Despite an ever-increasing range of luxuries available, or maybe because of it, it's sometimes hard to feel truly relaxed and pampered in city hotels today.
In between trying to ensure you've got WiFi from the second you check in, to flicking through the iPad menus at restaurants and fiddling around with the hi-tech TV/light/surround sound entertainment system in your room, you forget to stop and take it all in.
Which is why the Hotel Louis C. Jacob came as such a breath of fresh air - ensconced as it is in one of Hamburg's greenest and most tranquil spots along the mansion-lined Elbechaussee in the city's beautiful Blankenese district.
Old-school, formal service may be considered a bit old-fashioned these days, but it felt like a real treat to wake up to a delicious silver-service breakfast overlooking the River Elbe and go to bed after pouring myself a night cap of sherry thoughtfully left in a crystal carafe in my room.
In fact everything about the Hotel Louis C. Jacob - from its cool and elegantly classic decor, to its green inner courtyard spaces and the stunning Lime Tree Terrace, made famous by German Impressionist Max Liebermann (who was once a long-time resident of this gorgeous hotel) felt like just that - a real treat.
Even if I had been here on business I think the calm atmosphere and green-leaved views out of my window would have only served to heighten my ability to concentrate.
The main reason for visiting Hotel Louis C. Jacob however, was not to work but to visit its highly acclaimed Jacob's Restaurant, which has for a long time remained under the stewardship of two Michelin-starred Chef Thomas Martin.
The ever-smiling Martin is known for his produce-centric approach and ability to coax intense flavours from a classic pantry, making his French-inspired cuisine distinctly contemporary. The lobster cream soup perfectly spiced with curry and lemongrass with which I started my meal was probably the most successful version of this well-loved dish I have ever tasted, with the exotic additions paying a fitting tribute to Hamburg's love affair with Eastern ingredients owing to its heritage as a port city.
The restaurant offers two menus - the Jacob menu and the Thomas Martin menu and you have the flexibility of picking a choice of 5 or 6 courses from either. We picked a selection of dishes from both menus with equal success - choosing a mix of richer and fresher flavours - from a moorish warm tartlet with cheese and tomato, etouffe pigeon served on a bed of cous cous and saddle of venison with fried goose liver and kohlrabi, to a silky trout served with caviar, herbs and creme fraiche, and scallops from Brittany served inventively with algae, green beans and a saffron sauce.
Dinner was accompanied by a well-selected choice of wines from the knowledgeable sommelier, including the hotel's very own Louis C. Jacob 2014 vintage, a creamy-finished Weissburgunder.
The dessert menu was intriguing for only listing the core ingredients without hinting at their manner of preparation. Of the two chosen, the passion fruit, mango and coconut dessert carried the sweet, bursting flavour of the tropics. Having picked the more conservative black berry, almond and chocolate preparation I have to admit I had a slight case of dessert envy.
Adding to the element of indulgence was a well-stocked petits fours trolley that was wheeled over to the table after dinner, stacked high with gilded truffles, bon bons and macarons that looked almost too good to eat (thankfully that feeling didn't last very long as I had already had a taste of them from the welcome platter left in my room so knew exactly what to expect!)
The dining room had a grace that is sorely missing from many fine-dining restaurants of today and far from being stuffy felt like you were truly treating yourself to a fine feast.
The hotel has a unique layout, set as it is across two sides of the Elbechaussee, but is conveniently connected through a pedestrian subway (which we discovered on a rainy afternoon - no need to brave Hamburg's drizzly weather to get to your room if it happens to be on the non-Elbe side of the hotel.)
While my suite didn't have the famed Elbe views that are among the Hotel Louis. C. Jacob's most sought-after attractions, its generously proportioned living and sleeping quarters and inner location made it even cosier on a rainy Hamburg evening, and its almost full-length bathroom with a deep soak tub and unbelievably comfortable bed (I'm actually considering finding out where I could buy one!) made it one of the most restful rooms I have ever slept in.
The hotel's bright terrace spaces and intimate Jacob's Bar were among my favourite spots, perfect to enjoy a sun-lit breakfast in the morning or a quiet tipple at night.
It's actually little wonder the Hotel Louis C. Jacob is considered one of the finest places to dine in Hamburg, given the fact that it began its life as a bakery and wine restaurant more than 200 years ago. The original structure is often used as the venue for intimate group meals, owing to its long culinary heritage.
