Take-A-Walk – an idea arisen from current social contradictions and actions. An age of fomented xenophobia and exploiting fears in order to take advantage of economical and political interests.
His superordinate thesis reads as follows: “We have more things in common than divide us.” This conclusion means to convey confidence and gain insights for the “foreign parts”.
A photographic and cinematic documentation catalogued and edited after his return home. Let us follow his traces together:
- Jan Wohlleben
- 11 August 1987 in Rostock
- Sport Manager
- a round-the-world trip, as far as possible without going by plane
- a documented journey by photography and film
- getting back home safe and sound
What is the importance of photography during your journey?
- It’s a great medium to capture moments, moods and memories. At the same time you can let loose with camera equipment, try a lot and be creative. It offers the great chance to share experiences with relatives and friends.
Whenever you choose one way, you decide against all other ways at the same time.
So now is the time to follow this one path I wanted to go for a long time. At the beginning, I do not know how the road will look like of course. I do not know if it will be wide or narrow, solid or slippery, straight or full of curves. But that is exactly what excites me, to go off and explore.
Am I free from expectations,
To what is before me,
Then I drift,
I am with all my senses at this moment,
Appreciate the value,
Which affects me.
Let’s take a walk.
Neubrandenburg – Tallinn (August 2, 2016 – August 13, 2016)
With the door of August 2nd, 2016 at the wall calendar, the day has come, which I have chosen for the start of the great journey. However, even with all the preparation, I am not prepared to sort out and rearrange my bag again this morning. ... continue reading
... I realize that every additional pound I take with me, will bother me every day. Some things are necessary though, for either going through the landscapes, to and from the sea or into the mountains and through the deserts. In addition, there is the film and photo equipment. I think I could have easily planned two more weeks of preparation, but somehow I also realize that I will never feel 100% prepared and I just have to go. Fortunately enough, I'm not alone at the beginning. André will take the chance and accompanies me to Saint Petersburg. Hannes, another friend called me two days ago, said: "I’m coming with you to Tallinn." So we are standing in my parents' living room, looking at the battlefield of clothes and equipment which either have to fit in the backpack or need to be sorted out.
When the bags were packed, André, Hannes and I, decided that due to the advanced time of the day and due to the fact that we are three guys, it will not be easy to hitch hike. Therefore, we will take the train to Stettin. Now it's time to say goodbye to “Mamuchka” and “Vaddi”- my parents. The two hide their fears in front of me. They don’t want me to start my journey sadly. I can do the whole “saying goodbye” thing pretty good. The dull feeling in my stomach usually comes a few days later.
Than we are at the railroad in Neubrandenburg, Germany. There is already the first problem: rail replacement traffic via bus. However, this is the only unpredictability and so we are looking forward to Stettin. We will be staying at an AirBnB accommodation.
The next day, we take the train to Gdansk. We enjoy stretching our heads out of the moving train, letting the wind play with our hair and with our eyes squinting, we take a deep breath of the upcoming adventure.
The train ride is unspectacular and so we arrive in Gdansk. Wow, this is a beautiful city. The Augustus markets run through the streets of the city center and there are various regional delicacies and treasures everywhere. Right away, we are noticing huge pieces of bread with lard and cheap antiques. With a harbor walk and a relaxed beer at the Ulitza Mariacka, the most beautiful street of the city center, our day ends. It is worth mentioning that on this day we get to know two sides of the people in Gdansk. Looking for our accommodation, Goisa noticed we were lost and helped us immediately. She was very friendly. Even though she was under time pressure, she helped us for almost an hour until we got to our accommodation. On the other hand, we met a young man at the port who asked us for cigarettes. When he realized that we were Germans, he mentioned just how bad it would be in Germany with all the refugees. That Merkel must be crazy, to invite these “criminals”. We mentioned that we do not feel his way. We are even proud that our society is helping people in need. We also enjoy living in a country characterized by diversity and tolerance. With a disbelieving glance, he said that he was glad that the Polish government did not let anyone in. On our question of what he would recommend us to eat in Gdansk, he says that the best Doner Kebab is around the corner.
