HISTORY OF THE YOUTH HOSTELS
An idea travels around the world
Short historical review of the international and Luxembourg Youth Hostel Association
Schoolchildren in the thundershower
The year 1909 is generally regarded as the birth year of the International Youth Hostel Association. In that year, the German elementary school teacher Richard Schirrmann was surprised by a violent thunderstorm one evening while on a hike of several days with his class. No one took in the group of students, who were soaked to the skin, and ultimately the class found shelter in an empty school.
It was on this night that Richard Schirrmann made the decision to set up a network of hostels where schoolchildren could stay overnight in safety on their walks. In 1912, Schirrmann opened the world's first permanent youth hostel at Altena Castle. With numerous comrades-in-arms, he succeeded in laying a network of youth hostels across Germany in just a few years. The idea was also taken up by many other countries. It was not until the Second World War that the impetuous growth was slowed down.
A small country as a latecomer
Luxembourg was still on the sidelines of this development. It was not until 1933 that the first youth hostel was opened in Luxembourg. The first hostel open all year round was built in an unoccupied villa of the Steinfort ironworks in the middle of the town, with 34 beds each for boys and girls. Others were then added little by little.
In the spring of 1934, the founding meeting of the Ligue Nationale Luxembourgeoise pour les Auberges de Jeunesse took place. Shortly after its foundation, the Grand Ducal Court granted patronage to the new youth organisation. Another milestone in its development was the establishment of a hostel in a municipal building, the Luxembourg City Stadium, in 1935. The city also gave the Youth Hostel League an office in one of its buildings.
In 1945, after the liberation of Luxembourg by the US forces, nothing remained of the pre-war youth hostel network. The houses were either destroyed or misused. But already in the same year, before the end of hostilities, some former members started to rebuild the International Association. In Luxembourg, too, former Ajists had set about rebuilding the youth hostel movement.
In November 1946, the provisional committee convened the founding meeting of the Luxembourg Hostel Association, which was to be renewed. As a new name for the former Ligue Nationale Luxembourgeoise pour les Auberges de Jeunesse, the Centrale des Auberges de Jeunesse Luxembourgeoises was chosen, which is still valid today.
In 1946, first contacts were made with former hostels, and immediately in the summer some were ready again for guests. The first hostel network of the post-war period consisted of the 6 hostels: Ettelbrück, Luxembourg-Pfaffenthal, Neumühle, Rodange, Wiltz and for a very short time Born again. With these hostels and a total of only 148 beds, more than 10,000 overnight stays were achieved in 1946.
The heyday of the Ajissem
After 1950, the period that older youth hostellers like to call "the golden age" of the youth hostel movement began. Thanks to the joint efforts of Carlo Hemmer, first as Vice-President and then as President, and Ed Nicolay as full-time Secretary, over a period of more than 25 years, the necessary continuity and peace returned to the still young association. Soon other youth hostels were added: in Burglinster, in Befort and also in Bettborn. Carlo Hemmer also succeeded in convincing the state to buy Hollenfels Castle and give it to the youth hostels for a symbolic rent. Because the Neumühle youth hostel had to make way for the Sauer, which was dammed up to form a lake, in 1955, the state later generously returned the favour by enabling the youth hostel to be built in Lultzhausen (1968) right on the banks of the reservoir.
Some of these sites still have a youth hostel today, while others have disappeared from the youth hostel map over the years. All in all, the network of youth hostels has been subject to permanent change up to the present day.
In the mid-1970s, the 100,000 overnight stays mark was reached with regularity, and the 4,000-member mark was also exceeded. There was a steady growth in Luxembourg as well as in many other countries, on the one hand in terms of the number of hostels and overnight stays, but also in economic terms.
From jubilee to record year to crisis
In the 1980s, the upswing in the number of overnight stays went into a lull lasting almost 10 years. In addition, the youth hostel in Clerf had to be closed in 1981 for safety reasons, leaving a large gap in the north of the country. The Rodange site also disappeared definitively from the youth hostel map in 1982.
Despite all this, however, the 50th anniversary celebrations in 1984 turned out to be a great festival, and the youth hostel movement continued to develop very positively in the years that followed. The sometimes rigid house rules were questioned and relaxed, leisure programmes were developed or offered by partners such as the Service National de la Jeunesse, the Service des Sports or the Groupe Animateur in the individual hostels. The number of overnight stays was around 100,000 per year. During this period, the official age limit of 26 years was abolished.
Almost imperceptibly, however, the movement slid into a serious crisis. On the one hand, the necessary financial reserves had been neglected during the good years, and on the other hand, the needs of the traditional clientele were changing rapidly. More comfort and service were in demand. Instead of sleeping in dormitories, people wanted smaller rooms and up-to-date sanitary facilities. Instead of the usual, simple hostel fare, guests demanded balanced and healthy meals at flexible times. They increasingly refused to wash their own dishes and bring their own bed linen.
In addition, there was - quite rightly - more restrictive national legislation regarding safety in youth accommodation structures, and an increase in the so-called minimum standards of the International Youth Hostel Federation. In plain language, this meant that many youth hostels in Luxembourg would have no future without substantial renovation measures. The negative development of the number of overnight stays and members contributed significantly to the rapid deterioration of the mood within the association.
Renewal and modernisation
During a turbulent annual general meeting in 1996, the board of directors was replaced by a new team that set out to professionalize the entire structure and modernize the infrastructure. The new management sought talks with the respective owners of the youth hostels (state or municipalities) in order to initiate the necessary renovation measures.
Within the management, a modern reservation and accounting program was introduced and the possibilities of internet bookings were recognized and used at an early stage. The qualification and further training of the staff, the striving for quality standards and the expansion of the programme offers were further important steps.
In an increasingly interconnected and globalised world, this open encounter between cultures and the peaceful building of bridges between people of different nationalities is becoming increasingly important. The youth hostel movement should therefore remain true to its history and try to continue on its chosen path between idealism and professionalism, between economic constraints and its statutorily defined mission, in order to continue to offer something more than just bed and buns in the future.