Home bases in Ger­many

Three his­toric cities on the move

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - JU­DITH ELEN

I ar­rive at a ram­shackle five-storey ten­e­ment build­ing, its pale brick scarred with rem­nants of a for­mer con­crete fa­cade. Flower beds edge grey asphalt in a front yard soft­ened by vines and trees in spring leaf. Naked light bulbs on strings lead from the street to a front door flanked by pot­ted sil­ver birch saplings. So far, not so promis­ing.

An equally faded painted sign above the door an­nounces Clarchens Ball­haus, pasted with the note, “100 Jahre Hochbe­trieb!” Lit­er­ally, 100 years of fever­ish ac­tiv­ity. I’m at Clarchens Ball­haus, the still-op­er­at­ing 100-year-old Ber­lin dance hall that has wit­nessed a mi­cro­cosm of lurid his­tory and some no­to­ri­ous Weimar-era faces.

On more fever­ish nights, out­door ta­bles pop­u­late the front yard. But tonight, the ac­tiv­ity is all in­doors. At ground level, dancers prac­tise old steps while din­ers at­tack plate-dwarf­ing schnitzels and sip de­li­cious Ger­man wines be­side the par­quetry dance floor.

Sepia pho­to­graphs in the small foyer show a more el­e­gant past. But up­stairs, in the or­nately pan­elled and mir­rored sa­lon, the glam­our sur­vives. Here, can­dle­light and crys­tal re­flect a pro­gram of live mu­sic, in­clud­ing the reg­u­lar “Gypsy restau­rant”, Sun­day con­certs, din­ners and dance classes. Clarchens even ap­pears, mo­men­tar­ily, in Quentin Tarantino’s In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds.

And like Clarchens, Ber­lin has every­thing: vin­tage glam­our, eye-pop­ping graf­fiti, and sleek fu­tur­is­tic gleam in the Haupt­bahn­hof (main rail­way sta­tion) and that Aladdin’s cave of won­ders, KaDeWe depart­ment store.

Ger­man cities are at the cut­ting edge. Emerg­ing from a dark past, the coun­try lead by chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel is a bright light in an er­ratic world. Ger­many’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to ex­am­ine its re­cent his­tory, in mu­se­ums and memo­ri­als, while cel­e­brat­ing its cen­turies-old artis­tic and in­tel­lec­tual her­itage, is a pow­er­ful rea­son to visit.

Ad­ina Apart­ment Ho­tels are good places to stay. This Hun­gar­ian-Aus­tralian fam­ily busi­ness has a long list of prop­er­ties in Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Hun­gary and Den­mark, and now seven in Ger­many, with a de­but in Leipzig and a sec­ond in Ham­burg planned for later this year. There’s an al­lure about a brand you know, with English­s­peak­ing staff and fa­mil­iar fa­cil­i­ties, as home bases for ex­plor­ing. Ad­ina’s Ger­man ad­dresses make com­fort­able and, above all, com­fort­ingly fa­mil­iar bolt­holes at the heart of the so­phis­ti­cated global me­trop­o­lises of Ber­lin, Frank­furt and Nurem­burg.

I be­gin my ex­plo­ration where else but in Ber­lin. Ad­ina has three prop­er­ties here (all in the buzzing Mitte district), Hack­escher Markt, Mitte and Check­point Char­lie (where I’m stay­ing). I ar­rive, with ice in the early spring air, to an in­te­rior of browns and burnt orange, timber, books and cop­per pots bur­nished by the re­flected flames of an open fire. The apart­ment-ho­tel con­cept of­fers pri­vate ad­dress ad­van­tages, such as fully equipped mod­ern kitchen and laun­dry fa­cil­i­ties, with the ho­tel ben­e­fits of ser­viced rooms, 24-hour re­cep­tion, heated pool, jacuzzi, sauna and gym, in-house restau­rant, and break­fast and in-room din­ing.

Ad­ina Check­point Char­lie opened 10 years ago, with stu­dios, twin and two-bed­room apart­ments, in what was an empty fac­tory; orig­i­nal cream and green art-deco tiles glaze the walls of a cen­tral atrium now fur­nished with plants and cafe ta­bles. Foyer cosi­ness con­tin­ues in the brown-leather and vel­vet-fur­nished Alto restau­rant and bar, where the menu ranges from Ber­liner Cur­ry­wurst mit Pommes Frites to Coolan­gatta Steak Sand­wich. A cor­ner al­cove, walls pa­pered with belle epoque posters for ab­sinthe, co­gnac and Grands Vins Mousseux, is a great place to re­treat af­ter a day out.

