What started in the 12th century as two small settlements on the banks of the river Spree became the capital of the newly named kingdom of Prussia in 1701. Towns sprung up around the city and by 1920 they united and Berlin became one of the largest cities in the world. Some of the former towns are today known as districts of the German capital; Charlottenburg, Schoneberg, Spandau, Kopenick, Neukolln, and Lichtenburg just to name a few. That same year those two settlements from the 12th century, once known as Alt-Berlin and Colln became known as the district of Mitte.
It is here you will find the majestic tree lined boulevard Unter den Linden bringing visitors from the UNESCO World Heritage Site Museum Island to Paris Square with its now famous icon the Brandenburg Gate. To the south is the infamous symbol of the cold war Checkpoint Charlie and next to it Gendarmenmarkt, with its two beautiful churches and concert hall built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. To the north, across the river Spree where once a thriving Jewish population lived, is the new nightlife and art district of Berlin. In the east is Karl Marx Allee formerly known as Stalin Allee, the broad avenue with its iconic Soviet “wedding cake”architecture leading from Alexanderplatz to the Frankfurter Gate. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Museum Island with its 5 world class museums is the nucleus of the district and the tourist heart of the city. Across the street from the museums is a construction site, soon to be home to a reproduction of the Royal Palace of Berlin. The original was torn down in 1950 by the communists. Although all of Berlin suffered damage during WWII, it was the district of Mitte which bore the brunt of the allied bombing campaign. After the war the city was divided between the victorious allies. The central district of Mitte however was not divided equally into East and West but was given in its entirety to the Soviets. They made very little effort to rebuild what they felt were symbols of Germany and Prussia’s imperialist past. For the next 40 years the district was left as a gray, bombed-out, war ruin avoided by international tourists.
Since the mid 1990’s however the city center has undergone massive renovations making it a mecca for architects all over the world. From the crumbling ruins of abandoned apartment blocks and years of Soviet neglect a new business model has sprung up. The concept is the apartment hotel offering short term, furnished apartment rentals. This was once only an option for business travelers but is now becoming a viable alternative to over priced hotel accomodations. In the past five years the major hotel chains from budget to luxury have also started to get in on the action. . Before their recent arrival in Mitte your only option for accommodations were shabby, run down, 2/3 star hotels or pensions. For that reason most tourists chose to stay in West Berlin in the former American and British districts. Up until the end of the 1990’s most tourists were still under the mistaken impression that the area around the Zoo was the city center. For the more knowledgeable visitor nowadays the best move is to abstain from booking a well-known hotel in West Berlin and instead book an apartment in the exciting district of Mitte.
One such company offering apartments since 2004 is Apartments Apart. Their apartments are located on the boarder of Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg in what has become the nicest new neighborhood of the former east. Just 10 minutes walking distance away is Alexanderplatz, Hackesche Markt and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Museum Island. The hotel chains are now playing catch up and building behemoth structures in the city center but they are still forced by to build around the shopping malls of Alexanderplatz instead in the quaint neighborhoods where the natives choose to live. With furnished apartments you can truly live like a local and avoid the tourist traps that traditionally spring up around large hotel chains. Apartments have the upper hand on hotels for more reasons than just location however.
First of all you get so much more space than a cramped hotel room; apartment sizes range from one room, 35 m2 (375 square feet) all the way up to four rooms with 120 m2 (1300 square feet). All of them include a fully furnished kitchen and en suite bathroom and some of the larger apartments also have balconies and a second guest bathroom. Another advantage is that most of the apartment hotels in are either in modern or newly renovated buildings. This means not only new furniture, wireless internetb and flat screen TV’s but also brand new electricity, plumbing, insulation, heating, etc. The third advantage is price. With a group of friends you can reduce the price for accommodation to around 30 Euro per person for a huge apartment in the best location in the German capital. Apartment companies are also more likely to offer you great last minute deals.
Once I discover this in the late 1990’s I began to shun hotels world-wide. Nowadays when I go traveling I always first check to see if there are apartment available. Apartments Apart is a convenient and easy to use site showing all the locations you can book throughout Europe. Due to Berlin’s history and the amount of neglect and reconstruction that was necessary after re-unification apartment hotels became a tourist phenomenon specific to the German capital. This trend however is beginning to take off all around the world. With tourists becoming more frugal and internet savvy people there is every reason to believe this will continue well into the future.