The Truth About Youth 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.

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, Germany

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. He lived directly above the hostel rooms. In the same year Schirrmann also published the first hostel listing with approximately 140 addresses.

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 “youth hostel” 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 had already been 2,123 youth hostels in Germany. More than 4.5 million overnight stays took place. But at the 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 the world war, 247 youth hostels with 1,158,500 overnight stays were counted again in Germany.

From 1949-1990 also in the GDR were an extensive network of youth hostels developed. 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.

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 association.

Youth hostels today

World-wide there are more than 4,000 youth hostels in 65 countries, whereby more than 600 alone in Germany.

The youth hostels in Germany offer to their guests far more than an inexpensive overnight stay. 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. For more details go to

This true story was published in German language by the German Youth Hostel Association, and translated by Marcus Hochstadt.

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