I’ll say this up front: it is wrong to stay at the Ritz Carlton when in Berlin. It is most inappropriate to associate with a brand that exudes opulence in a city that, in many ways, takes pride in being the exact opposite.
But sometimes, wrong just feels so right.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and after one too many sleepless of nights in sweaty hostels, I jumped at a low-ish rate I found through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program. A much needed holiday from holiday. Privacy at last.
The Ritz-Carlton Berlin – At a Glance
Star rating: ★★★★★
Rate Paid: €200 all-in for the lowest paid rate through American Express FHR, including a €100 F&B credit and free breakfast
Loyalty Status: Whatever the lowest tier of the Ritz Carlton Rewards program is
Location: Potsdamer Platz 3, 10785 Berlin, Germany, smack-dab in the middle of – you guessed it – Potsdamer Platz
The Good: Rates reliably lower than comparable 5-star hotels. Typical “old world” Ritz furnishings, including a five-piece marble bathroom, double sink, and separate shower and tub. Adequate passive ventilation system in a country where AC does not exist. Immediately adjacent to Tiergarten park, walking distance from the Brandenburg gates and all nearby government buildings and embassies.
The Bad: FHR room upgrade denied despite wide-open availability, with reception declining to elaborate on upgrade policy. The hotel’s only restaurant is slightly overpriced for Berlin, reducing the actual value of any food & beverage credits. Terrible room service and breakfast, which completely obliterate any remaining F&B value. Seriously, really bad food. Slightly apathetic service overall, perhaps the norm for Germany but noticeably out-of-place for the Ritz-Carlton brand.
The Ritz-Carlton Berlin – Full Review
The Ritz-Carlton Berlin is right next to Potsdamer Platz, which makes it easy to access from all lines of public transit: the U-bahn, S-bahn, and even the Deutche-bahn Regional Express if traveling through Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
Potsdamer Platz is a bit like Times Square. Centrally located, near lots of shopping, and very touristy. It’s also the place most Berliners avoid. So while the Ritz-Carlton Berlin might be conveniently located near Tiergarten park and all of the capital’s government buildings, one might look elsewhere if you’re looking to explore the city’s more vibrant, alternative scene.
But this was just fine with me. After all, I wasn’t looking for culture. I just wanted to sleep.
I arrived just before noon on what very well may have been the hottest day of summer. As I schlepped my way through the front doors, I was a bit peeved to find that it wasn’t that much cooler indoors. Unfortunate, but expected in a country that takes pride in environmental sustainability.
The lobby was quiet around noon. Check-in was relatively uneventful, though the receptionist didn’t have the typical American Express FHR benefit doc ready at the time. FHR policies vary from hotel to hotel (Can I apply an F&B credit to room service? Is alcohol or gratuity excluded?), so it’s always a good idea to get that sorted out to avoid nasty surprises at check-out.
She explained that the letter wasn’t yet ready since the room was booked on short notice, and that someone would bring it to my room later in the afternoon. That made sense, so I happily took my key and headed off to my room. Sleep at last!
I’ll pause here and note that every Ritz Carlton in the world falls somewhere on this lovely chart:
On one dimension, we measure service. Notable nightmare exceptions aside, you’ll typically experience a level of service ranging from the wonderful, paying-an-arm-for-this-room-was totally-worth-it kind of service that really WOWs you – all the way to “just ok, kind of like a Sheraton” on the other side. It’s rare to experience truly horrendous service on a regular basis at a genuine five-star hotel, so we adjust accordingly.
The other dimension “measures” design, on a scale that doesn’t really make any sense but wait don’t leave! I’ll explain.
At the top we have brand-new hotels that feature avant-garde designs with the latest hotel-tech gizmos to turn off the lights, close the blinds, and wipe your butt. I happen to prefer this modern aesthetic, but I recognize that heated dryer-enabled toilets may not be to everyone’s fancy. That’s why I also included a smiley with a top hat for those who prefer to stay at more established properties that feature an old world vibe, like staying with a rich aunt thrice removed if you had one around.
Unfortunately, we also have hotels (usually built in the mid-twentieth century, the black hole of international architecture) that are also clearly dated, but lack any of the charm that accompanies “old world” hotels. Usually lots of concrete. Much concrete.
Now that I think about it, this can apply to just about any 5-star hotel. I think I will make this a thing.
Anyways, here’s where we find the Ritz Carlton Berlin:
In terms of design, the Ritz Carlton Berlin would fall squarely in the “old world” category, though its relatively recent renovations and touch-enabled lights and other assorted gizmos tip it ever so slightly into modern territory.
The service, which struck me as oddly aloof and generally apathetic, gets a resounding “meh.” The first service experience comes when I discovered I’d been placed in in an oddly-configured and rather cramped double room with separate twin beds. While not exactly a travesty by any means, I found this a bit odd seeing as how I’d booked a king on a reservation for one.
