As I drove down the autobahn in Germany I kept seeing cars passing me pulling tiny ‘bubble campers’. Many of them were old little caravans that were only big enough for a bed. I thought about the tiny house movement and mused to myself wondering what it would be like to actually camp in one of those caravans, simply providing enough shelter for your bed. If we can have a tiny house movement, then we can have a ‘tiny camping’ movement I suppose.
Fast forward 2 weeks later and I was doing just that – sleeping in an old German caravan with only a bed. It’s funny the twists life and travel can take.
Sleep in a Caravan Hotel
Take a stroll through the ‘campground’
I slowly started to stir in my little bed. I turned over and pulled my covers up to my ears. I could hear the campground waking up around me and morning light started to illuminate my caravan. I heard people whispering morning conversations, searching for toothbrushes and taking the walk to the shared bathroom. This is actually one of my favorite things about camping, this group campground mentality – that we are all in it together – out here in nature.
But we weren’t actually out in nature. Six other caravans surrounded me, but we were all inside a large building with roof and a cement floor. We didn’t drive our caravans here, they were already in the building as a permanent fixture in this unique ‘caravan hotel’ in Berlin’s hip Neukölln neighborhood. This had to be the coolest place I had ever stayed in Berlin.
I took my morning walk to the ‘campground’ shared bathroom and it was all toasty and warm inside as the radiator was going full blast. I said hello to the other campers and took my hot shower. This was much better than regular camping! And instead of sitting around a campfire, people gathered at the little wooden breakfast bar in the morning. I grabbed one of the croissants and apples that were available to all of the ‘campers’, made myself a cup of coffee, and sat on the chairs neatly arranged outside of my caravan planning what I was going to do in Berlin for the day.
How Does One Dream Up a Caravan Hotel?
The best thing about leaving the world of corporate bloated-ness behind is that it often wakes up a creative side of you that you never knew existed. As I listened to Silke tell her story of corporate burnout, I marveled to myself how people are the same all over the world I’ve heard this corporate burnout story before, but this was the first I heard that resulted in a caravan hotel.
“Huttenpalast means cabin palace in German – we wanted a play on words,” Silke explained. Silke and her partner Sarah dreamed up the idea for this adorable indoor caravan campground in 2009. She was at a crossroads in her career, a burned out event planner, in desperate need of a change in her life. Her last event she ran cost a half million euros for one event. Even though it was a success, she wasn’t satisfied; in the end, it was just for people who had a lot of money thrown by people who had a lot of money. So she took a break and thought, what would she do if she had half a million euros.
Silke and Sarah knew nothing about how to run or start a hotel, but Silke was familiar with how to be a customer in one. She had grown up in a family that moved around a lot, living in many countries and staying in hotels for much of her life. Because they had no experience in the hotel business they were able to think differently and really be innovative.
The caravans really came from the thought that if the idea was a failure, they could easily roll them out of the old factory building and use the space for something else – like events. It was the ultimate, flexible business plan.
I was giddy as I listened to Silke tell the story. I just love it when people are making the world a more interesting place. They tapped into a feeling with Huttenpalast, a feeling of nostalgia and creativity. And it worked. Every night we were there, Hotel Hüttenpalast was full.
Choose from the Kleine Schwester (little sister), Friedel, Dubener Ei (egg), and Schnewittchen (Snow White) – each caravan has a name and a story. (Campground 1 | Campground 2)
No two caravans are alike at Huttenpalast as each one was researched and bought via ebay around the region by Silke and Sarah. Once they transported them back to Berlin, they gutted, and refurbished the retro caravans to their original glory. The kitchenettes and tables were removed in the caravans to make room for comfy large mattresses.
We stayed in the Schwalbennest (swallow’s nest), which was the only West German model among the family of caravans. It had a little closet and a table with cushioned seats that also converted into a single sleeping ‘bed’. I adored the modern touches in the retro caravans like the wooden shelving designed by a local artist. Sarah and Silke had curated each caravan beautifully giving each a personality.
Not only is there shared space in the caravan area and an outdoor garden, but Huttenpalast also has a sidewalk café that serves coffee and breakfast accessible by guests and locals. So you may even get to mingle with Berliners while staying there. And be really local by renting bikes right from Huttenpalast and peddle your way around the city like the locals do!
Instead of having to hitch a caravan to your car and fight traffic and mosquitoes, you get a cool indoor caravan hotel experience in the city. Berlin is full of creative, innovative ideas, so why would you want to stay in a normal hotel when you could be tiny camping in a restored, cozy caravan?