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Youth Hostels Origin — The Truth About German Hostels

How youth hostels provide the magic power to surprise almost everybody. Here is the little known (yet true) story of hostels.

In August 1909, the German teacher Richard Schirrmann had been caught in a violent thunderstorm on an eight day migration with his pupils and found accommodation in a barn by a farmer.

While the pupils were sleeping, Schirrmann was laying awake the whole night.

Richard Schirrmann — Founder of Youth Hostels
Richard Schirrmann

The thought attacked him suddenly, "One would have to create places, at which move-joyful young people and pupils receive a safe and inexpensive overnight stay".

He published this idea for the first time in 1910 in an essay about "Voksschuelerherbergen" ("elementary school pupil lodgings"),

" ...also the boys and girls of the common man must practice fresh merry moving as counterweight for the room stool time of their school years... how do I imagine now appropriate and sufficient lodgings for the enormous army of the elementary school pupils?... each city and nearly each village has an elementary school, which almost waits in holidays with empty areas for it, into a sleep and a dining hall for move-merry children to be transformed. Two classrooms are sufficient, one for boys, one for girls. The banks are set partly one above the other. That gives free area for the list of 15 beds... each camp place consists of a tautly with straw plugged bag and cushion, 2 sheets and a blanket... each child is stopped to bring its camp place back in order finely neat..."

After publication of this essay in the "Koelnische Zeitung" (Cologne Newspaper) numerous money and gift contributions in kind and support offers came from whole Germany.

In 1912 the first youth hostel was opened in the Altenia Castle

The first youth hostel was arranged according to Schirrmann's plans: 2 sleeping halls with 3-storied solid wood beds, a dayroom, kitchen, wash and shower rooms. First hostel warden was Richard Schirrmann and lived directly above the hostel rooms. In the same year Schirrmann also published the first hostel listing with approximately 140 addresses.

First Youth Hostel — the Altenia Castle
Altenia Castle

In many of these lodgings however were not even basics of accommodations, e.g. for girls were nothing at all.

In 1913 were already 301 youth hostels in cities and villages. One year later one counted already 535.

In 1920 the first expenditure of the "Jugendherberge" magazine appeared, and with approximately 700 addresses the first manual with addresses by youth hostels were published.

From 1924-1929 with the first lottery in favour to the youth hostels 1.5 million realm Marks were gained. In 1932 in Germany had already been 2,123 youth hostels. More than 4.5 million overnight accommodations took place. But end of the twenties in further countries, like Poland, Holland, France, England, and Switzerland, more than 600 youth hostels were already opened.

On October 20th, 1932 in Amsterdam in presence by land agencies from Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Great Britain, Ireland, France, and Belgium, the International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF) was created.

The federation has its seat today in Welwyn Garden City near London. Richard Schirrmann was selected as the president. Conference language was German.

On the following conference in 1933 also Isabel and Monroe Smith from the USA participated. Within one year they could open thirty youth hostels in the United States. Also in 1933 the national socialists arrived in Germany at power.

All political and religious youth combinations were dissolved and replaced by a system of obligatorily university-formed youth organization, under the line of the "realm youth guidance". Richard Schirrmann must withdraw as a chairman of the German youth hostel factory.

He let himself impress by the idealistic elements of the new movement and became honorary president of the realm federation for German youth hostels. A decision which he should bitterly repent later.

In 1936 for political reasons it had come to the break with the international youth hostel federation. In 1947 after the end of war in Germany again 247 youth hostels with 1,158,500 overnight stays were counted.

From 1949 -1990 also in the GDR were an extensive network of youth hostels. Initially still led as federations, these later had become to state led institutions of the youth. The existing federations were dissolved. In 1960 were the most youth hostels in the Federal Republic. More than 720 houses realized 11,300,312 overnight stays.

1984 - 75 years of German youth hostel factory

On the occasion of this anniversary the today well-known DJH - Logo had been developed. In 1990 after the end of the GDR also in the new Lands of the Federal Republic youth hostel federations were created. In November these federations joined the German youth hostel factory.

In 1997 the regional organizations created the DJH Service GmbH. On behalf of the regional organizations the following tasks had been transferred: She works as a tour operator and maintains her own travel agency, and transfers world-wide reservations to youth hostels over the IBN.

Additionally belongs also the publishing trade (magazines, books, hostel listings, brochures etc.), the advertisement, marketing, the organization and support of fairs, and the EDP.

The mail-order business is settled in the sales department.

Also the support and administration of the members of the regional organizations, as well as the distribution of international student documents of identification belong to it.

The federation keeps the total obligatory will formation, the co-ordination of public means (federation, Europe, donations etc.), environmental paper and the quality management. Here also idealistic goals are further more developed.

International work, co-operation with roof federations, youth politics and public work, as well as the protection of interests outward belong likewise to the tasks of the federation; nevertheless also the basic and advanced training, the support and execution of special projects.

Youth hostels today

The youth hostels in Germany offer to their guests far more than an inexpensive overnight accommodation.

Modern Youth Hostel in Bornibenhorst
Hostel Bornibenhorst

If you still mean that the youth hostel life from today is an old hat, you will find land up and land down sufficient proofs how versatile and unusually it can be to spend the nights in hostels. Beside small cosy old buildings or the experience in castles and residences you also find many houses in scenic delightful environments as well as in large cities.

More details about the hostels today on my page about Hostels in Germany.


I have translated this true story of the origin of hostels from an German public article. If you'd like to read more about youth hostels go to the official website of the German Youth Hostel Association or the International Youth Hostel Federation.

For now I wish you a wonderful day.

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