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Enter Space Capsule

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Sleeping in a capsule hotel. The Space Night Hotel, Berlin Germany

Enter Space Capsule

Space. The Final Frontier

Capsule. noun

a a compact often sealed and detachable container or compartment
b a small pressurised compartment or vehicle (as for space flight)

I first heard about capsule hotels in Japan, where they have been a ubiquitous part of the urban landscape for the last 40 years. Born out of the “Metabolism” movement in architecture (post WW2 Japan), they are an utterly ingenious use of space in a country where all space is at a premium. The very first capsule hotel was designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa and opened in the sea-port city of Osaka in 1979. This kind of living space cleverly fulfilled the needs of people who were short on time, couldn’t afford a larger room or missed the last train home.

The ‘capsules’ in question are exactly that. I’ve no doubt any claustrophobics among you would compare them to sleeping in a coffin, albeit a large coffin. The concept is merely a single bed with floor, ceiling and three walls with a curtain for privacy. You’ll get a mattress, sheets and pillow in your human-sized box, with a shelf and perhaps a TV, but definitely no window. They’re often tall enough for you to sit up in, and of course long enough – unless you’re a Norwegian giant – to comfortably stretch out in.

Each of these coffin capsules (sounds like something Nespresso should sponsor) is stacked on top of another other, two by two, very neat and organised. To enter you either duck and crawl into the lower capsule or shimmy up a little ladder to the top. Naturally in such a tiny space there’s nowhere to keep your luggage and no you don’t have your own shower or toilet; you are given a locker and have to share the bathroom spaces with others. In cultures where people are mindful of each other and shared spaces that’s not a problem.. but I wouldn’t want to try it in Paris.

It’s also worth mentioning that in Japan these hotels are gender separated. All men, all women, or mixed but with men and women on separate floors. Also, it’s illegal to have doors and locks on the capsules in Japan, so as I mentioned before usually they only have a curtain for privacy. Apart from speed, efficiency and practicality these hotels are cheap. So a search for a night’s sleep at a good price is what led me to…

Enter the Space Capsule

I was singing in Berlin last month and was hosted by a wonderful friend for a few nights in her perfectly glorious Neuköln apartment. I enjoyed far-reaching conversations, beautiful walks and runs around her neighbourhood and incredible home-cooked meals! However on my travel days it was logical to stay a bit closer to the venue, and really I didn’t want to disturb my friend with nocturnal jazz singer comings and goings.

In my self-appointed quest to achieve ‘Genius Level 3’ on booking.com … (if you know you know) I accidentally stumbled across an actual, rinky-dink capsule hotel right in the centre of Berlin. Now I like 5 star hotels just as much as the next person, and I’ve spent about 2 years of my life living in them – which does ruin you forever. But I think we can all agree that 5 Star hotels are the most fun when someone else is picking up the tab. So a cheap, practical capsule hotel was just what the somnologist ordered.

Placed above a supermarket on a large boulevard in central Berlin, the Space Night Hotel is at Leipziger Strauße 45, and has quite a few bus stops close by. For anyone not familiar with Berlin’s very easy public transport system, it’s definitely one of the simplest I’ve used and very efficient. It’s German, so what do you expect?

After transferring from the tin-can in the sky to the tin-can on the tracks I decided to use my non-tin legs to transport me from Alexanderplatz to the capsule hotel. I have a mild case of bus-phobia and, as illogical as it is I try to avoid them at all costs. After being in Paris (beautiful but cramped, polluted and full of self-important chain-smokers) the chance to walk the spacious boulevards of Berlin was too much to resist.

On arrival I almost missed the building. It’s just a warehouse really, with no sign outside at all and a supermarket underneath. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but it wasn’t that! Luckily for me a very prominent ’45’ was on display above the automatic doors and I have google maps. As you enter, the hotel is on the second floor to the left, and yes, they have a lift.

Space - the final frontier

Like any classy establishment the Space Night Hotel has a theme. I guess we can call it a tribute to outer space, which is both bizarre and oddly fitting for a capsule hotel. After staying there I’m convinced whomever came up with the idea might be a marketing genius with a great sense of humour. It’s dark, really dark. Like one of those places you go with friends to shoot each other with lasers. Or perhaps a rave. The lighting is low, cool and blue, and there’s a constant, significant hum throughout the space. This hum, which you could describe as brown/red noise, sounds awfully like the roar of a distant waterfall, or that background drone you hear on a plane. Others might find this kind of sound irritating, but I rather like it for the soporific effect. In the Space Night Hotel it adds to the feeling of travelling on a spaceship or if that doesn’t float your boat, perhaps a submarine. Did they do it on purpose, or is it just the air-conditioning unit in what used to be a supermarket warehouse? I don’t know. But it works.

