In the summer of 1909 a teacher, Richard Schirrmann, organized an eight-day hiking tour from Altena in the Sauerland to Aachen. During the first night the school group found a barn and a friendly farmer who gave them blankets and food. But on the second night, the farmer they asked was not so forthcoming. He did, however, give them straw so that they could sleep in the local school.
Whilst a storm raged outside and the boys were asleep, Schirrmann lay wide awake and was struck by an idea: To have places to sleep on all important hiking routes, no more than a day’s walk apart from each other. That night on August 26, 2009, the idea of the youth hostel was born.
In 1910 Schirrmann wrote an article that was published in the Kölnische Zeitung, outlining his idea of using empty schools to create places for young people to stay while they went on hiking trips during the summer holidays. Following the article’s publication, he received offers of support and financial assistance from all over Germany. And so he set about opening the first Jugendherberge (Youth Hostel) in his own school, in Altena, Westphalia.
Soon after, in 1912, it was replaced by the first permanent youth hostel in the world, in Altena Castle, which still exists to this day. Following the success of his idea and rapid spread of the idea throughout Germany, he founded the nationwide German Youth Hostel Association in 1919.
The idea quickly spread overseas, and in 1932 the International Youth Hotel Federation was founded, which included many countries in Europe. Its successor, Hostelling International (HI), is a non-profit organization composed of more than 90 different youth hostel associations representing over 4500 youth hostels in over 80 countries today.
Currently there are over 550 youth hostels that are organized under the umbrella of the German Youth Hostel Association (DJH). In Germany, over four million guests spend the night in the hostel beds annually. It’s small wonder the numbers are increasing. Long gone are the clichéd days of 20 people packed in a room snoring. Now guests can often get single or double rooms, and many of the hostels have high-quality kitchens, bars, pool and table football, and wireless internet access.
Fun fact: Currently, the average overnight stay in a hostel in Germany costs 16 euros-and that includes breakfast.
Looking for a hostel to stay in durign your next trip to Germany? The German Youth Hostel Association (Deutsches Jugendherbergswerk) has recently relaunched their website, which features a hostel search, online booking, travel tips, and other information for visitors. Visit their website here.