It is August 4th, after breakfast, we are going to the European Center of Solidarnosc. So far I have never heard of it before. I must have slept through that history lessons. How a protest of Gdańsk shipyard workers developed in to a movement that in the end installed a new Polish country leader and nonviolently fought for human rights is simply impressive. It encourages to reflect. This museum is an absolute must if you are in Gdansk. Especially the Pope John Paul II room at the end has deeply touched me. With all the impressions of the museum in our head, we are taking the ferry to the Hel Peninsula. There we are setting up our camp for the night behind the dunes and enjoy the first night in the wilderness. As we walk the beach at dusk, we discover a beach bar with a summer cinema. There we meet Martyna and other stranded travelers. We invite them over to our camp and listen to their stories. They tell us about their journey from Spain to Poland without any money.
On the following day, we decide to move on due to the weather getting worse. We are taking the night bus to Vilnius. Right before leaving, Adam from Northern Ireland jumps into the bus. Also Pilar from Argentina and Laura from Italy are sitting next to us. After a short time an interesting conversation develops. Laura talks about her former job as an editor. One of her writers even received a Nobel Prize for literature. But after the financial crisis the publishing house had to cut jobs. Now it is a new challenge for Laura to work as a teacher with children. Adam, on the other hand, tells us how he experiences the Brexit. He works in Manchester and wants to stay there, but he is sure that the Brexit will not be beneficial to his current life in the UK.
We arrive in Vilnius in the morning hours and explore the seemingly deserted city. From café shop to café shop we go. On a bridge we discover the access to the Republic of Uzopis. This is an enclave created by artists with an elected president, its own constitution and its own currency. The currency is valid only on the annual holiday and can only be used to buy beer. It is a pleasant spot, full of little shops, workshops and street art wherever you look. We enjoy our stay. At night, we walk through the streets again. Then, we hear good electronic music sounds from a bar. We agree to have one "Kloinen" (a small drink). When we enter, the doorman reaches out to shake our hands to greet us. He does not ask us for a cover charge, but welcomes us individually and friendly by hand shake. We give him a surprised look. We have never experienced something like that, especially going out in Berlin. Instead of one we have three "Kloine" and soon enough, the rhythm catches us. We want to dance. So we join the rocking group by the DJ desk. Whenever the DJs pull the volume level slowly upwards, the friendly bouncer comes up and corrects the level somewhat down again. This show is repeating itself three or four times until the last song is announced. The guys play "power" from the Pachanga Boys and we enjoy the booming bass. Again, the doorman comes and we send him our pleading glances, that he may please us this last song a bit louder. A short look on his part to the bartender, who nods at him and he steps to the action. But this time he turns the button to the other direction and turns up the Function-One speakers. Please, how effing awesome is that – I’m thinking to myself? The raging crowed starts to turn up even more. It’s an unexpected awesome moment.
Our next stop is Riga and yes, the legend is right. The historic old town is absolutely worth seeing. Beautiful houses are lined up, the city is full of life and music is in the air. We spend the night at lovely Madara and her very good English-speaking, seven-year-old son Paul, in a beautiful renovated old apartment. She seems to be a bit muddled, but she is very friendly and patient in answering our questions. Among other things, she recommends us Lilaste, for our planned beach camping trip. It should not be so crowded and a relaxed bonfire should be possible. So it is. On August 8th, 2016 we prepare for the camping trip. While brushing my teeth, I look out of the window and notice a drunk man asleep on the sidewalk across the street. Then I went to pack my bag and suddenly André shouts from the other room, "Fuck off you little shits, leave him alone!" I run into the other room and only see two guys running away from the drunken man. "They stole the mobile phone!" André said and went outside to help the drunk man. Fortunately an ambulance came by and the paramedics took care of the guy. With all the kindness and beauty we have encountered so far, this moment brought us back and showed us not to go careless throughout life. When we were about to go on our trip, Paul did not allow us to leave without a little pillow fight in the living room. After taking another picture on the couch, we pick up our backpacks and little Paul realizes, that we are really about to go. Quickly he runs to his room, gets his biscuits and shares them with us. So that we do not starve on our way, he says. I am impressed by this little seven-year-old.
At the train station of Lilaste is nothing. We have the direction of the Baltic Sea in our guts and go into the forest. We walk through the woods over gentle mossy hills. We notice how our steps sink into the soft, green shining forest floor, and then we hear the sound of the sea. After a short while, we find the right spot for our camp. It’s a circle of trees that gives us protection from the wind, with sufficient space for a fire place and a perfect view over the ocean. We also find a spade and an old barrel in the dunes. Our two beach days can begin! First of all, we jump in to the ocean – naked. A beautiful sunset completes our bathing fun. Then we make a fire, carve skewers and grill sausages while night gets darker and the bright stars come out. With a crackling fire and a few beers, we lean back and watch the sky. Every now and then, someone says something, but what impressed us the most are the many shooting stars that everyone admires for themselves.
