The buildings of the hospitality (or tourist) industry, hotels, wayside inns, motorway service stations, are readily recognised as part of the industrial heritage. One of the most significant innovations in the industry in the twentieth century was the proliferation of youth hostels providing inexpensive accommodation for young people on their travels. The first such hostel was established in the twelfth century Burg Altena (Altena Castle) which towers above the River Lenne in Märkischer Kreis in the Sauerland in North Rhine Westphalia. The castle with the surrounding area was annexed to Brandenburg-Prussia from 1614. For a time the castle housed a military garrison, and was then used as a prison between 1766 and 1811 and as a hospital from 1856 until 1906.
Richard Schirrmann (1874-1961), was born at Grunenfeld in East Prussia (now Gronówko in Poland) and went to teach at a school in Altena in 1903. He first put forward his vision of youth hostels in 1907, and opened the first of them in Burg Altena in 1912. After serving in the German army during the First World War he founded the German national organisation of hostels in 1919, and became involved in the international hostels movement. He is commemorated by a statue in the centre of Altena.
The museum in the castle has displays on the history of the youth hostel movement, but also on the geology and history of the region, including its industrial history.
The entrance to the museum lies 300 m from the Deutsche Drahtmuseum (German wire museum).