My Ber­lin ad­dress, in once-iso­lated com­mu­nist East Ger­many, is now at the cen­tre. City mu­se­ums house cut­ting-edge con­tem­po­rary de­sign, Old Mas­ters and Ger­man Ex­pres­sion­ism; there are spe­cialised me­dieval, Bie­der­meier and Bauhaus col­lec­tions, arte­facts from 2000 years of his­tory at the Ger­man His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum and, around the city, 30 palaces of the Prus­sian kings.

The city’s strat­i­fied his­tory is ex­ca­vated in the Ber­lin Story Mu­seum (in a Hitler-com­mis­sioned air-raid bunker), Daniel Libe­skind’s Jewish Mu­seum (cov­er­ing two mil­len­nia), the Anti-War Mu­seum (opened in 1925, de­stroyed by the Nazis and re­opened by the founder’s grand­son) and in Cold War col­lec­tions, many in old com­mu­nist build­ings. The enig­matic 2711 con­crete ste­lae of the Memo­rial to the Mur­dered Jews of Europe and the rose-scat­tered paving stones of the Memo­rial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Mur­dered un­der Na­tional So­cial­ism are both cen­tres for reflection.

Hav­ing ex­plored Ber­lin’s 20th-cen­tury his­tory on ear­lier vis­its, I’m headed for an older past. At the Perg­a­mon Mu­seum, one of five at the UNESCO her­itage-listed Mu­seum Is­land on the Spree River, I gaze at the tow­er­ing lapis-blue and golden Ishtar Gate from An­cient Baby­lon.

Later, I stroll in the Tier­garten, queen of green city spa­ces and, also in Mitte, visit the beau­ti­ful Deutscher Dom, with the dy­nas­tic Ho­hen­zollern Crypt be­neath. In be­tween, I de­tour to Kreuzberg for a de­li­cious pit stop at quirky Chez Michel bistro and, by night­fall, I’m off to Clarchens.

My Mu­seum Pass Ber­lin gives me en­try to 40-plus mu­se­ums and ex­hi­bi­tions; a Ber­lin Wel­come Card al­lows city travel, at­trac­tion dis­counts, map and guide book.

My next stop, Frank­furt, at the end of a com­fort­able four-hour train ride, is the fi­nan­cial hub var­i­ously known as Bank­furt, Main­hat­tan or Man­hat­tan on the Main. Frank­furt’s moder­nity is mem­o­rable, es­pe­cially the tilted cloud-swept glass mono­lith of the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank, and parks, gar­den walk­ways, oak and beech wood­lands en­fold the cen­tre in a 70km green belt. But it’s Frank­furt’s Old Town that I re­ally want to see.

Frank­furt, like else­where in Ger­many, is a cityscape of re­stored his­tory and the new. The small, faith­fully re­built Old Town (Alt­stadt) has eight his­toric churches, stepped fa­cade, multi-win­dowed and timber-laced houses, goldtipped clocks and coats of arms, green-cop­per domes and spires. Romer­berg Square is at the cen­tre, with the lacy spire of the Kais­er­dom, 13th-cen­tury elec­tion seat of the Holy Ro­man Em­per­ors, on one hand and, on the other, the red-brick, cop­per-tipped spire of Old Niko­lai Church, home of 35 bells that ring out daily.

At Alt­stadt’s river’s edge, Haus Wertheym (“anno 1479”), was the only timber-framed build­ing to survive the war and con­tin­ues as a wit­ness to his­toric brew-house hospitality. The old inn stands guard at Eis­erner Steg, the iron foot­bridge cross­ing the River Main to the me­dieval district of Sach­sen­hausen. Here, cob­bled streets, out­door

Ger­man His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum in Ber­lin, top; restau­rant and bar at Ad­ina Check­point Char­lie, above left; stu­dio room at Ad­ina Frank­furt, above right; bar at Ad­ina Nurem­berg, below

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