Strategically placed in the heart of Europe, Berlin is a major political, business and cultural centre, with an undeniable cosmopolitan energy. This increasingly ambitious global city may have gained a reputation for its vibrant nightlife scene but an array of high-tech firms and international companies are showing that Berlin is a genuine business destination, too.
The conference industry in Berlin is going from strength to strength. According to statistics from Berlin’s tourist board visitBerlin, 2015 saw a record 7.7 million overnight stays from conference delegates and a total of 27,500 international events were held in the same year. The great diversity of distinctive meeting venues is helping drive interest in the city’s MICE scene, which saw the International Congress & Convention Association’s meeting city rankings place Berlin at number one in 2015.
Messe Berlin is among the world’s leading trade fair organisers and has its own exhibition grounds. From the immense scale of the 170,000sqm Messe Berlin exhibition centre, made up of 26 halls and home to countless international trade fairs, to the newer CityCube, Messe Berlin can host events on almost any scale. Opened in May 2014 and covering two levels, each of 6,015sqm, CityCube is symbolic of Berlin’s emergence as a new capital on Europe’s conference and events scene.
Then there’s the iconic Fernsehturm television tower, which gives visitors a panoramic view of Berlin and is hugely popular for events. Many other conference halls can of course be found throughout the city, but new inspiring spaces are attracting startups and creative companies.
Hotels like the 25hours Hotel Bikini, named after its distinctive shape, lets guests enjoy a better work-life balance by creating a relaxed and informal atmosphere. For example, up to 100 people can be accommodated in the Freiraum function room in the 1920s radio tower, which offers views over Berlin Zoo and the city, as well as a wall of plants to brighten up the space.
Getting to Berlin by air is hassle-free, with direct flights originating from London City, Heathrow and Gatwick all taking under two hours. The city is served by two main airports, centrally located Tegel and Schönefeld. Landing in Tegel, the busiest of the two – and only 8km away from the city centre of Berlin – is usually the best option for business travellers, due to the compact design making it easy for passengers to move quickly through the airport and onto their flight.
Schönefeld is positioned on Berlin’s southern border, and while slightly further out than Tegel, the airport is just a few minutes walk from a S-Bahn rail station, which offers a direct connection to central Berlin in under 40 minutes. The public transport system in Berlin is very efficient and offers a relatively quiet experience when compared to the underground in London, especially during the rush hours – just remember to validate your rail ticket before boarding.
Finding one of the over 50,000 cream-coloured German taxis is generally easy and thanks to strong regulation it’s unlikely you’ll be taken for a ride in terms of the fare.
In my experience, Berlin feels very safe at all hours and air pollution levels are lower than other European cities, partially due to strict rules on diesel vehicles and low rates of car use.
Where to stay?
Hotel prices across the city are notably lower than most other major European capital cities, meaning visitors can get a luxury five-star hotel in Berlin for the price of a solid four-star hotel in central London. However, during the frequent conferences, trade fairs and major corporate celebrations prices can creep up.
Western Berlin, especially around the famous Kurfürstendamm avenue, houses a large number of modern hotels catering for all budgets. Although several high-end hotels can be found in the eastern part of the city, namely the Hilton, Sofitel and Adlon Kempinski, the transport infrastructure and visitor facilities are lacking compared to the west.
It’s hard to miss the Waldorf Astoria Berlin as you exit the Garten U-Bahn station opposite the hotel. Set in the Zoofenster skyscraper at the heart of West Berlin, the famed Waldorf Service starts as soon as you enter, with guests greeted by relaxing music played live by the pianist in the lobby. The lobby itself is decked out in lavish materials, with black Portoro marble columns adorning the area and an elegant staircase above a decorative pond leading to the mezzanine level.
The Waldorf Astoria Berlin has worked hard to offer spaces to suit all type of meetings and events. Bathed in natural light, the 332sqm ballroom is ideal for grand banquets and major conferences or for smaller events select one of the four conference rooms ranging from 70sqm to 139sqm. The on-site ROCA all-day dining restaurant, offering seasonal and Mediterranean cuisine, is the perfect place for an informal business lunch or after conference get together.
