Admittedly, there was a very special sense of anticipation before the first night at the Null Stern Hotel. Knowing that we were the first guests, knowing that it would certainly be exciting, and not knowing what the weather would be like. But let’s start at the beginning…
The concept artists’ production
The project is produced by Swiss concept artists Frank and Patrik Riklin through their Atelier für Sonderaufgaben (Studio for Special Tasks). The Null Stern Hotel consists of a wooden double bed from the former four-star Hotel Ekkehard in St. Gallen, equipped with YAASA Living mattresses, blankets and pillows, bedside lamps, a safe, a wooden stool, concrete, composite stones, and a tube television for analog live TV (more on that later). Electricity is also available, generated by a car battery. However, it was not sufficient to charge our mobile phone batteries. Therefore, I highly recommend arriving with fully charged batteries to capture the beautiful and rare moments through photos and/or videos. By the way, the network coverage was excellent with LTE. The complete sleeping area covers an area of around 600 x 400 x 138 cm.
Location and arrival
The Null Stern Hotel, with the motto “The only star is you,” is located this year (2017) in the Appenzell region near Gonten, specifically on the Göbsi Alp, which is about 1,200 meters high. Traditionally, the concept is implemented in a different location every year. In 2016, the Null Stern Hotel was located in Graubünden in the Safiental valley. The exact location of the project in 2018 is currently unknown.
Even the drive through the Swiss Appenzell region resembles a landscape painting. Hilly, extremely green, and always with the mountains, Säntis, Alpstein, and Hoher Kasten in the background. Gonten is a small, idyllic village nestled in a valley. The agreed meeting point was Gonten train station. To be honest, I was expecting a small, aging train station somewhere in a mountain village. It was indeed small, but top modern! Other train companies elsewhere could take an example from this new building.
After booking the accommodation, a detailed description of the stay is provided, including information about the butler’s meeting point and parking directly at the train station. Parking is free. As agreed, we were at the train station at the appointed time. The meeting point is the red park bench with the Appenzeller logo/writing on the platform. The butler arrived punctually in his private car, a stylish old Subaru off-road vehicle, as it could only be in Switzerland. He was dressed in a white butler shirt with a black bow tie, work pants, and rubber boots. This was not a surprise, as this is exactly how the concept is intended. Chic on top, farmer at the bottom. However, the surprise came at the same time. Not only was he there, but also his two children, one of whom was in a child seat, and the other was dressed in a chic butler shirt and black bow tie. It was incredibly original!
He warmly greeted us, and we greeted him and his children. We drove across the village, up the nearest hill. First on an asphalt road, then on gravel paths. After about 10 minutes, we reached the 1,200m high Alp “Göbsi”. There, his summer Alpine hut is located, along with two dozen cows, chickens, and a dog. His wife was already on site and greeted us warmly as well.
He then gave us an introduction to the hut, which also serves as an emergency shelter in case of rain. There is also a simple “plunge toilet” available. In addition, there was a careful briefing for nighttime bathroom visits, as the only available light was from battery-operated lamps. No problem for us, but rustic…
The Null Stern Butler Service
And now it got exciting: we hiked up the adjacent hill together with the butler and his oldest son. A good 300m distance past cows with bells and a picturesque landscape. Halfway up, there is a small green construction trailer. There is room to change or store your belongings. The trailer is lockable, and we were given keys, but we never used it. Shortly afterwards, at the top of the hill, we saw it. The Null Stern Hotel. Perfectly prepared, with white bed linen, finely cleaned. In an absolutely unique location, as the massive mountains line up directly behind it. Somehow surreal, I thought to myself. Accordingly, it took me five minutes to process the scene. Better than in a movie.
