Bavaria’s 42 youth hostels offer not just bed and (organic) breakfast, but also tailor-made holidays for families, couples and single travellers. We took a look round in Würzburg and Passau and spoke to the people involved. A story by Anja Keul with photos from Angelika Jakob
Bye-bye sleeping camp
Bunk beds, weak tea from an urn and midnight feasts - everyone has their own memories of school trips to youth hostels. But the range of services provided by Bavaria’s modern youth hostels is far removed from the unprepossessing dormitories of former times.
Renovated with great attention to detail or situated in spectacular settings, they play their tourism trump cards to the full. What’s more they are open to all comers: even travellers over the age of 26 can become members of the German Youth Hostel Association for a modest annual fee.
Youth hostels: Ideal for those with children
The combination of cheap prices and an informal atmosphere is particularly suitable for families, single parents or grandparents with grandchildren in tow. They can all stay together in family rooms. What’s more, there are playrooms, table tennis tables, playing fields, fireplaces, chilled corners and enough space to let off steam.
In addition to the simple bed and breakfast option or half or full board, you can now book complete travel offers in all of Bavaria’s youth hostels, including many activities ranging from city rally to winter sports weeks. Each youth hostel plays to its regional strengths with a focus on culture, environment or fitness.
Individual instead of off the peg
Around a quarter of Bavaria’s youth hostels have already been modernised - in ways that are as diverse and versatile as Bavaria itself. In each case, an individual concept was developed in creative workshops involving representatives from the region and the hostel, ensuring it would suit the location and the relevant facility. A quick foray through the accommodation shows that no guests need to fear being fobbed off with bland tea. The bunk beds are naturally still here, but they are supplemented by comfortable single, family and double rooms with private bathrooms.
Würzburg Youth Hostel: Punk Baroque
Wow! As you enter the foyer beneath the Marienburg fortress, you could imagine yourself in a cool nightclub. Playful black and white ornamentation snakes its way across reception, juxtaposed with a bright red neon sign. In the chillout area around the corner you can make yourself dizzy on the swivel armchairs. Further back the interior gets darker and cosier with hard-wearing sofas. Welcome to what is possibly the most punk youth hostel in Germany!
Ceiling frescoes and graffiti
Youth hostel manager Jutta Summer is proud of the new design, which since 2018 has offered “a modern interpretation of Baroque, a theme which is all-pervasive in Würzburg”. The extensive ornamentation represents the Baroque fascination with flourishes and twirls - even in the exclusive café area for conference guests.
The brightly coloured, detailed ceilings of many of the common areas are based on the famous Tiepolo fresco of the Würzburg Residence. However, the city’s alternative scene is also reflected, for example in the large-format images in graffiti style. Even the bunk beds are truly eye-catching: during the nine-month renovation process, the caretaker painted them brilliant yellow.
Tolerance, courage, respect and curiosity
“Here everyone can feel part of the overall artwork,” says Summer, “which ties in well with our basic principle of the ‘community experience’.” Values such as tolerance, courage, respect and curiosity also played a role in the initial brainstorming process. The concept gets its particular charm from its contrast with the historic building, a former women’s prison from the 19th century. The old town is an easy ten minute walk across the Alte Mainbrücke bridge - under the silent gaze of twelve Baroque sandstone figures half the city’s residents come together on warm evenings with glasses of Franconian wine in their hands.
JH Passau: Medieval flair
Your pulse will be pumping after 137 steps up to the seventh floor of the former general tower building of the “Veste Oberhaus”. In the twelve-bed room, the largest in the house, hostel manager Kevin Kirschke smiles: “Up here we mainly accommodate elementary school students, can handle it.”
Two floors below are rooms with four beds and a breathtaking view, which cyclists like to book: “But they also complain when they have to climb up here after 100 kilometers in the saddle. That’s the price you have to pay if you want to spend the night in a castle complex that is more than 800 years old.
Especially in the evening, when the daytime visitors are gone, it’s easy to feel transported back to the Middle Ages. The crooked cobblestones, the wooden bridge across to the museum complex, the metre-thick walls – the Passau youth hostel is a time machine. It is highly recommended to delve into this feeling in the Upper House Museum of Cultural History. Many of the hostel’s educational programmes also highlight medieval topics.
Three Rivers Lounge in the Tower
The rooms are not quite as spartan as they were in the Middle Ages, but the last renovation took place around the turn of the millennium. Because the thick walls often slow down WLAN, the "Three Rivers Lounge" with reliable internet is always a lively meeting place. The seat cushions are in the colours of the three Passau rivers: black for the Ilz, blue for the Danube and green for the Inn. By the way, you can see the confluence wonderfully live.
More exciting youth hostels
Nuremberg: Living in a landmark
The mighty Kaiserburg dominates the silhouette of this city. The modern youth hostel with its impressive common rooms is housed in the former stables.
Gunzenhausen: On Lake Altmühlsee
In the heart of the Franconian Lake District, water sports are a big draw, as is the Altmühl cycle path and the route to Lake Brombach. The delightful marketplace is just a short walk away.
Wunsiedel: In the Fichtel Mountains
As part of the Bürgerpark Katharinenberg, complete with falconry centre and petting zoo, and close to Europe’s largest rock labyrinth, this youth hostel is a paradise for young explorers.
Trausnitz Castle: Pure Middle Ages
Medieval traditions and customs are writ large on this castle complex, which feels like something out of a picture book. There are also great opportunities for mountain bikers here.
Regensburg: On the island
With an idyllic location on the “Unterer Wöhrd” Danube island yet just 15 minutes’ walk from the centre, this youth hostel is the perfect base for nature adventures and city strolls.
Bayrisch Eisenstein: On the Großen Arber
In the middle of the Bavarian Forest National Park, summer is all about hiking while the winter months get plenty of snow for skiing and sledging. The fireplaces and panelled rooms give this youth hostel the feel of a mountain hut.