As you would expect at a hotel of this level, even the standard King Guest room is furnished with a king-size bed, dressing table, large dining table, spacious wardrobes, Nespresso machine and marble-clad bathroom. The little touches of Salvatore Ferragamo toiletries, faultless concierge and, of course, full length windows providing city views, make the Waldorf Astoria one of the best hotels in the city for travellers.
The massive transformation the city has undergone over the past almost 40 years can be seen most strikingly in Potsdamer Platz. Major development projects have turned this once barren area into a sprawling urban plaza, housing Daimler, the Sony Centre and the Beisheim Center. The Ritz-Carlton Berlin can be found in the latter of these developments, south of the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building.
From museums, shops and attractions, the Ritz-Carlton is perfectly placed to explore the city and encounter the Holocaust Memorial and Brandenburg Gate. The 303-room hotel is a short taxi ride from Tegel airport or a 35-minute rail journey from Schönefeld and employs arguably the best concierge in the city, Thomas Munko, president of the German International Concierge Association. No request is too big or too small with a simple phone call unlocking the most exclusive restaurants and hard-to-find tickets for corporate entertainment.
The Club Lounge on the 10th floor, accessible to guests of the 25 Club rooms and seven suites on the adjacent floors, offers a complimentary food selection and cocktails, as well as a dedicated Club concierge on hand to arrange private shopping trips and many other excursions. Club guests can enjoy these benefits in a private and discrete setting, away from the hotel’s public areas, making this lounge ideal for finishing up last minute work in a quiet environment.
The in-room decor is decidedly traditional and features classic, well-appointed furniture, alongside modern technology, like the bedside control panels, and high-spec bathrooms replete with Asprey toiletries. The Brasserie Desbrosses restaurant located on the ground-floor offers European cuisine served in a laid-back setting, with part of an original 1875 French brasserie in southern Burgundy having been tastefully incorporated into the interior.
A total of 1,800sqm of meeting space in available at the hotel, with an impressive 910sqm ballroom taking centre stage. Few hotels in Berlin can match the state-of-the-art technology employed by the Ritz-Carlton’s meeting rooms, as well as their extensive meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 1,500 delegates.
Also great for business is the super-stylish Ellington Hotel Berlin, which has extensive conference facilities backed up by state-of-the-art technology.
Out of hours
Upscale restaurant ULA Berlin, a contemporary Japanese restaurant and bar, provides the perfect setting for after work get-togethers. Located in the Mitte district, hidden away from the tourist hotspots down Anklamer street, ULA Berlin has created an exclusive and private environment. Diners can sample from traditional dishes like Japanese radish salad with boiled prawn and sea bream sashimi and Monkfish tempura with seasonal vegetable tempura, alongside indulging in the extensive sake selection.
In between meetings, be sure to make a stop at the unique galleries and museums found on Museum Island on the Mitte district’s Spree river. This museum complex, made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, contains objects from almost 6,000 years of civilisation. Restaurant Quarré at the Adlon Kempinski Hotel is also a great place for a quick business lunch or for an evening entertaining colleagues. While the light international cuisine is more than enough to warrant a visit to Quarré, prospective clients will be impressed by the grand terrace with views of the Brandenburg Gate.
Berlin is often characterised as gritty and full of concrete, but close to one-third of the city is comprised of green spaces, rivers and lakes. The Grunewald forest is an ideal place to decompress after a day of meetings or to visit the abandoned US spy station on Teufelsberg hill. The 3,000-hectare forest also contains the small, but perfectly formed, Haus am Waldsee, home to a perfectly curated showcase of contemporary art.
From emerging eastern Berlin to buzzing City West, this international powerhouse is easily accessible from European countries, with regular flights and rail services opening up this once closed capital. The long-delayed $6bn Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt airport, which is expected to open within the next few years, will soon replace Tegel airport and make it even easier to reach Berlin.