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How European tourism all began

Friedhelm Schachtschneider, dpaSeptember 25, 2015

Traveling just for fun is a concept which is widely popular today - but that was not always the case. To underline World Tourism Day held on September 27, here's a look back at tourism's 200-year-old history.

Anton Braith's "Die Verabschiedung an der Postkutsche vor dem Wirtshaus", Oil on canvas, Source: Wikimedia commons
Image: gemeinfrei

"The whole world is travelling," wrote German writer Theodor Fontane (1819 -1898) in his 'modern travel' essay, nearly 150 years ago. How right he was.

In 2014 alone, some 54.6 million Germans booked at least one holiday and worldwide some 1.135 billion people left their country to holiday abroad.

This mass phenomenon began as the pleasure of a select few. "Tourism, so travel where the aim is to enjoy traveling and for no other purpose, started during the period of romanticism at the end of the 18th century," explains professor Hasso Spode, director of the Historical Archive on Tourism at the Technical University in Berlin.

That's when poets and artists discovered the beauty of nature. This was a marked change, because just a few years earlier, Spode says, on a trip to Italy, art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) had reportedly insisted on the windows of his coach being covered to spare him the sight of the "horrible landscape."

It all started with an educational trip
When Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) went on his first visit to Italy it was a pastime that, according to Spode, very few could afford.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in an oil painting by Joseph Stieler / 1828 (Munich, Neue Pinakothek)
Goethe was fascinated by ItalyImage: picture-alliance/akg-images

Goethe's theory that "an intelligent person gains the best education from travelling," is seen as the early beginnings of modern tourism. Back then, it was only young members of the nobility who would spend a year or longer on a "grand tour." The aim of these gentlemen's journeys was to educate and to refine their social manners.

Goethe's reports from the "Land where lemons grow" and descriptions by other travelers awakened a yearning in others to also venture abroad. An increasing number of the upper middle class undertook a "petit grand tour" which had them head to hitherto unattractive destinations like the Alps or the sea coast.

The travel guide was born
While traveling, they were often dependant on the help of strangers, something the then young publisher Karl Baedeker (1801-1859) used to his advantage.

He bought the rights for the 1828 publication "Rhine tour from Mainz to Cologne, a guide for the speedy traveler" (Rheinreise von Mainz bis Cöln, Handbuch für Schnellreisende), which he promptly reissued incorporating a folded Rhine panorama. This marked the birth of the modern travel guide. He published many more, including his main accomplishment: "Germany and the Austrian Imperial State."

Baedeker personally undertook many trips himself and did not hold back on what he deemed useful tips. His advice for Switzerland, for instance, was "never to drink cow's milk without adding Cognac or Rum." Another one of his observation seems timeless, namely that "travelling with ladies will markedly increase the expense of the trip."

Many of these scholarly works can be found at the Historical Archive on Tourism, or HAT, at Technical University in Berlin. Apart from the travel literature of the 17th century its 70,000 printed materials include maps, posters and private photo collections.

Thomas Cook paved the way for the package tour
"Happily the heart beats in your travel attire, so long as you have the necessary means," was something German author Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908) was very aware of. New means of transport, like the steam boats that began ferrying along the Rhine in 1827, brought down the cost of travel, making "pleasure cruises and tours" possible for about 10 percent of the population.

The first ever "package holiday" was created in 1841 by Englishman Thomas Cook. He arranged for some 500 teetotal campaigners to travel by train from Leicester to Loughborough to attend a temperance society rally. The "all inclusive" package incorporated brass music entertainment, sandwiches and tea, as well as talks on the dangers of alcohol.

"But Cook did not invent package holidays," Spode stresses. He merely expanded on the idea of a competitor and turned it into an economically successful model. To that end, his business used thank you letters from famous customers to great marketing effect. These included avid traveler and writer Mark Twain (1835-1910) and German emperor and travel enthusiast Wilhelm II (1859-1941), says Spode.

With the transport revolution, which began in 1850, ever more places could be reached cheaply by rail, making travel more accessible and affordable for the middle classes. "In the latter part of the 19th century, it became a mark of social standing for the middle classes to go on holiday once a year," tourism expert Spode explains.

In 1870, the Rhine was the most frequented travel destination in the world. Even back then, not everyone was pleased about mass tourism: "150 years ago, people who lived on the Rhine already complained that travelers, due to steam boats and rail connections, were spreading like a plague of locusts," says Spode.

A poster or handbill advertising the fact that a Cook's ticket will take you anywhere on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, or round the world. Showing a group of Edwardian people standing on a red platform around a large globe, looking at the outlines of countries on it and deciding where they would like to go. Source: Mary Evans Picture Library, 1904
Poster from 1904 advertising a Cook's ticketImage: picture-alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library