Hotels can be so much more than simply a place to rest your head. Whether you fancy bedding down in a tree house, an igloo or a wine barrel, our list of the most unusual places to spend a night in Germany will help you to make memories in places packed with character, creativity and local colour.
Rev up the engines
In a 1928 Bauhaus building adjacent to an old airfield just south of Stuttgart, the V8 Hotel is a perfect abode for those who worship at the altar of the auto. Surrounded by classic cars, you’ll sleep sweetly in a car wash, a garage, a petrol station, a drive-in cinema or any of the other themed rooms. Each is meticulously fitted with original parts, tools and signs, along with tables, sofas and other furniture made from recycled car parts. For extra privacy, book the vast Tower Suite in the former airport tower, complete with your own sauna and rooftop terrace. The hotel is part of Motorworld (motorworld.de), a huge hall where collectors store, trade and repair their precious four-wheelers. You're free to ogle them at leisure.
The ‘coolest’ place in Germany to curl up for the night is the Iglu-Dorf (iglu-dorf.com/en/standorte/zugspitze), atop the country’s greatest Alpine peak, the 2962m-high Zugspitze. Stay toasty-warm, snuggled in a private igloo, and look forward to waking up to blissful views across four countries. The village consists of a cluster of interconnected snow domes, rebuilt every year by covering inflatable balloons with snow. Some sleep up to six but most are ‘romantic igloos’ for two, with fur throws and sculpted walls. There’s a sauna and a whirlpool for warming up – but no running water. The journey to this lofty lair is an adventure in itself, starting with a cogwheel train trip from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, before continuing on a super-steep ride in a cable car.
It’s only fitting that the name of Berlin's most twisted hotel was inspired by a novel from the master of imagination, Jules Verne. Every single room at Propeller Island City Lodge (propeller-island.de) is indeed a journey to a unique, surreal and slightly wicked world. To be stranded here means waking up on the ceiling, in a green-leather padded cell, a lion’s cage or a flying bed. Owner Lars Stroschen, an artist and composer, designed and crafted all the furniture and fixtures himself, creating sinks from beer barrels, taps from heater valves and table bases from tree trunks. Bring your imagination, but don’t expect room service, a TV or pillow treats.
Tower of design
Cologne is a city defined by water, most famously by the mighty Rhine and the invention in 1709 of eau de cologne (literally 'water from Cologne'). And then there’s the Hotel im Wasserturm, a striking designer hotel in what was once Europe’s largest water tower. Designed by British architect John Moore, the 34m-high cylindrical brick structure opened in 1872, was pummelled in WWII and then languished for decades until it was morphed into a hotel in 1990. The elaborate exterior, with its multiple bands of arched windows, cleverly hides its prosaic original purpose. Inside, you’ll first crane your neck to take in the soaring lobby, before being tempted to play hide-and-seek amid the red brick pillars and walls, and take in the panoramic views, cocktail in hand, from the rooftop terrace.
Tucked into thick woods right on the German-Polish border, the Baumhaushotel (kulturinsel.com/baumhaushotel) looks like Brigadoon and is no less wacky and magical. Staying here has you sharing one of nine enchantingly ramshackle tree houses with resident spirits with names like Judka the Troll and Fiona the Elf. Each likes to decorate their sanctuary a bit differently, be it with keys, spoons or buttons, so bring along a little gift to get into your host’s good graces. After all, they supply you with electric heating, a toilet and various fun features such as a balcony, a hammock or a wood-burning stove. About 15km north of Görlitz, the hotel is part of the Kulturinsel Einsiedel, a forest adventure playground with a restaurant, sauna, wood-fire-heated hot tub (aka ‘cannibal pot’), and barnyard animals.
Until 2002, ‘guests’ at the Hotel Alcatraz didn’t have to pay to stay, but they couldn’t check out as they pleased either. When Kaiserslautern’s former jail closed, two local lawyers saw the century-old building’s potential and invested a cool two million euros to transform it into a hotel for people keen on spending a night not in bars but behind them. The simplest rooms are in the old cell tract and smoothly re-create the incarceration experience with tiny, barred windows, thick doors, steel-frame beds and in-cell toilets. For those who find this set-up too paranoia-inducing, standard modern rooms with private facilities are also available.
Barrel of fun
Had one Riesling too many? Why not sleep off your bacchanalian stupor inside a big-bellied wine barrel? Aside from regular rooms, the Hotel Lindenwirt in Rüdesheim, on the Rhine River, also offers overnight stays in half a dozen giant converted casks placed around its courtyard. Relax in the small living room attached before climbing into your private barrel to drift off to dreamland tucked into a bed with checked bedding. Each cask once held some 6000 litres of fermenting grape juice and they are named for famous local vineyards such as Rüdesheimer Rosengarten and Martinthaler Wildsau.
The gentle hills of the Swabian Alps, about an hour southeast of Stuttgart, is where you’ll find Hofgut Hopfenburg (hofgut-hopfenburg.de). It's a working farm with a huge camping ground, where you have the option of setting up your own tent or staying in quirky sleeping accommodation from around the world. Bed down in a yurt from Kyrgyzstan, a French circus wagon, a Tuareg tent from North Africa, a Sioux-style tepee, or the bright red, rolling wooden cabin of a nomadic shepherd. The set-up is naturally a big hit with families, as kids can safely romp around the grounds, learn how to weave or meet the resident Poitou donkeys and other threatened species which are cared for on the farm.
The great outdoors – inside
If you like the romance of camping but not the dirt and weather, make a beeline to Bonn, the birthplace of Beethoven and the BaseCamp Hostel. Scattered around a former warehouse some 4km from the city centre are 18 colourful campervans and a couple of Deutsche Bahn sleeper cars, where you can hang out in comfort without braving the elements. Decorated by a film sculptor, each cosy, retro vehicle has its own theme. In the ‘Hunter’s Cabin’ you’ll sleep under the watchful eye of a garden gnome; the ‘Drag Queen’ is sheathed in pink fur; and ‘Big Ben’ has a photograph of a Charles and Diana from when they were still happily married. Fans of American culture can check in to an original silver Airstream, while those intrigued by Ostalgie can stay in a Trabi, a classic East German car, complete with an ingenious built-in rooftop tent.
Socialist high life
In eastern Berlin you may well be in seventh heaven when spending a night at Pension 11. Himmel (pension-11himmel.de), or 11th Heaven B&B. The '11' in this case refers to the floor of the communist-era prefab concrete housing block, where artists collaborated with local kids to create this quirky retreat as part of a social project. Also run by its young inventors, the pension sits smack dab in Marzahn, a satellite suburb built in the ‘70s and ‘80s on cornfields surrounding what little was left of a medieval village. Fittingly, a cornfield mural graces one room, while another was inspired by the Golden Twenties, and a third has a romantic canopy bed with silken drapes. Tourists usually skip Marzahn, but Pension 11. Himmel hoped to change that by creating this fun base for exploration (and by offering tours). And apparently it's been successful: the guest book brims with enthusiastic comments and the place has been expanded to the tenth floor.