Propeller Island City Lodge in Berlin isn’t your normal hotel. It doesn’t always have staff, or indeed guests, it doesn’t promote itself and you can’t book online. But it does have coffins, and cages and upside down rooms. You see it’s not really a hotel at all; it’s a work of art, a living installation, a temporary exhibition space. And you can stay in it..
Not a hotel, a living art project
Our initial entry form for the Expedia Blogger Shaped Travel competition involves sleeping in coffins. You see we had come up with a Grimms fairytale theme; exploring the light and dark sides of Berlin as well as the haunts of the famous Grimm brothers. And for me it doesn’t get much darker than spending a night in a coffin. When I complete the entry form at 11pm for a midnight deadline, it seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
The following morning I tell Stuart the news about our application.
“You’ve put me down to sleep in a coffin? What hotel has coffins to sleep in?”
“Not just us. The kids too.”
“You’ve signed our kids up to sleep in coffins? Don’t you think that’ll freak them out?”
They’ve slept in worse
In truth it probably wouldn’t register with the kids. They’ve slept in some pretty strange places like storm drains, cupboards, schools, airports and a strange hotel in Latvia that was entirely constructed from chipboard.
They’ve camped next to waterfalls where it felt like someone was running a tap all night and in a seemingly deserted rodeo stadium where teenagers turned up to party all night. They’ve slept soundly as ants, foxes, goats and drunks have tried to invade the tent. They’ve slept in a gypsy camp, in a born again happy clappy camp and at Butlins Skegness.
They don’t bat an eyelid at strange. It’s me who would freak out in a coffin. I get claustrophobic in a camper van.
It only becomes an issue when we win
Now I start to have night sweats about waking up in Whitby dressed in a cloak.
“Do you think we can welsh out of the coffins and stay in a hostel instead,” I suggest to Stuart. He shrugs.
I look again at the application blurb. We are doing all things Grimm including looking for their graves in St. Matthäus Kirchhof. I think we have the Brothers sufficiently covered. And anyway they never mentioned a coffin in their tales as far as I know. So we start to look at other hotels and hostels. But compared to the rooms in the Propeller Island City Lodge, they’re all so bland.
Art not life
It’s Cameron who discovers that our first choice isn’t just a hotel for those who see dead people, or want to act like one. Each room has a different theme. As we look closer we notice each room is a piece of art. We could snooze in an upside down room, bounce around in an elasticated room, bed down in a mine, endure a night in a prison cell, or enter a kaleidoscope. Or we could lock ourselves into cages.
“A cage…did you say a cage?” I reply to Cameron, who is going through the hotel’s online gallery.
“Actually it’s two cages, in the middle of the room.”
“Perfect. You and Hannah can be Hansel and Gretel.”
Hansel and Gretel are not happy
The cages cause problems. We arrive at the toasty warm hotel desperate to get out of the freezing temperatures of mid winter in Berlin but the kids instantly start fighting. There are three of them and only two cages. They all want a cage to sleep in and Matthew and Cameron both want the same cage.
“These cages are exactly the same. One cage is not better than the other,” I find myself screaming as they punch and shove each other out of the way.
“Right that’s it. Mum and I are going in the cages. You can all sleep in the beds,” says Stuart.
“We can’t make them do that. They’ve really been looking forward to being locked in,” I say. Did I really say that?
Quiet as a gallery
Propeller Island City Lodge may be busy in summer, but in the middle of January, with the air plunging to minus ten and snow on the ground, it’s eerily quiet. The staff only work until midday, and we let ourselves in. We seem to have a whole place to ourselves. The room needs some noise. I turn on the sound system and find specially composed music tracks for our room. Jungle sounds are overlaid on top and piped from hidden speakers. We adjust the mood lighting so the room is the red of a sunset and drift off to the sound of lions. Apparently it isn’t just children who sleep in cages.
In the morning, we discover the sound system is movement sensitive when one of the kids goes to the toilet. I’m woken by a voice that sounds like Barry White. I’m up for a bit of Barry White at any time of day or night and the kids look so cute in their cages. All is well with the world.
No christening the coffins
“Some activities are prohibited in the coffins,” comments Stuart, pointing to a sign as we look at photos of the other rooms on our way to breakfast.
“Oh. I’d never do that in a coffin.” I’d never even do it in a camper van.
A gallery not a hotel
Over breakfast fixed by Agneiszka Wesolowska, we learn that when the hotel is staffed, it’s by students and artists. “Real people. We like to be a little family,” says Agneiszka. Promotion is by word of mouth, by those who have stayed spreading the word. “The only promotion is to people who like the project.”
Propeller Island City Lodge began in 1997 with artist Lars Stroschen creating four unusual rooms in his apartment block. In 2001 a whole first floor was complete and by 2004 another two floors were added by popular request. “He decided to create a space for art you can live in and forget the world outside.” Agneiszka explains. “The hotel is an exhibition. It’s all part of one project. It is alive and it will be over one day.”
But this living art space gets busy in summer and you’re advised to book ahead and choose your own room (they’re all on the hotel’s website) as they all cater for very different tastes.
“It was quiet last night. A bit like a museum,” I tell Agneiszka.
“Yes, there was just you and one other guest staying last night,” she confirms.
“It was like a morgue on our floor,” says Matthew. Remembering the coffins were our first choice, Stuart snorts, and pretends he’s choking on marmalade.
Dracula comes down for breakfast
The other guest wanders down for his breakfast as we are clearing our plates.
“He probably slept in the coffin.” says Hannah loudly, pointing at the businessmen, which causes Stuart to choke again.
“If you’re not careful, you’re going to end up in a wooden box,” I say.