‘We will rise and shine again’ stated the bright yellow banner hanging from the side of The Circus Hotel, gently fluttering in the cool Berlin wind as I cycled past in the winter of 2020. I smiled to myself; not only was it a nice reminder for all of the good stuff that’s still to come once restrictions are lifted, but it perfectly encapsulates the energy of Germany’s capital, a city that is continually regenerating.
The Circus has been a Berlin institution for 15 years, and after closing its doors for 12 months, it’s back with a full renovation that made my jaw drop: it’s bolder, more beautiful and more embedded in the city than ever before. I sat down with the hotel’s manager and former receptionist, Katrin, to discover the story about The Circus and its recent facelift.
“The Circus is a family-run business, but without the family,” muses Katrin over a cup of coffee and a pastry in the hotel’s communal living area. “I guess you’d call it a modern Berlin family! After I finished working on the front desk of the hostel - which I’d done through my studies - I bumped into Andreas, one of the owners, on the street and he asked if I wanted to help him run the new hotel they were building. I said ‘I’ve never done that before’ and he excitedly replied ‘us neither’. We learnt together on the job, and 12 years later I’m still at The Circus!”
It’s this fresh-eyed approach to hotel development that makes The Circus so special; it’s designed from a user perspective. Rooms are individually conceptualised and packed full of things you need to make you feel totally at home, such as a snack draw and Birkenstock mattresses! “I tested a lot of mattresses,” laughs Katrin, “sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind me that this really is my job! When we make decisions about the hotel, we always think about what we would want while we were on holiday. This has been our guiding philosophy from day one, and I think it’s helped us create a hotel with heart.”
The Circus’s original location was Am Zirkus, hence the name. Plus in wonderful Berlin 00s fashion, the whole concept began when the owners squatted this building and had friends over to crash with them. They eventually moved on and opened the hostel with the same idea of having a fun, open, creative space for people to stay. Eventually, the hotel opened in 2006.
Katrin and her team have collaborated with Berlin brands and individuals who share their ethos, such as the bookstore ocelot who provide mini-libraries in each room and CODOS COFFEE who provide breakfast (which I can confirm is delicious, and the pastries, oh wow… - and I’m not normally a sweet-toothed person). A highlight is the audio stories about the busy square in front of the hotel, written and narrated by Berlin-based writer Paul Scraton, which give you different histories about Rosenthaler Platz in the GDR-era and after the wall fell, based on the view from your window.
“I’d never intended to work in hospitality,” Katrin continued, “but the people who stay as guests keep me here. It’s an honour to help add value to people’s holidays - this is why we created a ‘design it yourself’ travel guide to Berlin: we asked all the staff to recommend their favourite off-the-beaten-track activities, there were even some I’d never heard of, such as the Schwerbelastungskörper (it’s a huge concrete cylinder located in Tempelhof that was built by Hitler's chief architect Albert Speer to determine whether they could build heavy buildings on marshy ground). Interacting with them and creating ways to make the hotel better for them means that no two days are the same.”
“Similarly, the team I work with is inspirational. For instance, I can give our interior designer, Sandra Ernst, who also started working at The Circus on the front desk, a brief such as ‘make the rooms feel warm and cosy’, and she delivers something I could never imagine. Plus her way of working is incredible, she often designs entire rooms around one single object and yet every room and detail in the hotel feels connected. I’m still mesmerised every time I walk into the newly renovated bedrooms.”
The renovation extended to the lobby, where the new “Lost My Voice” cocktail bar is found, and to the courtyard, where there’s a huge floating sculpture. Both add to the feeling that - once you enter through the front door of The Circus Hotel - you are in an oasis in the city.
Their passion for good design, good food and good experiences is embedded in The Circus Hotel, and we cannot wait to revisit and bask in its shining light.
All members of The Staycation Collection are in with the chance of winning a free night's stay at the Circus Hotel. Sign up and find out more details here. Enter before the 4th April 2021.