One of the guys at the check-in desk, let’s call him Hal, was surprised at how bubbly and excited I was to be kipping in a coffin for the night and happily answered my questions about the space (pardon the pun) and the concept. He told me most people find the capsule hotel ‘safer’ in the pandemic, and prefer it to open bunks and stranger breath. I happen to agree. Even though it is really a ‘hostel’ concept with people packed into a larger space, it was very private and the only breath I had to deal with was my own.

The hotel sleeping areas are divided into ‘Districts’ from 1 to 3, with the first containing larger ‘double pods’ for couples or perhaps very tall people. The darkness and undulating blue lights keep the energy very calm and conducive for resting, and the ceilings are nice and high as you would expect from a warehouse space. I think the ‘Districts’ looked very much like a scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien or any other sci-fi movie where people are in cryogenic sleep for 1000 years. Lock me in Elon, and wake me up on Mars.

I was also interested in the ‘lounge’ area next the check-in desk, which unfortunately I don’t have any photos of. Still darkly lit, they had footage of outer space projected on the wall and there’s an astronaut mannequin in full space-walk garb in the corner. Kitsch? Yes, but amusing and honestly it worked. This isn’t somewhere you’d want to hang out all day – and I’m sure that’s the purpose – but it’s perfectly fine for sitting down, eating a snack (freeze-dried?) and going through some emails.

Open the pod bay doors please Hal

So, I stayed at the hotel twice on this trip, once in a top capsule and once in a bottom capsule. The top requires a bit of climbing which adds to the fun, and I enjoyed hauling myself up the steps but I found the bottom pod to be a bit easier. So let’s duck down and dive in.

Cleverly designed, these sleeping capsules are imported from China and moulded out of a thick food grade, fire resistant ABS plastic. Clean, solid and safe. Recyclable? No idea. The mattresses fit the floor space exactly and are changed with each guest, which is no doubt much easier for housekeeping and also much more hygienic. I have to say, when I was inside the capsule I felt very comfortable and snug. The first night I slept so well, all tucked up in the little cocoon, that I missed my morning alarm entirely.

The double doors are unlocked with a keycard, which you rest against the outside panel of the capsule. A little melody plays, you hear the capsule unlock, and after pushing the doors open you’ll find your clean towel, pillow and duvet (comforter) inside. A large mirror stretches along the right above your capsule control panel, which either chooses your next interstellar destination or controls the lights and air.

Lighting options are built into the walls and ceiling, ranging from cool to warm and dim to bright, and there’s a small spotlight for reading. The walls have shelves and hooks, and there’s a removable lap table clipped neatly away opposite the mirror. I didn’t use this, but I guess it would be useful. It’s also worth noting that there was a safe for small valuables in the capsule, as well as an alarm clock, air-conditioning and temperature gauge. As I said, what more do you need? Unless you’re claustrophobic and need another 20m2 and a window.

BAGS AND BATHROOMS, SUITCASES AND SHOWERS

With each capsule you’re given a locker and I easily fit my winter coats and suitcase in there. I saw a few other guests getting their things in and out of their lockers, and everyone was mindful and polite (again, Germany).

The bathrooms were another relief. Like you I am always a bit concerned about shared ‘wet’ areas as human beings are both filthy and disgusting. In this case there was no issue whatsoever! One of the distinct features and benefits of this brilliant spacecraft were the separate bathrooms. I can’t remember how many there were, ten perhaps? Maybe eight. So I was able to have an entire bathroom (with toilet) to myself and felt private and contained. This alone gives you some space and dignity, and I guess when you’re sleeping in a capsule amongst rows of strangers, then space and dignity for bathroom matters are high on the list of requirements. The shower was strong and hot (like me), there were paper towels provided so you can dry your hands if you don’t have your towel with you, and they had hairdryers. Even though it is a capsule hotel, even though it’s cheap accommodation, even though (and most importantly) it seemed as if I was on the Battlestar Galactica, I was still able to retain my dignity as an adult whilst thoroughly indulging my inner child. And at my age, that’s all I want in life. As well as coffee. I always want coffee.

I am a podling

So what did I think? Well for the price (I paid 36 Euros per night), for the location, and for how quick, clean and easy it is I’d definitely stay there again. I don’t think I could stay more than a few days, but when passing through and in need of a simple night’s accomodation it’s a great option.

The staff were kind, chatty and generous; the other guests were mindful and quiet. For such a curiously fun experience and great price it was worth it. A big thank you to the Space Night Hotel!

Would you stay in a pod?

Looking blue, but not feeling blue, in my space capsule!

“To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Captain Kirk

I think this is the perfect song..