Hostels in Germany are a communal experience by day and night


Hamburg : Dan from Australia flops down into the armchair, relaxes and then scratches his arm, which is encased in plaster.

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The 24-year-old intended spending just a day or two in Hamburg before a passing truck knocked him off his bicycle. So he's been living in the "Instant Sleep" hostel for a week and he's enjoying every minute of it.

"It's wonderful. In the few days I've been here I've made friends with Americans, Italians, Finns, Russians, Koreans and of course Germans," says Dan describing life in his common room, kitchen and large bedroom.

The "Instant Sleep" is one of several hostels in Germany that are growing in popularity.

The Hamburg-based "Backpacker Network Germany" association has 46 hostels in 26 cities on its books and every year more are added. Most hostels are small establishments and the total number of beds on offer is about 3,100.

"Every hostel is run by a private individual," says Carolina Kuhlmann, one of the network's executives.

The familiar atmosphere it provides is typical for the hostel scene. Hostels are meant to be meeting places for travellers from all over the world a little like "big, fluctuating living communities".

Most residents are backpackers like Dan. The big difference between a hostel and a hotel are the sleeping quarters.

Hostel guests sleep in dormitories in bunk beds or close to each other in single beds. Sleeping in the same room as 25 snoring people can take getting used to.

Sanitary facilities such as toilets and showers are shared and are usually spartan. There are kitchens where you can prepare food, common rooms, libraries and washing machines.

A bed in a dormitory costs in the Backpacker Network's 46 hostels between 12.50 euro (around $17) and 26 euro. Charges for a single room are between 24 and 55 euros.

One of the first hostels to open in Germany was the "Schanzenstern" in Hamburg, which was founded by Gunhild Abigt together with four friends in 1991.

The first hostels opened in Australia and Asia in the 1960s catering for hippies and dropouts who needed cheap accommodation.

The first years were not easy, according to Abigt. "People were very surprised when you told them on the phone they could book a single bed in a dorm."

Germany's traditional youth hostels or "Jugendherberge" feared the new competition and took hostels to court that used the trademarked terms "Jugendherberge" or "Backpacker".

That legal dispute was set aside when a compromise was reached whereby hostels that were booked out agreed to send customers to the Jugendherberge, according to Abigt.

Carolina Kuhlmann says hostels have a different client base to the Jugendherberge.

Thomas Keel of Germany's Jugendherberge network takes a different view: Jugendherberge do target clients like school groups, associations or scouts, but urban Jugendherberge have managed to attract backpackers.

"The classic house rule that everyone must be in bed by 10 p.m. has long since been dropped in places like that," says Kleer.