The cannon in the hotel's famed Lime Tree Terrace harks back to that time, although it has a bit of an unfortunate history. The cannon was used by the original owner to salute passing ships on the Elbe, a habit that ended in a fatal accident one day when the cannon misfired.
Another highlight of that period (thankfully one with less tragic a history) is an atmospheric old ice cellar that was discovered while attempting to build an underground car park for the hotel. The stunning domed brick structure now houses rows of wine bottles and carafes and can be used as an intimate venue for a dinner for two or small gatherings by candlelight.
From the impeccably executed and richly flavoured cuisine to its gorgeous setting that truly captures the best the city has to offer, I can't think of a more perfect spot to enjoy a beautiful day in Hamburg.
Disclaimer: Platetrotter stayed as a guest of Hotel Louis C. Jacob. I was however completely charmed by this property and the meals enjoyed in its riverfront restaurant and on the Lime Tree Terrace were among my loveliest in Germany.
Bagels in New York, Pho in Hanoi, Peking Duck in Beijing, Pad Thai in Bangkok - there are some cities that are synonymous with certain kinds of food and it would be silly to go to them without making the effort to try the local specialty in the land of its birth (or perhaps the land where it rose to fame... the history of food is often too complicated to trace back with much accuracy.)
So of course it seemed natural to go to Hamburg and well, try a local Hamburger. So last year while wandering around Hafen City - Hamburg's newest urban master development running just across from its beautiful old warehouse district - I thought it was definitely time to try the city's namesake dish.
I'd heard that Heimat Kuche and Bar in Hafen City's Uberseequartier did a good, big, juicy version and so without much hesitation picked it straight off the menu.
In my rush to order the Hamburger in Hamburg I committed the fundamental mistake of not checking out the rest of the menu - a departure from the norm for me. Because if I had done so I would have spotted what is the city's actual quintessential dish - Labskaus (sometimes called lapskaus) - a traditional specialty of Northern Germany and specifically the harbour town of Hamburg.
Thankfully, my dining companion did spot it and ordered it which meant I got a taste of this strange, strange dish.
Strange why, you ask? Well... let's start with the ingredients. Salted corn beef, potato, onions, gherkins, rollmop herring and a fried egg. Sounds pretty much like standard German fare you say. The answer is no. Because Labkaus is what I can only best describe as being a meat mush. The mince to potato ratio gave it a pretty strange consistency that felt like you were eating a beef-tasting potato mash. Which texturally tastes as strange as it sounds.
The dish is believed to have originated on board the many vessels that sailed out in the North Sea. As the long journeys wore on, the cooks needed to make their meagre supplies of meat stretch as long as they could. They did this by mashing up preserved meat with potatoes to bulk them out, adding whatever they could into the mix as they went along. As the sailors reached the end of their journey - and began getting closer and closer to their home port of Hamburg - the number of times Labkaus began to appear on their menu increased in frequency (often with its meat-to-potato ratio simultaneously decreasing!) But more Labkaus for dinner definitely meant one good thing for the sailors - they were getting closer to home!
While the mince and potato mash forms the main base, the gherkins and fried egg go on top with the roll mops on the side, and you eat this whole strange combination together - fish, meaty mash and pickled vegetables. We asked our waiter if he particularly liked the dish and he was honest yet diplomatic enough to say it wasn't his favourite.
Still in service to the cause of proper platetrotting, I am glad I got to taste a few spoonfuls of Hamburg's famous dish. (I have to admit that while my good ol' hamburger may have scored lower on the exotic food scale it did pretty good on the taste and satisfaction scale)
When in Hamburg
See: While primarily known as a harbour town, the city of Hamburg is immensely pretty - with lush walking and cycling tracks winding their way around the Alster Lake, the mighty Elbe (carrying mightier barges stacked high with shipping containers) flowing along at a gentle pace, and the gorgeous green copper roofed warehouses of the Speicherstadt district creating a picture postcard view in pretty much all directions.
