Boat sweet home. Eastern Comfort in Berlin in a popular boat hostel. Photo: Kris*M/Flickr

The Zeitguide to Germany’s Offbeat Hotels

Bored with the idea of overnighting in a twee Schlosshotel (castle hotel), an ultra-contemporary boutique hotel, or a sanitary youth hostel? Don’t despair. Germany offers a wide range of offbeat hotels–from disused barns to former prisons–that make accommodations the main attraction. Most of these options are off the beaten path—but they’re often worth the detour.


As long as you aren’t allergic to hay, spending the night in one of Germany’s many Heuhotels (hay hotels) is just about as green as it gets. These inexpensive hotels are former farms that have thrown open their doors to guests. No two hay hotels are alike—some offer open, communal barns, others offer hay beds with curtain “walls.” Bathrooms are usually shared and bedding often isn’t included. In some cases, plain, private rooms (sans hay) are available to those who want the farm atmosphere without the sneezing. A German-language website,, offers a list of options.

Prison Hotels

What to do when a historic prison is no longer fit for criminals? Turn it into a hotel, of course. Germany offers two penitentiaries-turned-hotels. Kassel’s Elwe Hostel doesn’t gloss over its penitentiary past.  In fact, the narrow rooms, which still retain the thick doors and high windows of the 19th century structure, aren’t much more luxurious than a prison cell. At least the riotous graffiti on some of the cell room walls adds some cheer.   Slightly more comfortable, the cell rooms in Kaiserlautern’s Alcratraz Hotel contain a petite single bed, a tiny desk, and an in-suite sink.  Continuing the prison theme, the lobby desk in enclosed in ceiling-high bars. The hotel’s standard hotel rooms are more appropriate for the claustrophobic.

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