The Israeli Dreaming of Opening a Capsule Hotel Near Berlin's Berghain Club

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An entrepreneur who closed his Berlin Kosher store pursues his next venture, and a guitarist whose career was changed by Youtube

Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
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Yadin Madar.
Yadin Madar.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

Yadin Madar, 42, lives in Berlin and Moshav Geulim; arriving from Berlin

Tomer, the photographer: Hi! Third time’s a charm.

Fantastic, I’ve been stopped by Haaretz a third time.

Liat: What?

Tomer: Don’t you remember him?

Liat: Vaguely. Sorry.

Yadin: Four years ago, my wife and I returned from a trip and then we met and talked about my grandma, who has since died, may she rest in peace. We met a second time two years ago, and my wife talked about the dilemma of taking trips to the death camps.

I remember! You had a virtual grocery store in Berlin for Israeli food. What’s going on now?

Excellent. I’m happily married and the father of two gorgeous girls and a dumb dog.

And the grocery store?

I closed it. It was profitable and it was a great success, but it simply wasn’t worth the noise. Too little money for too many worries about being kosher and getting fresh food. It stopped being interesting.

So you called it quits?

Yes. Otherwise we’d get old and die. People are sometimes afraid to call it quits, but as an entrepreneur you need to know when it’s time to move on to the next cool thing.

Why do I have the feeling there already is such a thing?

This is a really hysterical project, the most hysterical you can imagine.

No self-promotion, please.

I’m going to establish a “capsule” hotel in Germany. It’s a futuristic concept, a Japanese thing.

Like in the Luc Besson film “The Fifth Element”?

Exactly. I did some research and saw that it’s made a lot of noise in London and Stockholm. I think it’s the right thing for crowded cities like Berlin, where hotels are always fully occupied and it’s hard to find a room.

What does a capsule look like?

Each capsule is 1.20 meters wide, 1.5 meters high and 2.20 meters long. It has a TV, an air conditioner, a safe, lighting, earphones and a small table; you can sit comfortably, but you can’t stand up. Basically, everything is managed from the bed. You have a smartcard and a locker and a code for a shared toilet and showers. I’m blown away by the idea.

You seem to be.

We have the place, an awesome location in terms of its centrality, like being on Rothschild [Boulevard in Tel Aviv]. On one side the Berghain [nightclub], on the other the offices of MTV, Universal and e-Bay, so it’s good both for people on short business trips and for tourists and clubbers. And we’re going to be feinschmeckers – excuse me for using the royal “we.”

It’s all good, you know how to sell, go on with the pitch.

Fifty capsules on two floors, and a great public area that invites people to hang out, with a coin-operated beer tap. For 45 euros a night, instead of the 100-plus at a hotel. Let’s say you’re in Berlin alone for a party or for work. Whom will you talk to? The area I have is relatively small; in the really hot locations there isn’t much room. It’s either building 10 hotel rooms or 50 capsules.

At what stage are you?

Recruiting investors. I need to raise 300,000 euros, I already have 60 percent from one of the big banks in Berlin, which believes in us, and in another three months the place will be ready. The capsules come from China, each one costs 3,000 euros. It’s prefab, made of tough materials; it won’t break and you can’t stick things into it. It’s anti-everything – anti-God.

Was it hard getting financing from a German bank?

No. They’re really into it. I believe that by the end of 2019 I’ll have a chain and there will be two more like these. There are a lot of Israeli investments in Berlin, but this isn’t the sort of business Israelis like, because it’s not an investment that finishes after two years.

Have you ever slept in a capsule? Don’t you think it’s a little claustrophobic?

No, it really looks cool to me. I did sleep in a hostel to get the commune experience, and it was nice but crowded. Shared rooms aren’t appropriate for people over 22, who want privacy. And I hear it can also be an unpleasant experience for girls.

And what happens if you meet someone at the Berghain?

The capsule is by definition for one person, but two can also fit.

Yaniv Ben Ami.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Yaniv Ben Ami, 39, lives in Tel Aviv; flying to Zanzibar

Can I ask what you have in your small bag? A violin?

It’s a bass guitar that’s meant for traveling. It has a body that can be separated from the neck and the frets. A nice concept, you can put it in the overhead without quarreling with the flight attendants.

Are you going abroad to perform?

I’m supposed to have one show, but overall it’s a week of fun. I’ve wanted to go for a long time, and suddenly I had a hole in my schedule, so I bought a ticket.

Who do you perform with?

Whoever comes with groove, I’m there. In Israel you have to spread out your gigs as a musician. I play with Tuna, with Shay Hertz, who’s very talented and will make a name for himself, and with a band called Gaberband.

Geverband? Do you sing about the bewildered situation of men in the modern world? [“Gever” is Hebrew for “man.”]

It’s a cover group on steroids. Our soloist is named Nir Gaber. And it wasn’t so long ago – well, actually it was quite a while – that Netta Barzilai sang with us. But now she’s a bit busy.

Covers of what?

We play everything, from Zohar Argov to Rage Against the Machine. Not long ago we did an homage to Amy Winehouse at Habima Theater, with her original guitarist. But mostly we do private events and we have a monthly gig in Tel Aviv, which is half-party.

With dancing?

Dancing, singing, going wild. We host Gal Toren and Esther Rada. We decide on the spot what to play, like deejays do. We play a song and in the last bar the singer shouts out to us what the next song will be.

Without rehearsals?

We’ve been playing together for more than 10 years, and the musicians are good enough, really high class. Our percussionist is from the Avihu Pinhasov Rhythm Club and is Beri Sakharof’s backup drummer. The bassist isn’t out front but if he makes a mistake, the whole stage shakes. It’s a thankless job, but it’s the best way for me to serve a song.

Did you study music?

No, I’m an autodidact, I came to music out of love. Over the years I realized that the fact that I didn’t study music is an advantage, because I developed a good ear. I don’t do scales. I’m preoccupied with how everything sounds together. I have about 3,000 records. If you listen to a lot of music for a long time, you know what your role is naturally.

Do you make a good living from it?

If it was money that was important to me, I’d work in a regular job. But I like to perform. With Tuna, for example, I love everything I do, and I’ve been there pretty much from the beginning.

How long ago was that?

Nine years. I remember when we had two people in the audience. It was frustrating, but I knew it was good, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed on. I believed in something and stuck with it. Ultimately, when you’re proved right, it’s a dream fulfilled.

How did that suddenly happen?

YouTube changed the picture. When we were with Tuna we sent a lot of songs to the radio, but they never got played. The exposure came with the clip “This, Too, Shall Pass,” and after that the radio asked for songs. We also performed with Esther Rada in substandard conditions, on a tiny stage in a small bar on Ben Yehuda [Street in Tel Aviv]; even there she sounded incredible and gave me shivers. I also played with Nachi and Peled and with Netta Barzilai – I always knew she was phenomenal – and when there was the yes/no looper thing it made me laugh, because I knew she really didn’t need the looper.

Your scene has exploded.

It’s fantastic to see everyone doing well. I’m grateful for having the opportunity to know such talented people. And from my point of view, to play before tens of thousands of people means great personal and general satisfaction. Stories to tell my grandchildren.

Is there still anything for you to dream for?

With Gaberband we’d be happy to do a concert with a symphonette, so I’m throwing down the gauntlet here. And for me personally, I’d most like to play with Danny Sanderson. I grew up with his songs, and I think “Doda” is an amazing album that was ahead of its time.

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