A roaring fire and exquisitely squishy armchairs and sofas invite me to take a seat beside a Steinway piano. Renderings of elephants speckle fabrics in shades of crimson, green and golden turmeric. Hardwood floors clack underfoot. Beside me, cracked floor-to-ceiling glass windows look out onto Oranienplatz as a faint scent of roasted duck peppers the air.
I'm at Orania.Berlin, one of the German capital's most enticing new hotels. A half-hour stroll of Checkpoint Charlie and 10 minutes from Kottbusser Tor (where you'll find the hotel's nearest U-Bahn station), it's set within the historically anarchic kiez of Kreuzberg - once among the poorest areas in West Berlin. Today, the neighbourhood is a happy medley of brutalist architecture, Middle Eastern culture, 20-something expats and some of the finest restaurants, bars and nail studios in Berlin.
At just three years old, Orania.Berlin hasn't been without its teething problems. The only five-star hotel in the area and set in the former Oranienpalast Café, its lobby windows were decorated with fractures by anti-gentrification protesters shortly after opening in 2017. Helmed by proud Germans who've seen the city thrive in the face of adversity, the hotel took the decision to leave the windows splintered as a symbol of their sympathy.
Heading things up are husband-and-wife team Phillipp and Jennifer Vogel, who remain conscious of creating a refined establishment in a place that's more graffiti and noodles than jazz piano and tasting menus. It's for this reason that Orania.Berlin carries itself with understated finesse and respect. Most produce is sourced from local independent shops, bakers and makers, and the door is open for anyone to come in and play the piano, sing, drink, dine, dance or simply read and sip coffee.
It's a casual five-star experience at Orania.Berlin, though steeped in warm hospitality. You won't see gilt, crystal, mirrored televisions or suited bellboys in your suite. Instead, there's warm tones, lots of wood, cushioned window seats (request one overlooking the square) and smatterings of original features. Most trappings, from handmade trinket boxes to organic cosmetic products by Prenzlauer Berg and Urban Cosmetics, support small businesses that use all-natural materials - you won't see any plastic or tacky modern artwork here. As for snuggling up, all rooms have warm lighting, rugs galore and waffled cotton robes in bright colours. The Orania.Loft suite has its own fireplace.
What's for breakfast?
Guests can enjoy globally inspired frühstück of Japanese-style omelette, grüne eier und schinken (green eggs and ham), smoked salmon or pancakes. I urge you to order the shakshuka: perfectly baked organic eggs in a sweet tomato and pepper sauce with chickpeas and fresh herbs. Compliment your feast with rich coffee, fresh juices, toasted sourdough, rye or walnut bread as well as fresh fruits and granola - as much as you'd like. You can also go mad on an array of kombucha offerings or a hardy bloody Mary.
What about lunch and dinner?
A wildly inventive yet somehow gorgeously simple duck-only evening menu has been curated to huge local acclaim. As self-confessed duck fetishist, I was thrilled to get a moment with chef Phillipp Vogel, who told me how his time spent working in China altered his palate. He admits that he would never dare to replicate Peking duck, so instead, he's put together an insane SOUP, SKIN, BREAST, DRUM tasting menu. Highlights of the banquet include dim sum in shitake and dashi broth and a reimagined hoisin pancake affair, with additional skin, pickled ginger and brown sugar. I'm in heaven. The glistening duck that arrives at the table has been marinated, steamed and roasted until meltingly tender. A small à la carte menu with fish, vegan and spaetzle options also exists, and lunch here might look something like a light octopus salad, a pastrami sandwich or buckwheat waffles with duck trimmings.
Is there a bar?
The ever-changing, ever-experimental bar, complete with high-backed leather stools (why don't more bars have these to support my martini adventures?) has become a go-to for classy tipples soundtracked by whoever is tinkling on the ivories that evening. You might go for a "Nordic Colada" with aquavit, passionfruit and coconut or "La Grande Dame", concocted of yuzu, champagne and vanilla.
The lovely basement gym is neatly tucked away because, really, the only exercise most visiting Berliners are getting is on the dance floor and in the dark rooms. A white-hot concierge and smiling team (hi Yvonne!) are always at the ready with food, dancing and shopping recommendations for the area, but should you want to hideaway, you can order from the restaurant and collect from the lobby. Be assured that the building is so hardy and so old - plus live music ends before the witching hour - that no sound carries through the floors. In fact, there are few reasons for you to leave your king-size. Unless it's duck you're after.
Things I should know…
The beloved party and anarchy scene of Berlin eclipses so much of what the city is about. Anarchy is great when there's a purpose; read about Berlin before you visit and find out how different businesses are supporting urban growth in healthy ways, not setting the city alight. Check Orania's website to time your visit with some of their most celebrated live listings, chat to locals on arrival and take in the area rather than hiding away.
Within a short walk I can find…
Be sure to explore nearby Markethalle Neun (Orania buys its bread from here), the gorgeous Viktoriapark in summer and lose yourself in the record shops, bookstores and bars of Oranienstraße and Dresdener Straße - apothecary-turned-cocktail bar ORA is mere minutes away on foot.