The Airport Version of a Tiny House (for Naps)
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you don’t have to sleep on a bench at Gate 72.
When I accidentally scheduled an overnight stay in the Berlin airport, 11 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., my first thought was that, since it was Berlin, there must be an overnight airport rave. But when none of the kind, helpful, neat airport employees who may have secretly been planning said rave would tell me where it was or even admit it existed, I knew I’d have to get creative. I’ve slept on the floor or on a bench in airports before — in Boston, in San Francisco, when delays or early trains conspired against me — but it’s hardly pleasant.
And it turns out Berlin doesn’t make you do that: It’s one of two German airports fitted out with Napcabs, boxy sleeping cabins meant to house overnight travelers in a clean, safe, internet-enabled environment. An outlet to yourself and a bed with a pillow — the airport dream. Kind of.
If someone is put in the mood by the vibe of a Napcab, they might be a dangerous psychopath and you shouldn’t have sex with them in a Napcab.
Deciding to sleep in a 4-square-meter box is one thing. Actually stepping inside that box, locking yourself into a cube of fluorescent lights and white walls is another. The Napcabs are thoughtfully designed — one of the walls is a big mirror, so it feels a bit bigger than it is — and they’re meant to be welcoming. “We try to make it very comfortable and convenient for people — white walls, very clean, comfortable bed,” says Jörg Pohl, a spokesman for Napcabs, which is planning to expand to non-German airports in the near future and to offer the currently unavailable option to book in advance. But it is impossible to escape the feeling that you’ve stepped into a futuristic dystopian film where each person is assigned a sleeping box with a TV and an internet connection, where lilting classical music plays to calm you down and energetic classical music plays to wake you up. When I read about the boxes, my first thought was, “Do people have sex in them?” After I stepped inside, I didn’t wonder anymore: If someone is put in the mood by the stark, square Hunger Games vibe of a Napcab, they might be a dangerous psychopath and you shouldn’t have sex with them in a Napcab.
The box has a television hooked up to German channels and two different lighting modes — one “relaxing” and one “activating,” as well as an alarm clock and the sense that at any time the box may decide to shut off your oxygen and you would die inside, die watching the Peter Jackson remake of King Kong dubbed in German at 1 a.m. in a fluorescent box, which is still better than sleeping on a bench outside the box.
The cubes do offer privacy, but critically they are not soundproof. A seemingly unhinged but kind German man who attempted to help me figure out how to get into one of the two Berlin Napcabs at 12:30 a.m. settled down in an armchair outside the cab for the next two hours and played bagpipe music out of his phone speaker. Eventually airport security came to talk to him, and while I don’t speak German, I assume the conversation went roughly: “Why are you playing bagpipes at 2 a.m.?” “Do bagpipes have to happen for a reason?” When I emerged at 4:30 a.m., the man and his phantom bagpipes were gone. I had been treated to a Berlin airport rave — i.e., the Napcab alarm clock, which buzzed and lit up with such vigor that I thought the cabin might topple over. I barreled out the door for safety, glad for a few hours of peaceful sleep, and even gladder to be back in the real world after a taste of the dystopian future.