The next morning, we wake up to the wind in the trees and the sound of the ocean. After an extensive breakfast, we decide to explore the area by a beach walk. The beach is almost completely deserted. Here and there we find buildings made of ocean debris. It shows that this place has already attracted some visitors to stay. We also find a self-made hammock, in which we, as chill as we are, immediately have to hang out in. After another skinny dipping session in the ocean of the foamy Baltic Sea, we enjoy some leisure time with reading and sleeping. This is how we imagined this trip.
On August 10th, 2016, we leave our enclave of happiness and drive back to Riga. Due to my upcoming birthday, we decide to have dinner in an old-romantic restaurant with wallpaper with Eastern-Europe charm. We are getting the best seats in the restaurant. It’s an old, beautiful looking settee. Afterwards we go to the “Settee Culture Center” for a few drinks. Just in time for the midnight hour, three small burgers with candles are brought to our table and I gladly accept the congratulations of Hannes and André. A very successful and especially delicious surprise. In the course of the night, we get to know the US poet “K”, who tells us a few toasts before our many rounds of Absinth. When the nicely decorated restaurant closes, we meet Jimmy, an actor who invites more or less all the remaining guests into his loft for a whiskey tasting. Of course, we do not say no and we are aware that this will definitely lead to a big hang over the next morning. But good times are worth it, to forget about tomorrow!"
Hung over, we wake up and for hitchhiking to Tallinn it’s actually already too late. But we want to try it at least. First, we strengthen ourselves in Lido, a beautiful self-service restaurant with delicious, regional dishes just around the corner.
Hitchhiking can be so easy, but it is not. That’s what we noticed painfully. With a beautifully painted “Tramperpappe” (hitchhiking cardboard) we stand on the three-lane highway to Tallinn at the exit of Riga. We try to catch a ride for about an hour, with and without the cardboard, waving, smiling, holding up our thumbs and all possible ways of jumping around, but nothing works. Then, there are two other hitchhikers. Better said, two French girls. After a friendly chat, the two stand 20 meters behind us. It takes five minutes until they catch a ride. We are now officially demoralized. But then Andris arrives and offers to take us to Tartu. "It's perfect", we think, because that's half the way and in case of emergency a train goes from there to Tallinn. Joyfully, we stuff our bags into the already overloaded car and squeeze us in as well. The journey begins! Andris is very open-minded and tells us, that he always wanted to give hitchhikers a ride, but unfortunately has not seen any. A pleasant conversation develops rapidly, until we realize that we have passed the right exit. We ask once again where he is going and we realize that we have misunderstood him. We are now about 15 km outside Riga and if I had free hands, I would have put them over my head. Oh, fortunately, Andris is so kind and takes us back to the starting point. Somehow we have to laugh about the situation and take a photo together. Since we are hungry, still hung over and at the same time disappointed, we take the tram to the bus station and wait for the night bus. Perfect hitchhikers are we. Hitchhiking can be so easy, but it is not.
Early in the morning we reach Tallinn. Again we walk through a still sleeping city. However, we notice that Tallinn is more Scandinavian. We go to the market square and in a 24-hour shop we get a coffee and a small breakfast. On the steps of a house entrance at the market square, we settle down, enjoy the first sunrays and watch the awakening of the city. André offers to get a second round of latte macchiatos and disappears for a few minutes. When he comes back, he holds his head and I can see pain in his facial expression. Blood is running down his hands as he approaches us. He stops in front of me and I ask him what happened. "With my big head, I ran into a road sign," says André and he takes his hand from the head. I flinch. "Wow" I say and briefly I turn pale. A cut of about 13 centimeters runs from the hairline over his forehead. Harry Potter would have been envious. This has to get stitches. Immediately, we ask the next person for the emergency number. 112. I take the mobile phone and call. However, it takes about 1 minute until someone is on the phone who speaks English. Until the lady at the other end understood what a street sign is, it takes another 3 minutes and as the ambulance arrives 20 minutes. A somewhat chubby and relaxed paramedic climbs out of the ambulance with a cup of coffee in his hand. "Do you have insurance?" is the first question. "Sure," I say, "And now, get going and sew together the head of our friend!" I tell him in German. He looks at me like a deer in the headlights but then takes André to the hospital.