While the Aldstadt (Old Town) with its imposing Rathaus or city hall may seem like the obvious place to start discovering the city, my favourite quarter has to be the shiny new Hafen City area with its funky and mind-bogglingly diverse architecture, and arguably Germany's best attraction of all time - Miniatur Wunderland. Yes it sounds extremely touristy (and it is!) but where else can you see a full fledged functioning miniature airport running in painstaking detail, down to planes that land from midair onto a runway, taxi to a parking bay and have tiny luggage vans ferry themselves around the tarmac. Pure German brilliance!
Drink: Hamburg has no shortage of places to drop by for a drink. From its notorious Reeperbahn red light district where The Beatles famously performed many gigs (a monument to the Liverpudlians now commemorates Hamburg's role in the band's history at the aptly named Beatles Platz), to the buzzing, studenty Schanze district where you can plonk down on wooden picnic tables and catch up over cheap beer, cocktails overlooking the Alster at the rooftop Campari Lounge or a mellow evening by the Elbe at the stylish Buddha-adorned Indochine, you will not be at a loss for choices to spend your evenings.
Stay: The Hafen City outpost of the always surprising 25Hours Hotels is definitely a good port of call, with its nautical-themed interior being less maritime kitsch and more shipping warehouse cool.
The sea blue rooms have feature walls plastered over with sailor's tattoo-like art that tell a visual story of the hotel team (their actual stories are also found in a "log book" placed in your room, a nice touch.)
Other inspirational elements are a minibar fashioned out of a traveler's trunk, a meeting room and sauna cabins created out of re-purposed shipping containers, rope ladders doubling up as clothes racks in the rooms, and giant warehouse floor markings at check in pointing you the right way.
Breakfast was at the aforementioned Heimat Kuche (I discovered the hotel on my hamburger mission last summer and just had to check it out in more detail this year. Cheers to the 25Hours team for putting me up for a night!) The morning spread featured a hearty chacuterie, cheese and bread selection and a well-stocked collection of the usual brekkie favourites, along with some unusual additions such as a moreish semolina pudding served with cherry compote. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! Definitely a great spot to drop anchor while in Hamburg.
The trendy triangle of Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Neukölln are the triumvirate of names most likely to come up in any conversation discussing the best bar hopping trails in Berlin.
With a long list of indie bars to check out, you won't be at a loss to fill your evenings. Here's a list of a few spots I hit on my recent trip to the city:
The former East Berlin borough's heavily tagged and graffitied streets are lined with some of the liveliest bars, pubs and cafes in the city and is a good place to start discovering Berlin's electric energy.
I'd heard of Berlin's famous "Beach Bars" before heading to the city (and no you aren't mistaken, Berlin is indeed landlocked). And while they may be a bit of a misnomer, ocean-view aside you will find the other beach club essentials at YAAM Beach - sand, booze, music and even a volleyball court with the river Spree providing the essential waterfront location. This institution in Friedrichshain comes with a vibrant dose of Caribbean cool complete with reggae beats, barefooted Rastafarians, authentic Jerk Chicken and eye-popping street art, all congregating in a laid-back open air chill out zone. Definitely a place to grab a cold one on a balmy summer's evening.
This former West Berlin quarter bordered the Berlin Wall and continues to retain much of its alternative vibe despite the onward march of gentrification. It's where most people looking to get a taste of the German capital's legendary nightlife will inevitably be directed and for good reason - Kreuzberg has an eclectic collection of bars, cafes and party spots that offer something for everyone.
Not Only Reisling
For a mellow start to the evening the elegant wine shop and bar Not Only Reisling or NOR for short is a good spot to try some local vino and perhaps pick up a bottle or two of your favourite finds. When we popped in, there were a couple of bottles on the go up for tasting including a well rounded Josef Rosch Reisling (I know I probably should have tried another grape) from the Mosel region that had a sweet, lingering finish. I happily would have nursed a couple more glasses had we not been keen to explore the area's other gems.
Die Legende von Paula und Ben
Named after a 1973 East Berlin film whose tagline was "A Controversial Romance from Behind the Iron Curtain", this intimate little bar is just round the corner from NOR and serves up a well-mixed list of classic cocktails. Die Legende Von Paula Und Ben's high chairs, comfy leather armchairs and a few outdoor seats offer a fair number of perching spots and gave me that same cosy vibe of sipping a drink in my favourite bar street in the world, Gemmayze in Beirut.
