One idea conquers the world
Brief historical review of the international and the Luxembourg Youth Hostel Association
School children in the thundershower
1909 is generally considered as the birth year of the international youth hostel movement. When the German primary school teacher Richard Schirrmann and his class were surprised one evening by a violent thunderstorm during a multi-day hike, no one took in the group of students, despite being soaked to the skin. Eventually, the class found shelter in an abandoned school.
That night Richard Schirrmann made the decision to build a network of hostels designated to provide safe accommodation for school children during their hikes. In 1912, Schirrmann opened the first permanent youth hostel in the world at castle Altena. Alongside numerous collaborators, he succeeded in creating a network of hostels across Germany within just a few years. The idea was also adopted by many other countries, until the World War II slowed down the impetuous growth.
A small country as a latecomer
Luxembourg joined the movement with a slight delay: It was only in 1933 that the first open all year round hostel was opened in Luxembourg: With 34 beds each for boys and girls, the hostel was situated in an uninhabited villa of the Steinfort iron hut in the middle of the village. More and more were to follow.
In the spring of 1934, the inaugural meeting of the national Ligue for Luxembourg Youth Hostels took place. Shortly after its foundation, the patronage of the Grand Ducal court was granted. A further milestone in the development was the setup of a hostel in an urban building in 1935, the stadium of the city of Luxembourg, respectively. In addition, the city also provided the youth hostel league with an office in one of their buildings.
In 1945, after the liberation of Luxembourg by the U.S. armed forces, there was nothing left of the youth hostel network from before the war. The houses were either destroyed or used for other purposes. But already in the same year, before the end of the fighting, some former members began to lead the reconstruction of the International Federation. Luxembourg was no exception; former hostellers started rebuilding the youth hostel movement.
In November 1946, a provisional Committee convened the inaugural meeting of the renewed Luxembourg hostel association. As a new name, “Centrale des Auberges de Jeunesse Luxembourgeoises” was chosen, which remains until today.
So in 1946, previous hostels were contacted, and in the summer of the same year, these hostels were already open to guests. The first hostel network of the postwar period consisted of 6 hostels: Ettelbrück, Luxembourg-Pfaffenthal, Neumühle, Rodange, Wiltz and for a short time again Born. With these hostels, and a total of only 148 beds, more than 10,000 overnight stays were achieved in 1946.
The heyday of Hostelling
After 1950, Luxembourg entered a period often referred to by older hostellers as "the golden age" of the youth hostel movement. During a joint effort lasting over 25 years, Carlo Hemmer - first as Vice President and then as President - and Ed Nicolay as the main official secretary, restored the necessary continuity and calm in the fledgling club. Soon, more youth hostels would join the network: in Bourglinster in Beaufort and in Bettborn. Furthermore, Carlo Hemmer managed to convince the Luxembourgish government to buy the castle of Hollenfels and provide it to the youth hostel movement at a nominal rent. Because the hostel Neumühle near the Sauer river had to be abandoned for the construction of a dam in 1955, the state later returned the favour by generously enabling the construction of the hostel in Lultzhausen (1968) right by the shore of the newly created lake.
Some of these locations are still home to youth hostels while others have disappeared from the youth hosteling map over the years. Still today, the network of hostels is subject to permanent change.
During the mid-70s, the great milestone of 100,000 overnight stays as well as the 4,000 members mark had been exceeded. In Luxembourg and many other countries, constant growth was witnessed, both concerning the number of hostels and accommodations, as well as on the economic side of things.
From the anniversary trough a record-breaking year into the crisis
Concerning the overnight stays, the great upturn of Luxembourg’s hosteling movement came to an end due to an almost 10-year long lull. In addition, the youth hostel in Clervaux had to be closed for safety reasons in 1981, creating a huge void in the north of the country. In 1982, the youth hostel in Rodange also disappeared from the maps for good.
Despite all this, the celebration of the 50th anniversary in 1984 was a great event, and in the following years, the youth hostel movement continued to develop in a positive way. The partially rigid house rules were reconsidered and fundamentally changed; recreational programs have been developed or offered by partners such as the Service National de la Jeunesse, the Service of Sports or the Groupe Animateur in the various hostels. The number of overnight stays was around 100,000 per year. In this period the official age limit, which previously stood at 26 years, was abolished. 1993 turned out to be a record year with 130,000 overnight stays.
Almost imperceptibly however, the movement slipped into a serious crisis. On the one hand, the opportunity was missed to create a financial reserve during the successful years, and on the other hand, the needs of classic clientele changed rapidly. More comfort and services were in demand. Instead of staying in dorms, one wished for smaller rooms and modern sanitary facilities. Instead of the usual, simple hostel food, guests demanded balanced and healthy meals at flexible times. Washing the dishes yourself and bringing along bed linen was increasingly rejected.
Added to this was - rightly - a restrictive national legislation concerning security in the accommodation structures for young people, and an increase in the so-called minimal standards of the International Youth Hostel Federation. In plain English, this meant that many hostels in Luxembourg would have no future without major renovations. The negative development concerning accommodation and member numbers contributed to a rapid deterioration of atmosphere within the association.
Renewal and modernization
During a turbulent annual meeting in 1996, the board was replaced by a new team, who aimed to install more professional structures and the modernization of infrastructures. The new leadership sought a dialogue with the respective owners of the hostels (State or municipalities) to conduct the necessary renovation measures.
At the administration a modern booking and accounting program was introduced and the opportunities of internet bookings were recognised early. The qualification and training of employees, the introduction of quality standards and the expansion of program offerings were other important steps.
In an increasingly networked and globalised world, this open encounter between cultures and the peaceful bridge between people of different nationalities is of increasing importance. The youth hostel movement should therefore remain faithful to its history and try to move on its chosen path between idealism and professionalisation, between economic constraints and their statuary specified mission and also in the future provide an offer that involves more than just bed and bread.
Source: 75 Jahre Erinnerungen, Abenteuer, Erlebnisse und Freundschaften; CAJL