The words “hotel, “hostel,” or “hostal” are all etymologically close to each other; they have appeared in the English language from the old French “hostel,” a word derived from the late Latin “hospitale.”
The Latin word denotes a “hospice” or a place to get some rest. In modern times, each of these words has come to designate a distinct type of lodging. “Hostal” is widely used in Spanish, either equaling to “hostel” or it can refer to a certain type of pensions, most commonly found in Spain.
Thanks to the film industry, we have generated a few stereotypes about hostels. These are either fun places for young people to spend the night, as shown in films such as “A Map for Saturday” (1979) or “The Journey of Jared Price” (2000); or, they could be potentially a dangerous place where the unsuspecting American is faced with a great terror, likely somewhere in Eastern Europe per se.
Some other common delusions are that a hostel is a kind of a flophouse, possibly a homeless shelter or halfway house. Nevertheless, when some of the first hostels in the world were opened, they had a very different vision of housing.
The first hostel in the world reportedly opened in 1912, in Germany, and it found its place within the Altena Castle. A German teacher called Richard Shirrmann established what would be the first permanent “Jungendherberge” or “Youth Hostel” back then. As imagined, the hostel was purposed to allow youngsters from families with lower income who were living in cities, to stay in the hostel and enjoy the outdoors.
Other than that, youths were expected to take care of the hostel themselves, as much as possible, sharing chores to keep expenses down and more importantly, to strengthen their character. Today’s youth hostels have reduced the duties to simply washing your cups and dishes in the hostel’s kitchen.
Surprisingly, the first hostel was opened in a medieval-aged castle from the 12th century. Hopped on the hill, and rising above the town of Altena in North Rhine-Westphalia, the Altena Castle was built by two brothers, known as Adolf and Everhard von Berg. They have erected the fortress somewhere around 1108, supposedly after Henry V had them granted the land in the region.
At some point, the Bergs moved out, and the castle served as a residence of various counts as well as the country bailiff. Those days are now over, and after more than a century later, travelers can still come to Altena Castle and look for a room in the hostel. Moreover, the castle is a museum opened for visitors.