Highly popular within Berlin's active LGBT scene, this bar is meant to host some raucous nights although its kitsch pink-hued space was pretty quiet the evening we paid it a visit. Run by one of the city's most famous celebrity drag queens, Barbie Deinhoff's has an impressive cocktail list and although we failed to witness any of it, a legendary reputation that makes it a regular on pretty much every must-visit Berlin bar list.
This bohemian quarter of south-east Berlin is known for its artsy and diverse crowd, with its typically ausländer (immigrant) demographic makeup credited for its uniquely eclectic vibe. While the area is also facing more vocal complaints of the conformist ills of gentrification, it's quirky bars and cafes continue to be among the coolest in town.
Geist Im Glas
We ducked into the candlelit and cosy Geist Im Glas (Ghost in a Glass) - a bare-brick , weathered wood-countered bar that specialises in infused spirits - all of which are lined along the back of the bar in vintage potion bottles that would seem more at home in a perfumerie or apothecary. Tell the bar staff your preferences and await the result - I was recommended an Earl Grey infused gin and lemon sour and walked away pretty pleased.
When in Berlin's Hippest Hood
See: The 1.3 km East Side Gallery - a visual paean to freedom painted onto the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall - is a must-see as much for the realisation of what this man-made structure once stood for as for the powerful art now adorning its face .
Do: There's no doubt the Germans love their saunas and if you want to go native, the Liquidrom is a great place to start. The architecturally-striking building houses a number of different saunas, plunge pools and a strangely peaceful domed saltwater pool in which you can float suspended surrounded by a play of sound and light - and the sauna rooms let you hold onto your towels and modesty! (Not standard for all saunas in Germany from what I understand!)
Stay: The funky nHow Berlin is the perfect spot to rest your head after a night on the town in Berlin's coolest quarters. The musically-inspired hotel (all the elevators even play a different genre of tunes) has all the crazy, curvy, colourful forms best associated with its interior designer Karim Rashim, and the rooms are a Barbie-doll fantasy of pinkness (right down to the bathroom amenities.)
The swirly, psychedelic floors and organically rounded forms bound across the entire hotel - from the bold gold, black and pink Envy Bar with its lovely river-front terrace that is the perfect spot for a sundowner, to its neon pink and green Fabrics restaurant whose glass-walled dining room offers a wonderful vista of the shimmering Spree.
While the high-ceilinged openness of the restaurant gives it a bit of a canteen-esque air, Fabrics offers some deceptively delicious fare - the menu is infused with the same sense of fun and freshness as the rest of the hotel. I dined on a juicy prawn in herb sauce amuse bouche, followed by a colourfully appetising pickled herring salad served with slices of Granny Smith apples and a hearty calf liver main served with elderberry jus and parsnip puree.
Service was friendly and confident, with great wine recommendations including a delicate German pinot blanc or Weissburgunder as it is locally known, and a characteristically minerally Spätburgunder (German Pinot Noir) from the Ahr Valley - among Germany's most favoured red wines - offered as a well-matched accompaniment to the strongly flavoured liver.
A silky mascarpone parfait brought the meal to a satisfying end and I was pretty pleased to see that the quality of the dinner menu extended to the generous breakfast spread the next morning, with a tasty selection of hams, cured meats, fish and cheeses accompanying the hearty breads, spreads, cereal and fruit one usually expects from a breakfast buffet. There were even bubbles available for those wanting a rock star-worthy start to the day.
True music fans can find two recording studios on site (in case you get inspired to lay some tracks). The rest of us can make do with ordering an electric guitar through room service. (Actually a possibility!) I decided to spare my neighbours' ears! ;)
Disclaimer: I received a media B&B rate and a complimentary meal at nHow Berlin. Having stayed in both parts of the city I would highly recommend splitting your time between the leafy green Tiergarten area and this youthful riverside strip to get a better grasp of Berlin's vastly different faces.
There's something about courtyard restaurants that always feel right - like you really couldn't have picked a better spot to spend an evening and there really isn't anywhere else you would rather be.
It's strange that the two most recent times I have felt this way have been in courtyard restaurants in Germany - last summer tucked into the handkerchief-sized backyard of Hamburg's Messe restaurant, dining on plump scallops and crisp Riesling and this year cosying into a corner of The Casual - the little cousin of Cinco, the much more well known (and Michelin-starred) outpost of Catalan chef Paco Pérez at the gorgeous Das Stue in Berlin.
