Germany’s windowless box hotels: Cheap cosiness or health hazard?

The mini rooms at Boxhotel feel a bit like a train’s sleeping compartment – albeit without a window. What you will find, however, is one bed stacked on top of another, and a glass shower cabinet.

Founder Oliver Blume, 54, opened his first Boxhotel in 2017, in the western German city of Goettingen, followed by his second in Hanover in November.

The venture has not been easy. While known for their frugal spending and flying on budget airlines, Germans aren’t familiar with the idea of sleeping in crowded spaces.

For over two and a half years, Blume has been at loggerheads with Hanover’s authorities, who originally wanted to ban the windowless boxes outright over concerns of the well-being of people staying in them.

Blume pushed back, obtaining a building permit from the administrative court, at which point authorities imposed a rule preventing visitors from staying longer than three nights, for health reasons.

“We’re pumping up to 1.4 million litres of fresh air into these rooms every day, and we have the best mattresses,” he said. “How come people are allowed to stay in a hotel with bad mattresses for longer than three months?”

Unlike the Hanover branch, Blume’s Goettingen hotel was approved by the authorities, though visitors are also only allowed to stay for three nights.

In Hanover, a city which famously hosts many international trade fairs, Blume wants his hotel to welcome guests for longer stays. He also plans to open Boxhotels in Leipzig, Hamburg and Bielefeld, and has registered a patent for a construction method using boards of cheap OSB wood – (oriented strand board plates, an alternative to plywood).

He sees his Boxhotels as a “smart alternative” to hostels with dormitories. Prices start at around 25 euros (27.50 dollars) a night.

The tiny living phenomenon

Convincing Europeans to accept tiny hotel rooms might be an uphill battle, but living and sleeping in confined spaces is certainly on trend.

Tiny home settlements replete with tiny wooden houses are proving especially popular in holiday regions. The adventure-style sleeping capsule brand Sleeperoo allows you to book an indoor or outdoor bed in 50 places across Germany.

The plastic capsules with panoramic windows are designed for “a night of adventure,” the Hamburg-based company says.

The first sleep capsule hotels opened near train stations and bars in Japan in the late 1970s. The cabins, which were about 1.20 metres in height, were popular among employees and business people who had missed the last train home.

Since then, sleep capsules have appeared in various forms, including luxury capsules for tourists.

Cosy or confined

In Europe, the concept has yet to gain acceptance. But there are individual capsule homes, in Lucerne, Switzerland alongside Karlsruhe in Germany. There are also an increasing number of sleeping capsules that can be booked by the hour at airports.

Goettingen Boxhotel welcomes around 30,000 guests every year, including apartment-hunting students, professors and business people. Women fleeing violent partners, who don’t want to stay at a refuge, can also seek accommodation in a Boxhotel, Blume said. Hanover’s Boxhotel welcomes many workers as guests, he added. It’s lobby is adorned with graffiti alongside an image of fireplace.

Reviews of the Boxhotels on vary widely. Visitors praised the free coffee and the nice, young staff, though they criticised the rattling doors. Opinions diverged on the lack of windows in the rooms, which are 4.20 metres in height and which have 4.2 to 5.4 square metres in floor space.

“The small boxes are cosy, and feel almost like a bunk in a ship,” writes one visitor called Alexander. Hartmut fet quite differently. “No breakfast, no window. Prison would be more luxurious.”

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