So back downstairs I went. When I explained I’d prefer a king bed if available, the receptionist who checked me in gave me a weird look before turning to her colleague and whispering in German. Whispering turned into full-on banter as I awkwardly stood by – unable to understand a word. After this went on for what seemed like eternity, the gentleman she was speaking to, apparently the hotel’s “Rooms Manager,” informed me that – sure, I could have a King bed.
While the two exchanged pleasantries, it occurred to me that I hadn’t asked about the standard upgrade that frequently accompanies FHR bookings. Unfortunately, no such upgrade was available. No problem, but could they explain the upgrade policy just so I had it for reference, perhaps for a future stay?
This is where things got weird. The Rooms Manager simply repeated that a room upgrade wasn’t available and then defensively insisted that “I’m not lying!” when I clarified I was just asking about the general policy – and not requesting an upgrade for this particular stay.
A language barrier perhaps, though Germans are known for their flawless English. Or maybe a cultural difference that prizes a no-nonsense approach to self-sufficiency. Either way, it was a bit of a puzzling encounter that seemed out of place for a Ritz Carlton hotel. “Glad for it to be over” isn’t a feeling one commonly associates with checking-in to a five-star hotel.
To his credit, I think the hotel manager may have realized this himself halfway through the conversation, when his tone changed abruptly as he assured me that, while not an upgrade, my new room would have the best views. Sounds good, let’s go!
Lots of enameled engineered wood, soft Easter egg palettes, and White House-esque fixtures completed the old world aesthetic.
Here’s the view, where you can make out a sliver of the Tiergarten and adjoining courtyard. While not extraordinarily magnificent, it seemed much preferable to the other rooms which must’ve had a square view of the adjoining office building and Marriott to the right.
As I mentioned before, traces of tech were scattered throughout the room, including buttons for lights, “do not disturb,” and .. off? The passive ventilation system kept the room reasonably cool, though I longed for the power to chill the room well below 60.
Sadly, the tech wave didn’t reach the TV, which looked more like a desktop monitor. Though admittedly, desktop monitors are huge nowadays (do you really need a curved 32″ gaming monitor, Steve?).
The bathroom was decked out in characteristic Ritz flair with pink marble (or a convincing ceramic glaze), double sinks, and a separate bath and shower. Asprey furnished the toiletries, as is the standard in Ritz Carlton hotels.
It was time for a nap, but hunger soon overtook the need for sleep.
The Ritz Carlton Berlin offers four dining establishments: The Tea Lounge (for tea, presumably), The Curtain Club (an elaborate hotel bar), Fragrances (a bizarre establishment where you can apparently smell perfumes while sipping cocktails), and Brassiere Desbrosses – the hotel’s only full-service restaurant that seems equally inspired by French cafe and German countryside.
Since I was in no mood to sniff cologne, I took a seat at Brasserie Desbrosses and opted for a light salad with mixed greens, beets, and carefully shaped (though stingily portioned) chicken medallions.
It was fine as far as salads go, though the hefty price tag of €24 was about double what I’d pay across the street. Don’t forget to discount your FHR F&B credit accordingly to account for the standard but nevertheless ridiculous hotel premium.
I wandered around the hotel afterwards, stopping by the gym and pool in the basement floor. I forgot to take pictures here, sorry. You’ll have to take my word for it when I say the pool was nice, though a bit muggy and claustrophobic as basement pools tend to be. The gym was on the smaller side, consisting of a few treadmills, ellipticals, and lighter freeweights packed into a tiny room adjoining the pool.
For what it’s worth, I inquired whether the hotel had a day pass agreement with a nearby full-service gym. I must’ve mentally blocked out the reply when I heard an exorbitant price tag (something like €40), but I gather it’s a nice Equinox-like gym located within walking distance of the property.
When I returned to my room, I was greeted by a nice fruit plate which had been placed on top of the bar during my brief absence.
When dinner time rolled around (all I do is eat, didn’t you know?) I opted for room service since I needed some time to get ready to go out later that evening. The steak and frites were exorbitantly priced north of €40, but you got to use up all those F&B credits, right?
What initially appeared to be a standard steak and fries affair quickly dived south. As I bit into the supposedly medium-rare steak, I encountered the notorious combination of protein overcooked to intractable toughness while somehow also managing to be unpleasantly chewy. It’s the flavorless kind of steak you’d send back at a garden variety Outback Steakhouse, let alone at an establishment with eyebrow-raising prices that make you silently whisper “… this better be good.”
The fries were the better part of the meal. They tasted like they were from Burger King. I don’t mean that as a criticism, just a factual observation. The fries had the unmistakable aroma and crisp salty snap that can only be manufactured through countless hours of R&D, focus groups, and chemical engineering. They tasted like America. And I happen to like Burger King fries (and America), thank you very much.
As I choked down the last bit of steak, I gave my empty plate one last sad glance before heading out the door. On the bright side, the night could only get better!