With its whimsical curvy chairs and lush location right next to Berlin Zoo and Berlin's famous TierGarten (if you are lucky you may even spot an ostrich or two, they live in the enclosure right next door), The Casual proved a fantastic spot to swap a hearty German meal for the more nuanced flavours of the Mediterranean and Catalonia - and the beer for a fantastic line-up of expertly mixed cocktails from the Stue Bar next door.
We started off with a taste of the tapas menu - three bold flavours perfectly married in a dish of anchovies with mato and truffle emulsion, followed by meaty chunks of octopus served with crispy-skinned oven potatoes and a spicy mayonnaise sauce.
Next came one of my favourite - and probably most unusual - dishes among my culinary jaunts in Berlin, a full and tart tomato and bread salmorejo lavishly lashed with olive oil and lifted with cool cucumber ice cream, a sliver of quail egg and earthy jamon iberico - a taste of Southern Spain brought alive right in the heart of the German capital.
For mains, a buttery soft wagyu short rib assado with chimichuri sauce delivered on every promise while desserts were whimsical and refreshing - especially the airy coconut foam, tarragon granita and pineapple ice cream served with a star anise flan.
The sense of whimsy continues when stepping through to the Stue Bar, with its B&W silent movies playing in the background, butterscotch, terracotta and teal seats, ghostly wire frame giraffes and gorillas peeping out from various corners of the room and gorgeous leather animal stools that I would love to have in my own living room (perhaps a nod to the hotel's zoo-side location?).
The Bar serves an interesting selection of 20s and 30s-inspired cocktails (an absinthe cocktail seemed most appropriate for the setting) and plays live music on the weekends. Although we turned up on a quiet Monday night it seemed like the place I would make a regular haunt if I lived in Berlin, with staff who were knowledgeable and treaded the fine line of always being available when you needed them and non-intrusive the rest of the time.
The way in which The Casual and the Stue Bar seem confidently quirky yet very comfortable in their own skins translates throughout the hotel - from the open-jawed croc head that greets you on arrival to the strong splashes of colour in the form of teal pillows and raspberry throws on your bed.
Rooms at Das Stue are sleek and sexy - all discreet sliding doors, soft touch cupboards and Apple monitors that double up as your TV - and my room had a fantastic balcony (complete with its own fake crow) from which to soak in the summer rays.
My favourite part was the sun filled white bathroom, which came complete with a roomy glass shower stall, free-standing bath tub and plenty of Molton Brown goodies.
Das Stue - which means Living Room in Danish - is housed in the old Danish Embassy whose stately proportions and impressive double staircase gives the hotel fantastic arrival appeal.
The hotel has an in-house spa and indoor pool, leading off from the ground floor, and serves up a fantastic spread for breakfast - where else but in the courtyard? I really can't think of a better way to start the day :)
Disclaimer: The accommodation and meal at Das Stue was provided as part of a hosted stay, but all opinions are my own. I would definitely say for anyone looking for a boldly stylish bolt-hole the next time they are in Berlin, Das Stue should easily be at the top of that list.
Eating one's way across Berlin can take some effort. Unlike several other European capitals Berlin is not centred around a compact historical core and although many people had used various words to describe its famously diverse sprawl, I only realised what they meant when I actually tried working my way down my list of must-eats. Berlin is pretty big!
5 days might not have been enough time to truly appreciate everything this glamorously gritty city has to offer, but it did give me a fairly good taste of Berlin's eclectic culinary scene. Starting of course with...
The International Berlin Beer Festival
The World's Longest Beer Garden as it is sometimes known, the International Berlin Beer Festival is an annual beer fest that is strung along 2.2 kilometres in the heart of Berlin, along Karl Marx Allee. Having dropped off our bags there seemed no better place to toast Berlin than this congregation of more than 340 breweries from 87 countries, presenting 2,400 beer specialties all at one giant party. From German pilsner, to European microbreweries, Asian favourites and Caribbean fruit beers, all you need to do is grab a glass and get tasting. Entry to the festival is free with most stands selling both taster and regular sized glasses to enable you to get a good feel for everything on offer. There was also plenty of the usual hearty German fare from spit roasted pork with crispy crackling, doner kebabs, curry wurst and Bratwurst with Brötchen to soak up the damage and live bands every couple of blocks accompanied by traditional line dancing competitions to keep everyone in good spirits. Definitely a good introduction to Berlin! The festival takes place over a weekend in summer and we were lucky to turn up in the city on the very last afternoon of the three-day fest.
