In the heart of Berlin’s most achingly hip district, Neukölln, hidden between two upcycled clothing stores and an art gallery buried under graffiti, a series of arrows leads guests through a residential courtyard and into the city’s most charming hotel: Hüttenpalast (literally, “cabin palace”).
Inside, owners Silke Lorenzen and Sarah Vollmer have transformed a former vacuum cleaner factory into a whimsical world of refurbished East German campers and tiny cabins that urban glampers can rent for the night. Don’t worry about the weather: This is camping in the great indoors.
Hüttenpalast kind of feels like an Airbnb, a campsite and a Pinterest board had a threesome. Moments after ringing the bell, we were greeted by a beaming Lorenzen who personally welcomes all guests in the front cafe before eagerly showing off her sun-drenched courtyard. Outside, a colony of clawfoot bathtubs overflows with wildflowers, string lights dangle from a canopy of draped clematis vines, and outdoor swings and reclining chairs entice you to stay awhile.
“There’s so much nightlife and noise here in Neükolln, so we wanted to create a peaceful little oasis in the middle of it,” Lorenzen said, staring down at a gang of garden gnomes peering from behind a potted fern. “It’s really a space within a space, and the same concept is true inside.”
As you push past the two doors leading to the former factory floor, even Neukölln’s most jaded 20-somethings can’t help but smile. The vacuums are long gone, and in their place is a kitschy-chic village of vintage campers from the 1950s-1970s that Lorenzen and Vollmer have painstakingly restored by hand. A riot of picnic tables, foldout chairs and soft-lit birch trees surround each pint-sized palace to accentuate the rustic-industrial feel. Some have fake grass. Others have clotheslines or a pushup patio umbrella. There are even a handful of wooden cabins that Lorenzen and Vollmer built from scratch where guests can stay. Soaring ceilings and gaping windows make the 2100-square-foot space seem surprisingly large, but the place is bursting with personality.
Listening to Lorenzen as she leads you on a camper-hopping tour through her factory showroom, it becomes clear that the idea for Hüttenpalast was hammered together piece by piece.
A former events manager, Lorenzen’s initial concept was to use the sprawling space for private parties and to build cabins on wheels that could be moved depending on the event. As she and Vollmer, an interior designer, began building Hüttenpalast’s first two cabins, they discovered that there were a ton of old East German campers available on eBay that had been rotting away in cities like Dresden and Leipzig ever since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Soon, they were hauling the corroding campers to Berlin, gutting them, and creatively restoring them with the help of friends and artists.
“We’re both quite handy, but we didn’t really know what we were doing,” Lorenzen said. “It’s not like anyone had made an indoor camper hotel before.”
Unsure if anyone would show up, Lorenzen and Vollmer swung open the doors to their quirky little caravan wonderland in 2011. By 2013, Hüttenpalast had doubled in size and expanded to into a former dance studio several steps away. These days, if you want to score a room inside this playful palace anytime between April and October, you better reserve ahead.
There are eight retro campers and four cozy cabins spread between Hüttenpalat’s two halls. All but one of the campers feature double beds large enough to sleep two people, and each comes with its own distinct look and feel.
There’s the Little Sister whose wooden-mosaic interior sits below a retractable “hat” filled with twinkling stars. The Snow White sits on a “yard” filled with seven dwarfs. And the Dübener Ei—our favorite—overlooks the second hall from an elevated perch and features a swing dangling underneath it.
We stayed in the Friedel, an aluminum-colored spaceship-looking caravan from the 1960s. Lorenzen told us that she spent two months stripping its paint with a Brillo pad to get that tin can shine (“ … and then my arm fell off.”). It’s the only camper to still house the original kitchenette (adorably called the “Campy2000”), which Lorenzen has filled with cooking curios that once belonged to her grandmother.
The alpine, valley and treehouse-inspired cabins are all slightly larger than the campers and have plenty of room for two people. But the magnum opus of cabin craftsmanship has to be the Old Palace—a two-floor villa of sorts wrapped in hundred-year-old wooden panels salvaged from the factory’s original production rooms.
Indoor campers share squeaky-clean communal bathrooms with private showers—three in each hall. If you forget to bring sandals (I did), just borrow a pair of freshly washed flip-flops from the shelf (phew!). There’s also screaming-fast Wi-Fi for those who want to stay connected during their urban getaway; and a breakfast of freshly brewed coffee, tea and muffins is delivered to each hall in the morning.
Tiny is trendy. Much like the “microhotel” wave that is beginning to crest in the U.S., one of the unexpected joys of Hüttenpalast is that it’s subtly designed to bring people together. By spending less time in your private room’s mini-footprint and more time hanging out in oversized live-work-play common areas, guests tend to engage more with the destination in which they’re staying and each other.
During our stay, we became friends with the Dutch and Danish neighbors parked next to us, saw families playing together in the garden and heard Lorenzen recommend a full pint of neighborhood dive bars to a group of newly arrived backpackers. Sure, the thin camper walls and shared roof means you’ll inevitably hear every snore, murmur and exit nearby (tip: bring earplugs), but for those seeking a bit of community at their campsite, the pros outweigh the cons.
Hüttenpalast is conveniently located just two blocks from the Hermannplatz U-Bahn station and a half-block from Berlin’s trend-setting strip: Weserstrasse. The area is home to a motley mix of Middle Eastern immigrants, philosophizing artists and creative entrepreneurs who have been breathing new life into the neighborhood’s dilapidated prewar facades faster than you can say, “cold-drip coffee.”
Address: Hobrechtstrasse 66
Room Rates: From $77
Eliot Stein is a Berlin-based writer and guidebook author.