Hannes and I go to our accommodation. Our hosts Jana and Ivo have to leave the house at 8:45 am. We are there in time and Ivo welcomes us friendly and calm. We go to the apartment and are pleasantly surprised. In this old wooden house in Kalamaja, the two have some stylish furniture and just a cool interior. Jana is a photographer and Ivo is an actor. This explains their understanding of aesthetics, which is reflected in their home. As the two want to leave, the next incident happens – a water pipe bursts. Oh man, what a morning. Fortunately, the burst of the pipe is "only" at the neighbors. The neighbor quickly turns off the water. We all laugh about it and hope that this will be enough disasters for one day. Jana and Ivo leave for their jobs and André returns to us a little bit later, sewn together with seven stitches.
André, Hannes and I decide to go exploring again. Near our house, we find the hip center of the city. We look at the market, the street style and the small shops of Kalamaja. The area is inviting to linger and so we sit down in the sun and order a round of beer. Afterwards we go to the port and I see the inscription "Entrance Patarei" at a decaying old building. I enter and somehow, this place seems oppressive. I see cells, a library, treatment rooms and here and there a little street art. There are no explanations to this place and when I leave, I feel sick. Later, I am researching and discovering that this place was a prison used by the Communists as well as by the Nazis. In the cells with 16 beds were up to 50 people locked up. Many atrocities have happened in these rooms. Now I know from where my queasy feeling came. As we continue our exploration tour, we climb a large bunker in the city port of Linnahall. This building also has a rich history and is probably the largest venue in Tallinn. When we arrive at the apartment late in the afternoon, Jana baked a cake. Together we enjoy the “fruits of Jana's baking art” as well as a really nice conversation. We realize how well we understand each other and we become friends in no time. I hope that Janas and Ivos dream of studying at the Los Angeles Film School comes true. Maybe than, we'll meet again next year.
The following day, we take part in a free-walking tour in spite of the rain in order to learn more about Tallinn and Estonia. We hear something about Estonia's one-day-long independence, the church of atheists, stamps-collecting punk rockers, online elections and the rapping Twitter-President of this interesting country. Estonia is definitely special, but absolutely recommendable. In a special memory, however, remain Jana and Ivo.
As André and I are heading towards the ferry to Saint Petersburg, we are not only saying our farewells to Jana and Ivo, Tallinn, Estonia and the EU, but also to Hannes, who is already taking the plane back to Germany. I am glad and very grateful that he came along and we experienced so much together. Maybe I can see him again on this trip.
Russland – Как сказать (August 13, 2016 – September 04, 2016)
After saying our farewell to Hannes, Jana and Ivo, we go to the port terminal and on the ferry to Saint Petersburg. André and I check in and even get a compartment for ourselves. We look forward to exploring the ship and experiencing the entry into Saint Petersburg ... weiterlesen
... But first we have to cast off. In order to defy the weather, we stand at the stern of the ship, order two cocktails and cheer to the start of the next chapter of the trip. There it is again, our euphoric mood towards the next part of our trip. So we explore the ship and finally get to the upper deck. A storm comes up in front of us. "What should we do now?" I ask. "Order two beers and let’s go to the front", André suggests. I agree and off we go. Unfortunately, we cannot go all the way to the front. But by the portside under the bridge we are protected from the rain. Here we can look both forward and on the complete side of the ferry. The wind is getting stronger. Thin rain comes with it. We talk and laugh at the experiences so far. We wonder how Russia may be. The cold beer tastes good, even if we freeze off our hands. After a while, however, we notice that both the cocktails and the beers do their work. It is not the alcohol content. Because our spot on the deck is too good to leave, only one thing can help. Off to the rail and let it run. First I, then André. It is about 15 meters to the water surface. What a fun way to pee like that. After we've finished, we laugh at each other. Suddenly, a burly man with a miserable expression on his face, wearing a uniform, comes out of nowhere. "You cannot pee here!" I hear him say. I startled and think "Now we are in trouble." André says, "No problem, we'll leave immediately." We pass him, and I wonder why the guy lets us go so easily. I tell André that we were lucky. He looks at me and says, "Why? He said, "You cannot BE here." I tell him what I thought, what the guy said and we laugh. "Okay," says André, "and what are we going to do now?" - "Let's go eat and have a drink." I say.
