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Today's quote:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

It all began with Richard Schirrmann


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The founder of the youth hostel movement was Richard Schirrmann, a teacher from Germany. He came up with the idea when he and his students were caught in a thunderstorm during an excursion and were offered accommodation in a school. He was a believer in learning by direct observation and often took his classes on excursions and hiking trips. The hiking trips could last several days, and Schirrmann and his pupils would find accommodation in farm buildings.

On one of these excursions, on 26 August 1909, the group was caught in a thunderstorm. They finally found shelter in a school building in the Bröl Valley. The headmaster let them use a classroom and a farmer gave them some straw to sleep on and some milk for their evening meal. The storm raged the whole night. While the boys slept, Schirrmann lay awake. That was when he had an idea... "The schools in Germany could very well be used to provide accommodation during the holidays. Villages could have a friendly youth hostel, situated a day's walk from each other, to welcome young hikers."

Richard Schirrmann (May 15, 1874 – December 14, 1961) born in Grunenfeld, Prussia

That stormy night was when the worldwide youth hostel movement was founded. In 1910 Schirrmann wrote an essay setting out his ideas for "Volksschülerherbergen" (hostels for pupils of ordinary state schools). "Two classrooms will suffice, one for boys and one for girls. Some desks can be stacked away thus freeing space to put down 15 beds. Each bed will consist of a tightly stuffed straw sack and pillow, two sheets and a blanket... Each child will be required to keep his own sleeping place clean and tidy."

In 1912 the first real youth hostel opened in the old castle of Altena. The castle was restored and equipped according to Schirrmann's design, with two dormitories with massive triple-tier wooden bunks beds, a kitchen, washrooms and a shower bath.

Altena Castle, the world's first youth hostel - for more information, click here

The youth hostel movement grew rapidly. By 1913, already 83 youth hostels and 21 000 overnights were recorded. By 1921 the number of overnights stays had already reached 500 000. By the summer of 1931 there were 12 youth hostel associations in existence in Europe, operating a total of 2,600 hostels, but there was very little contact between the associations.

This all changed on 20 October 1932 when the first international conference was held at a hotel in Amsterdam. It was attended by representatives from 11 hostel associations: Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England and Wales, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Switzerland.

Youth hostels then were very different from what they are now. The idea of doing chores around the hostel during your stay was much the norm, so that hostellers helped out with reception duties, cleaning, cooking and general maintenance within the hostel for the welfare of everyone. That way, the hostel was maintained perfectly with a great community spirit.

Yours truly during his hostelling years in Australia in the mid '60s

I was a constant and keen 'Youth Hosteller' throughout my teens in Germany and joined up with the local Youth Hostel Association in Canberra almost as soon as I had arrived in Australia in 1965 which at the time had very few hostels. Canberra's first hostel was a modest farm worker's cottage along Naas Road just outside Tharwa which was followed by an old farm building near Angle Crossing. Then we raised money for the first purpose-built hostel at Black Mountain through a 'buy-a-brick' campaign.

The hostel at Angle Crossing

Today's youth hostels are as good as, and often better than, many hotels and while they still offer cheap dormitory-style accommodation, single, double and family rooms with private bathrooms are also available.

Well, you can take the boy out of the youth hostels, but you can't take the youth hostels out of the boy, and while I no longer stay at them as often as I did fifty years ago, I have remained a member ever since.

And so can you! Check it out here.