red carpeting, grand piano, and brass lighting fixtures that bedecked the lobby. Last time I was at the hotel, in early 2008, the lobby was under construction and boarded up. The lobby now boasts a more modern look, with lighter colors that have brightened it up, but it still retains its classical feel. As Ms. Stendel mentioned during our tour, you just do not see too many new hotels today with large atriums—space is too valuable to waste on a large swath of open area.
The “old” lobby
The “new” lobby
During the hotel’s last refurbishment, some of the offices in the far corner of the hotel were converted into guest rooms. That is where we were placed and it was quite a journey to get the rooms—up the elevator or stairs, then down a very long hall, a turn, then down another long one. The new wing of the hotel does not feature the classic wooden doors featured in the older part of the hotel.
The room itself was on the small side, but quite comfortable and sufficient for our purposes. The bathroom was well-appointed (including a rain shower) and the patio featured a table with chairs. The view from the patio was a bit unseemly, with what looked to be the service entrance of the hotel below, but the room was tranquil and both the wired and wireless internet delivered fast connections.
We chose not to eat in the hotel restaurant for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, simply because there were so many restaurants I wanted to return to in the neighborhood, but the menus at Coelln and Relish, the hotel’s two primary restaurants looked appetizing. Hunter and I did stop by the Lobby Lounge & Bar each night and found the price list reasonable for a high-end hotel in Berlin.
The location of the hotel is ideal. Located just a stone’s throw from the Brandenburg Gate, major sites and attractions are easily assessable by foot, car, or public transportation. Parking was not a problem. We parked on the street directly across the street from the hotel for free on the first night, then left the car in a parking garage about three blocks away from the hotel the second night. We could have fed the parking meters till 10p then left the car on the street overnight for free again, but the convenience of parking it underground in a secure garage was worth the 18 Euros. The hotel offers valet parking.
I had some time to use the hotel fitness center and pool and on Saturday and here offer one bit of constructive criticism. The pool area was beautiful, but there were only eight chairs around the pool (not counting the two small tables in the bar area set several meters back from the pool). I was forced to leave my towel, iPhone, and room key on the ground because all chairs were occupied. Others did the same thing.
The fitness center was a bit lacking in terms of strength training equipment, but I was still able to get in a vigorous workout and even tried out Westin’s New Balance apparel rental program, where you can rent workout gear for free during your stay. I had brought along my own stuff, but gave their workout shorts a try and did not have any qualms about germs or cleanliness. I think it is a great program.
After so many times just walking by or walking through the hotel lobby, it was nice to finally stay at the Westin Grand in Berlin. Starwood Platinum members: there is a large number of suites at this hotel so the chances are good you can score a nice upgrade. During our tour with Ms. Stendel we took a look at the suite we were initially offered as well as a junior suite. Both were very spacious.
Nearly every staff member at the hotel was kind and personable, which is not always easy in large hotels. If work or vacation takes you to Berlin, do consider the Westin Grand. It certainly has my seal of approval.