Suite with wifi and bars, sir? Dutch hotel offers hard cell

AMSTERDAM, Sept 22 (Reuters) - A beaming Syrian refugee called Monjid welcomes guests to Amsterdam's newest hotel, offering them hummus and olives before walking them from the bright pink reception area to their cell.

The Movement Hotel, which opened this month in one tower of the Bijlmerbajes, once the Netherlands' most notorious prison, offers both a unique experience for its guests and a glimpse of a more hopeful future for its employees.

The hotel is staffed and run by asylum-seekers, selected from a group of 600, mostly Syrians, who are being temporarily housed by the Dutch government - not under lock and key - in other parts of the complex.

14 PHOTOS
Former prison now offers refuge as hotel
See Gallery
Former prison now offers refuge as hotel
View of the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 19, 2017. Picture taken on September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
A visitor takes photos inside the former The Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 22, 2017. Picture taken on September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
View of a cell inside the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 20, 2017. Picture taken on September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
Housekeeping Manager Ella Delsanto and Monjid, an asylum seeker from Syria, are seen inside the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 20, 2017. Picture taken on September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
Asylum seekers, Monjid from Syria (L) and Bassit from Egypt, welcome a visitor inside the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 20, 2017. Picture taken on September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
Asylum seeker, Monjid from Syria, brings food to visitors inside the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 20, 2017. Picture taken on September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
View of a control room inside the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 20, 2017. Picture taken on September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
Project leader Rob Hoogerwerf poses inside the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 20, 2017. Picture taken on September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
An unidentified asylum seeker prays inside the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 20, 2017. Picture taken on September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
View through a window of the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 20, 2017. Picture taken on September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
Housekeeping Manager Ella Delsanto talks with an unidentified asylum-seeker inside the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 20, 2017. Picture taken on September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
An unidentified asylum seeker stands inside the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 20, 2017. Picture taken on September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
View of the former Bijlmerbajes prison, transformed into both "The Movement Hotel", staffed and run by asylum-seekers, and a center for asylum-seekers, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 19, 2017. Picture taken on September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The staff know their residence status is uncertain, but all hope to gain experience and build up their resumés as they dream of future employment in a more normal life.

"We heard from the (Dutch) government that if the situation in Syria is safe, we must go back," said the hotel manager, Hachem, who like other staff asked that his surname not be used because of the potential danger to his family in Syria.

Once he has been in the Netherlands five years, however, he hopes to get permission to remain long-term.

Rob Hoogerwerf, the Dutchman who organized the project with donations and the help of various authorities, says the staff are working toward a certificate that would let them work in the hospitality industry in the Netherlands - or wherever they end up.

"We are helping them, or at least we would like to help them, to find their way."

For guests, the hotel offers an experience of a bit of Amsterdam history, complete with observation cameras in the elevators and barbed wire on some of the outer walls. The prison was shut in June 2016.

"We were looking for something different ... and at the last moment, we saw this place," said Andrea Legaspi, a Spanish law student attracted by the chance to get some kind of feel of prison life.

Sure enough, she found a name carved into her cell, and had a view through the bars down into the prison exercise yard - as well as a comfortable bed and wifi.

The Bijlmerbajes once housed notorious criminals, including the group that kidnapped beer magnate Freddy Heineken in 1983 for a 17 million euro ransom.

The prison's name comes from the Bijlmer neighborhood to the southeast and "bajes," a Yiddish slang term for jail that entered Dutch via Amsterdam's Jewish population.

Last week the city announced that next year it will start redeveloping the whole area into a new "Bajes" neighborhood designed by the architecture firm OMA. That means the hotel will probably have to close on Jan. 2, though Hoogerwerf is hoping for an extension.

Rooms cost 99-140 euros ($119-$168) a night. Each is decorated with a single word on the wall intended to invoke the many contradictions of the place: "Freedom?"

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.