Berlin's Vagabond Chic 'Most Beautiful Homeless Shelter in the World'

With chandeliers instead of neon lighting and designer furnishings instead of springless sofas, a newly revamped homeless hostel in south Berlin looks more like a hip hotel -- and aims to give some dignity to those worn out by life on the streets.

With its exterior daubed in sunshine yellow and sky blue, the new homeless hostel stands out in its row of pale buildings. And its interior is equally exceptional. As well as glitzy chandeliers, there are wooden floorboards, a gold border encircles the walls and the furniture looks plucked straight from a design catalogue.

But this is no hip new Berlin hotel. It is a revamped homeless hostel named Reichtum 2, or "wealth", the work of Berlin-based artist Miriam Kilali. And wealth is something sorely lacking in the lives of the 21 men who now live in the hostel.

The hostel, which reopened its doors this week, was designed to restore a sense of self-worth in people who have been dealt a raw deal, to show them that they too deserve a decent home. "I wanted to give homeless people, people who had lost everything in their life, respect and dignity back," Kilali told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "I wanted to create a place where they could recover from the stress of life on the street."

But the creation of the hostel has not been without setbacks. At first, many were skeptical about donating to the project -- saying it was a waste of money to so extensively decorate a home for men many regard as just alcoholics on the margins of society. There were also doubts whether those living and working at the hostel would feel at home in their freshly redecorated base.

But the swish end-result has won praise from the home's residents and Gebewo, the organization that runs the hostel. It has trumpeted it as "the most beautiful homeless shelter in the world."

No More Threadbare Carpets

And for Kilali this is no short-term art project. Rather, she hopes the home will benefit and inspire those living there in the long-term. And, during the transformation of an existing shelter for homeless men with a history of alcohol abuse, the home's residents have been consulted at every stage, from the ripping out of threadbare blue carpets, to selecting new furniture from catalogues. "It is about getting people to take control of their own lives, creating their own environment," said Kilali, who has worked in an advice centre for homeless people.

She raised funds of €130,000 to finance the revamp. And the Berlin hostel follows in the footsteps of "Hotel Marfino" a similarly extravagant homeless hostel she has opened in Moscow.

"I knew from experience that beautiful buildings give strength, especially after gruelling times. People living on the street need that, twice over," she said, adding that she would be interested in extending her unusual chain of swanky homeless hostels. Her next project will be in New York where she is working towards creating Reichtum 3.

The eye-catching building is on a residential street in Schöneweide in the south of Berlin. Years back it was a hotel and eight years ago it became a hostel for homeless men, aged from 40-68. Many of the residents have decades of alcohol abuse behind them, and many others say it is their first pernament address for years.

And for those who lived in the building before its creative face-lift, the difference could not have been starker. Speaking to the Berliner Morgenpost, Wolfgang Binder described his old room with its tatty furnishings: "there were blue carpets, blue walls, blue wall-paper up to the ceiling." But those days are long gone. As of this week, each resident has his own meticulously refurbished room -- without a worn-out carpet or saggy sofa in sight.


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