The Story behind the first independent Backpacker’s Hostel in Vienna
Erin and Walter Ruthensteiner welcome you to the original independent backpacker’s hostel in Vienna, Austria and one of the first in central Europe. It has truly been a labor of love. The history of our hostel goes way back…As a young student at the University of Vienna, Walter traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia and Australia during the 60′s. He backpacked, hitchhiked and met some wonderful people from all over the world at the many hostels he stayed in. He traveled overland twice from Austria through the Middle East and on through Afghanistan and India. In Australia, he worked in a copper and uranium mine for a couple of months to build up the budget before setting off hitchhiking once again to discover the continent at the bottom of the world. This was at a time when backpacking was not yet common. He always returned to Vienna dreaming about future travels in between his exams.
While an architectural student with lots of energy, he found a run-down apartment building very close to the Westbahnhof Train Station. Dating from the 1840′s, the facade was still disfigured by the bombshells leftover from World War II. Anxious to get to work, he began renovating this historical building from the ground up in the late 60’s. Having had great difficulty himself finding a place to stay when he arrived in Vienna at the age of 18, Walter originally built student apartments. Then in 1968, following the “Prague Spring” and the Soviet invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia in August, 1968, there was a wave of emigration of the intelligentsia to Western countries. Many of these people ended up in Vienna, in need of a place to stay and Hostel Ruthensteiner was ready for them! Here at the hostel, they lived and had their first taste of life in the “West” while applying and waiting for their VISAS that would take them to Australia, South Africa, Canada, the U.S.A. and a few other countries that were anxious to have them. Some only waited weeks, some months before saying goodbye to the hostel. Many of these have returned from all corners of the globe to show their families where it all began.
Like this one, we have had many different waves over the years- people fleeing their old lives and searching for new ones and fortunately for us the hostel was one of their stops. It has been a very enriching experience for us. With so much turmoil in the world today, it is essential that young people travel and have their eyes opened to different cultures, customs, languages and religions.
Erin’s wanderlust began at a very early age! Her parents always had the desire to see the world and spent 6 years living in Peru where Erin was born. 3 months pregnant, her Mother was bound and determined to hike to the top of magnificent Macchu Picchu (the road washed away by a major mudslide) back in the early 1950′s. Erin was hooked! After graduating from High School in the U.S. and spending several months backpacking all over Europe as a single, female traveler and working on farms in England and Norway and in a hotel in Austria, Erin finally ended up in Austria in 1972. Fate, their love of travel, fascination with people and love of life brought Erin and Walter together.
We dreamed of creating the perfect hostel- a place where people of all ages and nationalities would feel welcome and at home while discovering the beautiful city of Vienna. It has been a long “labor of love”, but we have enjoyed every minute. Having just recently completed a major renovation and expansion into the building next door, our dreams are finally coming true. We have created wonderful spaces for lounging and relaxing and enjoying the artwork on the walls, a cozy bar, a large, well-equipped self- service kitchen and laundry room, a lovely dining room. We have now created 2 gorgeous interior gardens – truly an oasis in Vienna, where our guests can take a day or two off from the busy work of traveling to relax or meet new friends. We finally have more space for our piano and a nice collection of musical instruments for the guests to use (more to come!), where an impromptu jazz evening often happens in the bar. Music is, after all, the universal language!
With the major work behind us, we are once again free to spend more time doing the hands-on things that we love. Walter is the woodworker in the hostel and makes a lot of the garden furniture (each one is unique), the gorgeous solid cherry bar, the over-sized handmade chess set in the garden and the backgammon to come. Erin spends most of her time with the guests, listening to their travel stories and working in the hostel garden when time allows…. When we have time off, we love sailing, hiking and backpacking, kayaking and of course… traveling!
Erin and Walter are also sometimes joined by their children, Chris and Jenny and families. Chris graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle with a business degree and lives in Seattle. Our daughter-in-law, Sabina, is originally from Latvia. Chris spent a year as an exchange student in Venezuela and quite a bit of time in Italy so he loves an excuse to practice his Spanish and Italian. After Jenny received her English degree at the University of Puget Sound in Washington (also spending time as an exchange student in Ghana, West Africa), she spent a year teaching English on the island of Shikoku, Japan. At the end of her stay there, she traveled overland from Japan through China, Tibet and Nepal and back to Austria. Jennifer now practices Naturopathic Medicine in Washington State, has a wonderful husband, Sebastian (originally from Argentina), and together 6 delightful children: Sol, Emile, Gabriel, Katya, Joel and Paloma. It is great having them help us in the hostel whenever they are in town! Our son-in-law, Dima, originally from Russia and then Israel, has helped us a lot over the years as our trouble-shooter for computer “challenges”. And most important of all… we have the very best hostel team that anyone could ever wish for! Thank you!
About Our Staff
We are very fortunate to have a terrific multi-talented, international staff to support us! All of us will strive to make your stay in Vienna the very best!!!