After the meal, we continue the exploration of the ship. We watch some Olympic basketball and finally reach the large hall at the stern of the ship. The hall is packed to the last place. As soon as we enter, a guy comes on stage. What then comes out of his mouth confirms every stereotype about Russia. "Kalinka, Kalinka, Kalinka, Kalinka" the young man sings and the crowd is getting loud. We look at each other with question marks written all over our faces. Afterwards, we find a standing table near the bar to follow the rest of the program. After the singer come dancers in classical Russian robes, then a saxophone player, a quiz, again the dancers, the singer once again and finally a pianist. After a while we notice Ruud and Stan from the Netherlands as well as Rebekka from Canada. We start talking and since we have nothing better to do, we order Vodka. Eventually the program is over and the stage becomes a dance floor. Of course you don’t need to tell us twice. Off we go dancing. Afterwards we go to the late-night bar and later end up in our beds without knowing how we got there. We close our eyes and suddenly it bangs on the door three times. First we look at each other and then at the clock. Oh dang! We arrived in Saint Petersburg an hour ago and now the cleaning lady ask us to clear the cabin. "Oh, we missed the port entrance," says André, partly annoyed, partly betrayed. We are hurrying. As we leave the ferry, we see that it is foggy and not particularly nice at the harbor. "It looks like, we haven’t missed anything." I say, while entering mainland Russia.
What we see in the following days, nobody should miss out on. Saint Petersburg is a Russian pearl wearing a European robe. The streets are a mixture of Wilhelminian architecture and socialist classicism. Many small shops and restaurants decorate the streets. Bridges everywhere lead over canals and rivers. It somewhat feels like East Berlin to us. Even though the river Spree (as beautiful as it is) cannot be compared to the delta of the Neva River.
Here and there, however, we also face the current political situation in Russia. We go to the 'Botanist', a small, privately run, vegetarian restaurant. The menu points out that due to the geopolitical situation and the sanctions against Russia, they don’t always have all the ingredients for the dishes in stock. We accept that. Another time, a storm raises and we run into a fancy restaurant and drink coffee. There is no note in the menu, that there is a shortage of ingredients. However, guests should be aware of the appropriate behavior of their children. Their animals and bodyguards must remain outside. It seems a little odd, but I start to see Russia as a country of the extreme.
The most impressive feature of Saint Petersburg is the cultural heritage – one of the Russians pearl of the Tsar period. We go to the fortress of Peter and Paul, where Katharina the Great is buried. We visit the Mikhailsburg, the Isaac's cathedral, and admire the beautiful Church of the Resurrection Christ, with its numerous colorful decorations and onion domes. The highlight, however, is Saint Peter’s Square and the Hermitage with the Winter Palace. For a long time we were looking forward to it and in spite of the queue and the rain, we arrive at this important art museum. Around three million copies are in the collection, of which currently about 60,000 are exhibited. A proverb says that if you want to take five minutes for each of the exponents, you need a whole lifetime to see all of them. We go through the large, decorated rooms and are very impressed. André is drawn to the antiquity, I rather enjoy the paintings, but the living quarters and the interior of the Winter Palace as well as the Portraits of the Czar family, we both admire. Something we don’t enjoy however are the many people visiting. Especially the tons of Asians are making it challenging. If you want to go through a door and suddenly a large group comes, one has to jump a side quickly, otherwise one is taken back several meters. Without any chance. Even when I stand in front of a picture of Leonardo da Vinci and would like to enjoy it, I am constantly pushed and dozens of times cameras flashing around me. Fortunately, there is another building, which is situated at the opposite of Peters Square and is not visited by the big tourist groups. There we go on the second day and this compensates us for all inconveniences the day before. In addition to works by Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso, Degas, Cezanne and Monet, we also admire the famous Faberge eggs. I especially like the dance of Matisse. Likewise, I see a picture depicting the battle of Borodino between Napoleon's French and the Russian-Austrian alliance. This is described in Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and it is interesting to see a picture of the events. After an interesting week in Saint Petersburg, André has to go to take the plane back home and I take the train. We limit our farewell to a short «Bis bald Digga» - (See you soon brother) We don’t want to become sentimental and hope that we will see each other again soon.