A hallmark of the city's culinary scene is its plethora of pop-ups and secret supper clubs, underground restaurants and concept dining evenings. A combination of last minute planning and the summer lull meant that I wasn't able to book myself into any of the supper clubs taking place the week I was in town (on the wish list were a High Summer Dinner featuring an evening of inventive raw vegan specialties and biodynamic wine with Chef Boris of b.alive! and dinner with Deborah Tomassini-Buechner of Festin Supper Club fame) but I did manage to book myself in for a meal at one of the city's hip "hidden" restaurants Cookies Cream, tucked into a service alley behind The Westin Grand hotel with only a giant chandelier to point the way. The vegetarian wonders turned out by this little gem included seaweed caviar with ricotta cheese, celeraic baked in salt dough served with sesame, spinach and onion and a utterly divine dessert of raspberry and vanilla sorbet served with a crunchy almond, cashew and malt crumble. Definitely worth the wander into a deserted backstreet of Berlin!
Street Food Revolution
Obviously not exclusive to Berlin, street food is definitely a firm fixture on the city's current culinary scene and we dived straight into one of Berlin's most popular street food markets on our last evening in the city. In two years Markthalle Neun has grown from a collection of 30 odd stalls to one of the city's most popular weekly food events with its Street Food Thursdays now attracting an average of 120 vendors to this historic market venue every week. We managed to plough through German wine, Tinto de Verano from Spain, Japanese takoyaki and "naanwiches" - Indian flatbread stuffed with pork (no one said this was traditional ethnic cuisine) in the span of an hour and there were plenty of other global bites we didn't have tummies big enough to try. Other popular street food events include Bite Club Berlin - a street food party on the banks of the river Spree, and the Bar & Food Night at Neue Heimat at Friedrichshain.
Add to this the city's lively bar scene (stay tuned for more!) and you definitely won't struggle to stay happily fed and watered in Berlin :)
Berlin Digs: 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin
There seemed no better place to admire the urban jungle than from one of Berlin's hip new hotels 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin which opened for "monkey business" (as it puts it) last year bang opposite the Berlin Zoo - you can wake up to the sight of a herd of deer and the gorgeous green canopy of the city's sprawling Tiergarten from your floor-to-ceiling windows..
With its superbly convenient location in City West, easy access to the city's U-Bahn, S-Bahn and bus routes (as well as free use of bicycles and even a Mini), the 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin is definitely a great choice from which to launch your culinary jaunts in the German capital.
The hotel has both "Urban Rooms" (city-views) and "Jungle Rooms" (Zoo + TierGarten views) , done in a hip and incredibly functional style, along with plenty of cool communal areas like hammock-strung "hangout lounges" at reception, curtained 70s-inspired workstations for those who need to catch up on email and even a House Bakery for those who need a quick grab-and-go breakfast.
Quirky touches include original black & white illustrations by Japanese artist Yoshi Sislay squiggled all across the hotel - everywhere from rooms to stairwells, and bathtubs that come with the ability to plug in your iPod so you can listen to your own personal tunes underwater which I thought was particularly cool.
Best of all the hotel's in-house restaurant Neni - a breezy conservatory-style rooftop gem did the best shakshouka and crispy flatbreads (and a sinfully delicious rice pudding) I have had for breakfast in months and its sister roof-top Monkey Bar had a truly lively vibe, with palm-fringed balcony seating and colourful cushioned stepped perches indoors on which to enjoy a host of classic and signature cocktails. I opted for the King Kong - one of the bar's special "Monkey Classics" made from Home-made Guatamalan vanilla rum, sugar syrup, chocolate spirits and cherry bitters. Definitely a sweet way to end an evening in Berlin.
Disclaimer: 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin hosted one out of our two-night stay but the delightfully eccentric yet superbly functional Design Hotel has been a firm favourite ever since I first came across the brand in Vienna a couple of years ago and every bit of praise is truly well-deserved. 25hours Hotels' ability to capture the essence of their physical locations in a surprising and utterly creative way continues to blow me away. Take a ride up the Berlin Zoo-inspired lift at the Bikini Berlin property to see what I mean ;)
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