Arriving at a youth hostel, you enter an international world. Despite being rooted in a local place you’re likely to meet someone from another country whenever you stay in a youth hostel.
Youth hostels are a part of an international movement for freedom and travel and I hope they will remain a little immune from all the rumpus about Brexit and Europe of last week.
Youth hostels began as a way of encouraging travel. Travel has always been at the heart of their being. In the 1930s when Europe was on the brink of war, people wanted to travel, to the countryside, to the hills and to other countries.
People travelling to Germany came back with stories of a radical new kind of accommodation available there and they began to agitate for youth hostels in their own countries. Youth hostels having started in Germany in the 1930s became an international movement.
Richard Schirrmann, the founder of youth hostels, saw them as a way of bringing people together, part of a wider movement for greater understanding and peace between countries and people.
When Isabel and Monroe Smith began youth hostels in the US they did so with the aim of encouraging travel. They and others struggled against the growth of Nazism in the 1930s and, when the second world war ended, they and many YHA members worked to rebuild and restore youth hostels own Europe.
In the Netherlands YHA members rebuilt the youth hostel at Arnhem which British paratroopers had destroyed in their ill fated raid on the town. They rebuilt youth hostels in Germany and France and international members built a youth hostel in Wales.
After the war members leapt at the chance of travel that peace had brought and in greater and greater numbers they travelled to Europe and then further afield. International travel fed the spread of youth hostels across the world.
International travel is unlikely to stop as a result of Brexit. But many young people were and are concerned that travel in Europe may become a bit more difficult after last week’s events. They’re wary of threats to freedom of travel and worry that they are losing a right that a previous generation have enjoyed.
I hope that we keep that freedom despite the decision for Brexit. Youth hostels, despite being an international movement, have also always retained their individual and national identities and respected their differences.
But there’s no doubt that without freedom of movement youth hostels cannot prosper and, as Schirrmann believed, if people meet in the friendliness of youth hostels, if they work together as volunteers, they will be greater ambassadors for peace.