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Propeller Island: An art hotel

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Propeller Island: Not a hotel, an art exhibition

Kirstie Profile SmallPropeller 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.. 

Welcome to our 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?”

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin

Room 31 Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin.
Image Lars Stroschen

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.

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin

Psychedelic wallpaper.. that’s not going to freak my kids

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.

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin

The floating bed room at Propeller Island City Lodge. You can’t call that 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.”

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin

We could lock ourselves into cages??

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?

Propeller Island City Lodge

They’ve really been looking forward to being locked in

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.

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin

Hansel and Gretel seem settled with the cage sleeping arrangements

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.

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin

This is no ordinary place to stay….

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.

Like what?

“Oh. I’d never do that in a coffin.” I’d never even do it in a camper van.

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin

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.

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin

Less bathroom, more bathing installation

“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.

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin

The kids check out the art postcards in the reception area

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.

Propeller Island City Lodge Berlin

Welcome to another world… please let yourself in.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • […] Island, an art installation in Berlin. Ever slept in a coffin? Well you can find out more in this post by the Family Adventure Project. The children slept in cages and activated a spooky Barry White voice when they got up. If it […]

  • What a hilarious post, Kirstie. For sure I wouldn’t have lasted even one-minute sleeping anywhere near a coffin. You recap of the cage fight is priceless. Sounds exactly like something that would happen with my two boys.

  • I just love this post! Thank you… It had us all laughing out loud – the arguments about who slept on what cage was just like our family – i’m glad it’s not just us who have these moments! Can’t wait to go to Berlin sometime. I’ve put this on my bucket list!!!

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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