How to Become a Leading Hotel

Ever wonder what it takes to become one of the world’s Leading Hotels? I did on the occasion of my stay at the Hotel Palace Berlin, which is a member of that elite and illustrious group, and truth be told I still don’t know the answer. For one, there are better or at least better known super-luxury hotels in the German capital, for instance the new Adlon or Sir Rocco Forte’s Hotel Rome where no expense was spared. Compared to them, the Palace seems a bit left behind, like an elderly Hollywood star scheduled for some overdue facelifting.

Okay, I suppose it helped back in the old days before German reunification if you were located in what was then the pulsing heart of (West) Berlin, right across from the famous Zoo and handy for the famous emporium KaDeWe, not to mention the (then) main rail terminus Bahnhof Zoo and a quarter of an hour’s taxi ride from Tegel airport. But seen from the outside, the Palace is hardly very imposing and kind of acts as an addendum to a rather shabby shopping mall. Yeah, the lobby is suitably posh in a slightly old-fashioned glitzy kind of way. And the rooms – or at least my room in the seventh, or “Club” floor – wasn’t particularly big not overly well-appointed: a double bed whose mattress hadn’t been turned for quite a while, and possibly hundreds or thousands of previous sleepers had left behind a distinct and frankly (again: for me) somewhat annoying hollow; a cramped little desk, two over-stuffed armchairs; a tiny mini bar containing, among other things, a bottle of sparkling water that another previous guest had drunk and refilled with tap water before carefully recapping it and putting it back in the fridge. I mean: You can pay 400 Euros for a hotel room, but you can’t afford a bottler of water? What a sorry creature…

Nothing to actually beef about yet, but slightly irritating nonetheless. If I could best describe my stay as a Night of Horrors, then that’s because I woke up at 4 in the morning to discover the builders has installed a radiator that was turning the room into a sauna and that apparently could not be turned off. At least it required a visit from the night desk manager who needed two visits and a quarter of an hour to figure out the secret. He also very kindly opened my window for me since I couldn’t do so for myself as management, obviously worried that I could fling myself out in a desperate attempt to escape the heat from the Radiator from Hades, had caused a lock be installed that was supposed to limited me to a narrow strip of open air.

If there is anything to justify the lofty title of “Leading Hotel”, then it must be the quality of the staff who were obviously superbly trained and not just very professional but also genuinely concerned about making my stay as happy as possible under the circumstances. That includes the young man who checked me in and regretfully informed me that Internet access wasn’t free, but in fact pretty hefty at 12 Euros per night for the simple, garden variety WLAN (a “premium” connection which presumably would have been fast enough for me to actually enjoy surfing would have set me back 15 Euros every 24 hours). “We have a contract with our provider that we can’t get out of quickly”, he explained, and when I suggested that they might just as well charge extra for the use of toilets and towels, he sympathized.

Towels: That starts me off on another pet peeve. I love big, thick, cushy bath towels, but the Palace goes in for thin, slightly stiff ones, but that may simply be a German thing. At least there were lots of them, although my room was booked as a single occupancy, so there was only one set of tiny little bottles containing shampoo and other sweet-smelling stuff. At least I had a choice of two bathrobes and four pillows, which was just as well since they proved to be so flimsy that I needed all four to prop my tired head up to its accustomed sleeping position.

The Michelin-starred restaurant in the first floor left nothing to be desired, and breakfast (served on the second floor, though you wouldn’t notice since the sign in the elevator only indicates that this where the spa is located) was a sumptuous feast featuring everything from five kinds of pickled herring to an assortment of home-made “wurst”, the justly famous smoked sausages of Berlin. But my own enjoyment received a server shock when I open the chaffing dish containing what Germans persist in calling “bacon”: curled up strips of white and virtually uncooked pork of indeterminate heritage swimming in a sea of liquid fat. Sorry folks, but to me this looks like something they dredged from the bottom of the Spree river where it had spent a couple of weeks slowly decaying.

This is something I experience constantly in Germany and which irks me as an American no end. How can people eat this stuff? I tend to speak my mind in situations like these, and I remonstrated with the young cook behind the omelet counter, who seemed suitably chastised, but who at least had the spirit to defend himself and his colleagues from the charge of Germanic savagery by saying that other customers actually like it that way; just yesterday, he maintained, someone had complained that the bacon was “too dry”.  And this in a country that produces the finest automobiles in the world and wants to be taken seriously as a world leader? Bacon barbarians, that’s what they are!

So I’m afraid I still can’t tell you what it takes to become a member of Leading Hotels. However I am certain that the people at Hotel Palace are part of the secret. And as for the rest: hey, shit happens, so maybe my personal experiences shouldn’t be overrated. Whatever, I am unsure what I will do the next time I’m in Berlin. After all, there are lots great hotels to choose from.

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