Breakfast. Much needed sustenance. What shall we find at the Ritz Carlton Berlin?
At first glance, everything looked pretty good. A buffet breakfast for two is included with every FHR booking, and the hotel sets out a diverse selection that meets international tastes and standard. There was a “European” section with lots of bread, meats and cheeses. A “Middle Eastern” table with couscous, tomatoes, cucumbers, and what appeared to be ful mudammas (a traditionally delicious breakfast porridge made of fava beans). And America/Great Britain was well-represented by steaming hotel pans filled to the brim with bacon, pork sausage, chicken sausage, mushrooms, baked beans, and other caloric delights.
Unfortunately, much like the sad steak from the night before, the niceties ended at appearance.
I had a little bit of everything, scurrying from disappointment to disappointment as everything just tasted .. off.
The bread was stale, chilled to a temperature I only wish my uncomfortably warm room could match. I literally spat out the couscous (something I rarely do), when all I tasted was the sharp, incredibly acidic bite of lemon juice. Even the sausage (the SAUSAGE! IN GERMANY!) was dried out beyond recognition in the same style as its cousin sad steak.
In a last ditch attempt to save breakfast, I turned to the custom order bar, where you could order eggs any style. Interestingly, the cook would ring a service bell when your order was complete, despite the restaurant being nearly empty and a pair of servers ambling about.
In a particularly amusing scene, the cook rang the bell for a gentleman seated across the room. When he didn’t respond, the cook rang the bell more enthusiastically, its repeated clanging echoing obnoxiously throughout the deserted restaurant. The man eventually took the hint, though he looked mighty annoyed as he gave the cook a grunt and a very sarcastically British “at your service” upon collecting his plate. His English humor seemed lost on the cook, however, as she flatly thanked him and returned to cooking my order, a fried egg inspired by the colors and contours of the Moon:
I’m not sure if it was because it was still too early, or because I’d never seen a fried egg quite so bubbly before, but I must’ve had a rather perplexed expression on my face as a server quickly appeared by my side to ask if anything was wrong.
I don’t remember what I said, but I think it was something along the lines of a meek “… it’s not supposed to look like this … uhh … I don’t know …” She offered to have it re-made, but I thought better of it as I noticed the British man had risen, plate in hand, making his way back to the bar. He did not look pleased.
I’ll try something else. The eggs benedict with salmon perhaps?
I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of this. I recognized the English muffin and poached egg, but it seemed like the cook had decided to broil the resulting creation, drying out the hollandaise sauce to an unsavory mush and cooking the already-smoked salmon. I’ll save a more nuanced assessment to the critics, so I’ll just say that this, whatever it was, was not good.
For the rest of breakfast, I sipped on my coffee and nibbled on twice-cooked salmon before throwing in the napkin.
In case you get the wrong idea, I don’t tend to be too particular when it comes to food. Sure, I enjoy a nice steak, and I’ll tolerate food in foam form. But I’m just as happy, often happier, with a quality dollar slice and McDouble® turned McQuad (trademark of my own invention).
So I think it’s significant when I say that the food at the Ritz Carlton Berlin is terrible, if one can judge on one room service and breakfast buffet alone. What really hurts is that had breakfast not been included with my room, I’d have had to pay between €35-€45 (depending on drinks). Now that is ridiculous.
When you’re paying that much for eggs and bacon, at an establishment as staid as the Ritz Carlton, the least you can expect is for the food to not be so .. bad. Even with tempered expectations, this breakfast fell far short.
Though this stay was long ago, I find myself sinking into an odd depression as I reminisce about my sad steak and moon eggs. So I’m going to cut this review short and simply issue a culinary caution if you’re planning to stay here.
Final Thoughts – The Ritz-Carlton Berlin
Overall, the hotel can offer a good value if you’re a Marriott/Ritz-Carlton member and you’re planning to stay in a 5-star hotel in Berlin. Note that value is especially relative in Berlin, and if the Ritz-Carlton can be had for under €200 a night, many other hotels – including 4-star hotels like Sheratons and Hiltons – can be booked for half the price.
For some reason, the hotel’s restaurant and room service don’t match these below average prices. And while the prices aren’t totally outrageous compared to similar hotels in other world capitals, the quality leaves too much to be desired. If you’re thinking of using your AMEX FHR credits here to turn a stay into a “good value,” take this into account accordingly. Finally, service is fine. Not bad by any means, but lacking a certain level of warmth and attention found at comparable hotels. Mr. England would probably agree.
I hope you have the opportunity to visit Berlin someday. It is a wonderful city, truly unique on every dimension. It’s a city that has seen the best and worst of history and humanity, often back to back in near-schizophrenic fashion. Berliners have endured a lot over the years, and while some might view the ever-creeping highrises on the Spree (and I suppose, people who stay at the Ritz Carlton) with a degree of suspicion, they’re just as likely to welcome you with open arms.
And yes, the food is good too.