Yaniv Madar is impressed by the four-star Berlin hotel that caters kosher for no added cost — and by the local synagogue that takes delight in feeding visitors
The decision to take the family for a long vacation is always made with mixed feelings. Sure, everyone is happy to go on a trip, but when you need a kosher meal plan for two adults and three young kids, it can become a major undertaking.
Berlin isn’t your typical kosher destination, but my wife’s anti-vacation reflex was easily defeated when we agreed on our lodging place.
Staying at the four-star Crowne Plaza Berlin may be a world away from a trip to Tel Aviv, but the Jewish-owned hotel turns itself, to all intents and purposes, in to a kosher hotel for those who need it.
It is a mainstream hotel that makes special provision for kosher guests, so we were pleasantly surprised by just how experienced with Jewish observant guests staff members are, showing great knowledge of Sabbath and kosher laws. The hotel has a special Jewish representative who speaks German, English and Hebrew. I met Daniel Schoenberger at the lobby, a few hours before Shabbat. He told me that he is there to help guests from the moment of their first booking inquiry, with any question or request as well as to assist with Shabbat requirements and advice.
On weekdays the hotel offers a kosher breakfast supervised by Yitshak Ehrenberg, the city’s Chief Rabbi. There are fresh rolls, spreads, smoked salmon, cheese, fresh cut vegetables, fruits, coffee, tea and soft drinks. The breakfast is separately from the hotel’s non-kosher breakfast.
You can book through the hotel for a festive Friday night dinner at the Central Orthodox Synagogue on Joachimstaler Street. It’s not like going to a restaurant where you eat quietly on a table with little to do with other diners — it is a communal affair, normally led by Ehrehberg. When we went there were tourists from all over the world, as well as community members and students. The cost is 25 euro per adult and 10 euro per child aged 5-15. The meal is a full four-course dinner, with Israeli salads, drinks, and kiddush wine.
On Shabbat morning you can eat the kosher breakfast at the hotel or you can get a cup of tea or coffee at the Joachimstaler Street synagogue and join the service. After the service the community invites guests for a full Shabbat meal. It’s free and you don’t need to book in advance. Later on, after the afternoon service you will be invited again to eat hosted by the community — this time seuda shlishit or the “third meal” of the Sabbath.
The Berlin Crowne Plaza had to go through a few modifications in order to suit Jewish business and leisure travelers. The rooms at the first floor are reserved for Jewish visitors staying over Shabbat, as no elevator is required (observant Jews don’t ride elevators on the Sabbath) and there are mechanical keys instead of electronic cards (which also can’t be used on Sabbath). Many religious travelers like me have ended up sleeping in the light in some hotels as we can’t operate switches on Shabbat, but at the Berlin Crowne Plaza there are special time switches.
In terms of the hotel’s general credentials, rooms are equipped with all the normal amenities, and has a free-entry pool and gym. One downside is that internet usage costs 12.90 euro for 24 hours, but this kind of charge is standard in German hotels.
The Crowne Plaza Berlin City Centre has 422 rooms and 11 suites. We stayed in a twin room with a connecting door and found them very specious with an elegant yet modern design. You can choose from four different types of pillow.
The hotel is well located in Berlin’s city center, a short walking distance to some of Berlins’ popular tourist and shopping attractions, like the famous Ku’damm Street, the KaDeWe department store, the Brandenburg Gate, Tiergarten, and the Reichstag. But if it’s too cold, or warm, the underground stations located nearby can take you to almost every part of this city.
The prices where I stayed are at the same level of equivalent hotels in the area, and the kosher services and assistance come at no extra cost, making it the obvious choice for observant travelers.