I arrived in Hamburg with a friend from Oslo. We took a train to Stade, where I grabbed a hot dog while waiting for a bus to Freiburg.
This was my first experience of Germany, a terribly tacky bus stop restaurant, with a bitter old women who did not want to understand that me pointing at the mustard meant I wanted mustard. To get it, I was going to have to say “mustard” in German. Then we walked across the street and ate the snacks by a small river. A group of schoolboys, followed by a group of schoolgirls, paddled by in canoes, waving and saying “Hallo!”, as they went by us. A completely idyllic vision of the German countryside, straight out of Leni Riefenstahl movie. What a rapid and extreme contrast!
In Europe, I often spend a lot of time in big cities. Judging from the street my friend lives on, you can guess it’s not a big city.
And the reunion! I met these two guys in Cape Town, shortly after I began my full-time travels, in September 2012. Together we spent 18 days on a small cargo ship, for the return trip to Tristan da Cunha, the most remote human settlement on the planet, more than 2,430 km from it’s nearest neighbour (they also don’t have an airport, hence the cargo ship). On the right, Gustav, hosting a meeting of a German travellers club on his farm. In front, Bjørn, who I had travelled with – by chance – from Oslo that morning.
Nowhere have I ever met more extreme travellers in one place. By now, it is rare for me to be surrounded by people who have been to many more countries and places than I have. I don’t know how many places Bjørn has been to, but when you talk about your second trip to Antarctica, you’ve probably been around quite a bit.
Many travellers have a travel map. I have a travel map. But Gustav has the Mother of All Travel Maps. On it, drawn in great detail, his hundreds of trip, which many years ago had already taken him to every country on the planet. I think he is the only person I know who has been to Pitcairn Island, one of the most difficult inhabited places to reach in the Pacific Ocean.
Benno and Thecla, who drove to the event from the Netherlands on their vintage Royal Enfield, which they drove all over the world. The odometer reads 3,211 km, but it has really travelled an incredible 503,211 km! Benno wrote a book about their travels recently and it won some Dutch prize as the best travel story that year. Here’s the link for those who speak Dutch.
Why, you ask? To amuse people. In their extensive experience, if border guards, say in Africa, get a good laugh as a first impression, things are much more likely to be smooth – and less expensive. In terms of extreme travels, they are possibly the most hardcore travellers I have met. Stories of their travels deep in Congo even made me cringe with theoretical discomfort.
Sorry for the bad cell phone picture, but this is Bjørn welcoming another man who has been to every country on earth. But the difference with Heinz Stücke is that he has visited most of them by bicycle. In fact, he came to this event, by bicycle, from Paris! He has been travelling full-time by bicycle since 1962! Sometimes selling booklets about his life in different cities, he now also gets sponsorship from bicycle makers to help him make it to remote places that can’t be reached on a dime, like Easter Island or Greenland.
In the evening, people made presentations about their travels, in English or German. I presented my trips to the Erta Ale volcano and the Dallol, both in Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression. Incredibly, I was the only person attending who had been there. After seeing my pictures, at least three people told me the Danakil was now very high on their bucket list. Considering their travel histories, I know it won’t take 20 years before they make it there.
So all in all, I had a great time, even though Freiburg itself has little to see. With no nearby job opportunities, the population is in constant slow decline, like in many rural regions all over the developed world. Gustav told me you can buy a house in Freiburg for 30,000 Euros. But the place has a lot of history, as you can guess when the local guesthouse was founded in 1868. In fact, the village itself is 860 years old.
Maybe because they don’t have jobs, people have a lot of time to spend on their garden! This was one of many such elaborate private lawns in town.
The church, with a monument to the war of 1870-71, which saw the birth of modern Germany, when all the small Germanic states united under the leadership of the King of Prussia, after the capitulation of the French Empire. On it, under the Imperial Eagle, the words: “With God, for King and Fatherland!”.
Unsurprisingly, the World War II memorial is a lot more sober.
And finally, Hamburg’s magnificent city hall. Unfortunally, I did not visit Hamburg, but I did have time to take a little walk from the train station, as I waited for my bus to Berlin.