June 26, 2023

Where you can now live in used sea freight containers

By Hubert Wolf – WAZ 03.05.2023

A hotel has opened in Erkelenz that consists of converted freight containers. The chain also comes to the Ruhr area. How to live in the container.

This hotel room has explored the world for 15 years. At that time, of course, it was not yet called “102”, but “CX20-41-xxx”; it was also not owned by a hotel at all, but by “Jiashan Xinhuachang Co. Ltd”; and instead of standing on the presumably solid ground of an Erkelenz industrial estate, it was in the holds or on the decks of swaying ships. This hotel room was a sea freight container.

Now he’s settled down. Together with 14 other used containers, it has formed the first “Tin Inn” hotel in North Rhine-Westphalia since last weekend, making it, according to the operators, “the first pure container hotel in the German-speaking world”. Don’t be disappointed, though: It doesn’t really live up to its self-deprecating name (translated as “Tin Inn” or “Büchse”).

Co-Managing Director Nico Sauerland stands in the entrance to the building.
Photo: Fabian Strauch / FUNKE Foto Services

Container stop: The hotel rooms are longer and narrower

“It was a brainstorming thing and sounded good,” says Nico Sauerland, a business administration major and one of the directors. Windows are definitely present, and inside the rooms are quite normal, quality hotel rooms; however, compared to standard rooms of the big chains, they are significantly longer and narrower. At this point, the containers send a recognizable greeting.

The new hotel in Erkelenz has the first bookings for this week, the single room costs 65 euros. More “Tin Inns” are to follow soon: in Heinsberg, Hückelhoven, Montabaur, and soon also in Bergkamen in the Ruhr region. “Small towns are uninteresting for the big chains, and the small hotels there tend to be fewer”, says Sauerland: “We fit in well in this gap.” You can tell by the sentence: the man himself comes from the container industry.

The company insulates and refines containers serially and industrially

Together with two colleagues, Sauerland runs Containerwerk eins GmbH in Wassenberg in the Rhineland. It has been insulating such containers serially and industrially since 2017, then converting them into offices, vacation apartments, daycare or hospital rooms, and has recently probably done quite well in business: it has converted 600 containers, 300 of them last year.

Now the three men are taking a lunge into the hotel business with their containers: they produce the rooms themselves and stack them on top of each other at the site, followed by interior fittings and piping and a concrete porch for stairs and utility rooms. There is no need for more space, there is no reception or restaurant, and everything from booking to entry to payment is done digitally.

The hotel’s location in Erkelenz is on the outskirts of the city, the surrounding area is an industrial park, the highway is close, so the visual appeal is not obvious to everyone. But this location is program for all other Tin Inns: they are intended more for traveling salesmen than for families. “We tried to develop the hotel we were looking for ourselves,” Sauerland says. The result can be called the 3B theory: “bed, bath, screen.” Later, an “M” is added, M for minibar.

Many more containers land in Europe from China than vice versa

But why should steel sea freight containers make hotel rooms? Aren’t they indestructible as long as they don’t fall off the hook in port? Yes, they are. The problem is different: since China exports much more to Europe than Europe exports to China, many more of these containers always end up in Europe than go back. And they are not pawned at eight cents.

“They’re like empties,” Sauerland actually says. Useless if they do not circulate. You can melt them down. Some also go to Africa with scrap metal or textiles and stay there. Still others disappear. Or, as of late, you can live in it with complete peace of mind. Because according to the container identification number on the wall of “102”, the room can accommodate quite a few guests – up to a total weight of 32,500 kilos.