John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Going to jail has never been so fun.
Where to begin on the list of complaints about this hostel in Kassel, Germany?
There's no TV, minifridge, blow dryer or personal shower. The room-service staff is apparently on vacation. There's crap written all over the walls, and if you accidentally close the door you might be stuck in the room for hours until somebody hears your frantic screaming.
OK, so maybe that's all pretty standard for a bargain-rate European hostel. But there is one big difference with this operation: If you were boarding here a hundred years ago, you might've had a shiv-happy roommate named Klaus who viewed you as currency.
So it goes at the Elwe Knast-Hotel, a circa-1875 penal institution that's functioning this summer as an edgy destination spot. Graffiti writers have transformed the jail into a unique art installation as part of the dOCUMENTA (13) festival in Kassel, a city of about 195,000 souls plopped in Germany's midriff. This arts bash has been going on since 1955 – one 1977 participant made Kassel the first city in the world to be lit up by lasers – but this trendy jail is a new feature that's sure to delight culture lovers and guard/inmate role players alike.
The Elwe has received just one star out of five on Hotel.info, but you're not going here for comfort. Think of it more as a fully immersive gallery show. After booking a single room for €44,90, or a four-bed "multicell" for €139,99, you can wander though repressive stone hallways to check out 100 musty old cells, many decorated in a unique tagging style. Or you can wander out into courtyards penned in by barbed-wire fences and eat a plate of gourmet fair in the same spot where prisoners used to try to disembowel each other.
Just like a regular jail, there are a few rules here. No subletting cells. Check out is at 11. Making pruno is prohibited; the warden would rather you drank at the resident Biergarten. Follow these simple guidelines, and you're free to stay locked up until September, when this curious adventure in tourism ends.
Here are some more views of Elwe (for a sampling of dOCUMENTA's other artworks, go here):
Photos courtesy of Elwe GmbH on Facebook.