No Longer Just For Youths, Many German Hostels Now Want The Whole Family

As their traditional customer base – groups of school children – shrinks, Germany’s hostels are trying to woo a new market: whole families. In places like the Baltic Sea island of Rügen, some hostels have transformed themselves into affordable, kid-friend

Families are more than welcome to stay at the Walkater hostel in central Germany (Kleiner Waldkater)
Families are more than welcome to stay at the Walkater hostel in central Germany (Kleiner Waldkater)
Andreas Heimann

For a long time, "youth hostel" conjured up an image of noisy kids on school trips staying 10 to a room, with shower and other facilities shared by the whole floor and peppermint tea for breakfast. That doesn't exactly sound like a vacation. But times have changed. Hostels are now marketing to families – and, according to Knut Dinter, spokesman for the German Youth Hostel Association (DJH), "more and more families are staying at hostels every year." Families generally account for about a fifth of the total number of guests, and in some areas of the country it's as much as a third.

Obviously, hostels are not going to appeal to all families, since a certain amount of sacrificed comfort is inevitable. "There is often very little space to put suitcases and clothing , sometimes just a locker you can't fit a lot into," says Torsten Kirstges of the Jade University of Applied Sciences in Wilhelmshaven. "And instead of double beds, the parents have to sleep in bunk beds." Plus, there are only a few rooms with their own toilet and shower.

DJH speaker Dinter agrees, but points out that – with the family market in mind -- hostels are making big investments to upgrade bathroom facilities. Winning the family market is increasingly important to the establishments since class trips are no longer as routine as they once were and hence the traditional market is on the decline.

Hostel owner Kerstin Krause says that is indeed the case. Together with her husband Ronald, she has spent the past 17 years running the "Waldkater" hostel in the town of Thale in central Germany's Harz region. "When we started out, we mainly got school kids and college students staying here," she says. But things started to change in the 1990s, and now the hostel has an unusually high number of family guests. Says Krause: "In 2011 for the first time we actually got more families than school classes." And that trend continues to snowball – when one family has a good experience they tell friends, who often then decide to book a holiday with their families.

The 200-bed "Waldkater" hostel now has a number of families as regular customers. The facility offers packages for families that include children-friendly activities like movies, mini-golf, hikes. It even employs its own director of kids' activities.

Baltic Sea vacations, at a bargain

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the German state with the longest stretch of coastline along the Baltic Sea, has 28 youth hostels that together counted some 480,000 overnight stays in 2011. "The hostels are often located in very attractive places," says Tobias Woitendorf, spokesman for the state's tourism office.

Top locations include Binz, a favorite resort on the island of Rügen, and Zingst, Kühlungsborn and Heringsdorf, where there are hostels near the beach. The Prora hostel that opened in July 2011 is located in a huge, seaside complex under heritage protection.

Ursula Tempel has been the manager of a hostel in Wyk on the North Sea island of Föhr for 21 years. Her hostel too boasts proximity to the sea, and she has seen the number of families increase – they now account for some 20% of guests at her establishment, she says. And while there are many reasons for this, not least that hostels are kid-friendly, cost is definitely a major factor: she charges 26 euros per person per night.

No wonder then that space in her 162-bed facility is sought after. "We start taking reservations for the following summer in September," says Tempel. "The 10 rooms with their own WC and shower are the first ones to be snapped up." She advises early booking, and points out that the DJH reservations system on indicates immediately where and when there are still vacancies.

The German Youth Hostel Association is a not-for-profit, national umbrella association uniting 14 state associations – which adds up to 535 hostels and a total bed count of 75,700. Anyone wishing to stay in a hostel must first become a member of the DJH. Annual membership costs 12.50 euros for "Juniors' (under 26 years of age), 21 euros for individual members over 27 and as much for a family membership. Every family member receives their own membership card so that they can plan trips in different constellations.

Read the original story in German

Photo - Kleiner Waldkater

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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