We were left alone for about 30 minutes, surrounded by green hills, mountains, cows, and meadows. From afar, the butler and his family came back. There was a welcome drink, a small snack, two headlamps, and the announced Analog Live-TV presentation. The butler held the frame of an old tube TV in front of his head and told us about the current weather, the weather forecast for the night and the next day. Of course, in the original Appenzeller dialect. We were lucky, the weather was perfect, dry, warm, and not below 19 degrees at night. Then it was the turn of the two children who recited poems and verses. You won’t find anything like this anywhere else, only in the unique Null Stern Hotel worldwide.
Perfect Light and Stunning View
In short, the light of the evening twilight was perfect, so we spontaneously decided to take some pictures with the butler’s family in front of the imposing mountains. They were just as happy as we were, as we were the first guests to be hosted. So, the butler’s family also pulled out their digital camera and took some pictures with us. You won’t find this kind of hospitality even in a five-star hotel. They told us to feel free to move around, even to go to the pastures with the cows, which can be petted. We were also told to knock on the hut anytime if there is a problem or if it rains. An emergency shelter would be ready. We quickly agreed on the breakfast time and then it was time to get serious.
From now on, we were on our own. High up on the 1,200m hill on the “Göbsi” alp. We quickly took a stroll around the hill. The cows were not only visible, but also impossible to ignore with their huge cowbells. Some of them followed us everywhere, so we could hardly escape. After some time, we managed to return safely. It was fun!
As night fell, it was time to put our master plan into action. We set up what was probably the highest outdoor cinema around. We pulled out our Apple iBook and used our LTE mobile connection to watch a Hollywood blockbuster, complete with chips and drinks we had brought along. Of course, we did all of this on a comfortable hotel double bed under the starry night sky. Unbelievable but true – welcome to the most modern century!
As midnight approached, we turned off the bedside lamps. We had pushed our luggage under the bed and considered the safe and lockable construction trailer unnecessary, so we never used them. Thanks to the full moon and clear starry sky, we counted the planes passing overhead before drifting off to sleep, surrounded by the sound of cowbells. I woke up briefly around three in the morning and noticed a warm breeze, but thanks to the blanket, it wasn’t cold. The full moon made the night relatively bright and cast a beautiful light on the surrounding panorama.
Sunrise in the great outdoors
Shortly after 4 am, I noticed the sunrise, but before I could take a picture of it, I fell back asleep and woke up around 7:30 am. What stuck with me the most was the incredible stillness of the night. Even during the day, it’s relatively quiet due to the location, but at night, after the cows had gone to sleep, there was absolutely nothing to hear except for our own breathing. It was a very peculiar experience that I’ve only encountered before in the desert. It was very calming.
Breakfast in the hut
We took a short walk to the alpine hut for breakfast. But before that, there was time for our morning routine. As the butler had announced, he had placed a bowl of fresh water in front of his hut, which we could use to shave and wash. It was different, but it worked. Breakfast was already prepared for us when we arrived. It was simple but “sau gut” (Swiss German for “very good”)! There was sausage, cheese, melons, hard-boiled eggs, butter, jam, and everything was from the region. Orange juice and coffee were included, of course. The rural music playing on the radio was also a must-have. We had a lively conversation with the butler-lady during breakfast, while she managed to do the hand-washing from the family breakfast. These are priceless moments that you can only experience at the Null Stern Hotel.
A short time later, we packed our things and were driven back to the train station by the butler along with a milk can in the trunk and children from the alp “Göbsi”. After a heartfelt thank you, we said goodbye. She went to sell her milk and we drove back through the beautiful Appenzellerland once again. An exciting experience came to an end. And yet, we had already felt almost adopted.
By the way, for those wondering what happens when it rains, the 0 Star Hotel goes into “standby” mode. A corresponding device can quickly pull a cover over the bed. There is no room to sleep underneath it, so the guests are moved to the alpine hut for the night. If it is clear beforehand that it will rain, the guest will be informed via SMS and/or call at around 3 pm on the day of arrival.
A night at the 0 Star Hotel costs around 300 CHF (290 EUR) including parking, transportation, welcome drinks, snacks, breakfast, and the analog live TV.