With the Sapsan, the high-speed train, I’m riding to Moscow and I’m anxious to see what will happen. I’m arriving at Leninsky train station and I’m realizing that everything is a bit bigger. Even the ride with the escalator down to the subway takes forever. Downstairs, I see the ceiling vaults, arcades and decorations of the station. I feel as if I have been brought back to the hermitage, it looks so magnificent down there. I already heard that Moscow has the most beautiful subway, but I haven’t expected that. Arriving at the hostel, nobody speaks anything other but Russian. Luckily I still have the migration card from the ship, because otherwise I would have run into some problems. With the translator, that Paul sent me, I manage to do the check-in. Then I go straight to meet Daria. She will show me the city. Daria is a friend of Dimitri, my French friend of Russian descent. He made the contact. We meet in Ljubjanka in the center of Moscow. Daria is a bright 19 year old girl, with brown eyes, long hair and is studying photography in Moscow. She speaks very good English and loves to show “her Moscow” to friends and acquaintances. We welcome us briefly and then we go on the terrace of a department store to get an overview. She starts talking and explaining everything to me right away, but I can’t remember all of it. We continue to the red square and the Kremlin. Unfortunately, the square is filled by huge bleachers built for the upcoming parade of the military chorus. We can, however, walk around and see the eternal flame at the foot of the Kremlin. It burns in honor of the victims of the Second World War. Likewise, the names of the devastated cities are written in large letters. Daria tells me that the Russians take the history of their country very serious and read a lot about it. It is common that stories about the time of the war are consciously passed on in the families. So every family has its own reports and anecdotes and is proud of it. She asks me if this is the case in Germany as well. I can only speak for myself and point out that in Germany in general there is no pride in the war. It has resulted in a national feeling of guilt that drives us to do good things in the world now. We can, however, be proud of this and the generations that rebuilt Germany after the war.
We continue to walk through the city and end up in a pub. Leo works there, a friend of Daria. We talk, laugh and I feel well cared for in the new society. Later, Daria and I go to “The Konstruktor”. This is a relatively new club for electronic music in Moscow. At about 3:30 pm, Dusty Kid is scheduled to perform, a DJ from Italy whom Daria wanted to see for a long time. We are there earlier, have a Mate refreshment drink and dance a little bit. Right before Dusty Kids appearance, Daria wants to get out to smoke another cigarette. We go outside and stand across the club. Suddenly, three small transports are driving up with squealing tires, the doors open and fully-armed police officers carrying machine guns run out of the vehicles. One group locks the entrance and the other storms into the level entrance. The loud booming bass goes out and more and more people are pouring on the stairs, outside the club. People are squeezed together. Below, the policemen hold against it. People make photos, videos, scream and want to pass the policeman. But they do not give ground. In short, it seems as if the situation escalates. After a few minutes, part of the crowd goes back inside the club and the pressure on the front rows decreases. We are on the opposite side. Daria and I look at each other in disbelieve. She tells me that she has never experienced something like this before. We are both happy that we are not on the other side because we do not have our passports with us. After about an hour, a bus comes the police control begins. Anyone who looks suspicious or has not a passport has to go to the bus. We ask if we can get our jackets, but the police makes no effort to answer our question. After another 30 minutes, I go to the edge of the incident and ask someone from the inside get our jackets with our wardrobe mark. He brings our clothes, so we can finally go after two hours of waiting. The sun is slowly rising, when we cross a bridge. I notice the first time how spacious, big and powerful everything appears in Moscow. This city is something quite different from Saint Petersburg.
The next day I meet Daria in Kitay Gorod. We walk a little through the city center and then go to Gorkipark. First, we visit the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. At the entrance I have to roll down the legs of my pants. I had them rolled up during the day actually. A man with short pants is even rejected completely. Women have to tie a cloth around their hair. Daria is asked to spit out her gum and an Asian must put his camera in the pocket. Pretty strict. Why do I write this? This Russian Orthodox cathedral is the place where the activist group, Pussy Riot, has presented her famous punk prayer at the closed altar. One of the three women is now free, the other two are still in custody and were not released despite hunger strikes. When one looks at conservatism at the entrance, then the action of the feminists, who took action against the close connection between state and church and women's rights, seems even more daring and impressive.
Arriving at the Gorkipark, Daria calls her mother. After she hung up, she said, "Hey, you're invited." I ask her to what I was invited. "We have to get going and buy something, let’s hurry”, Daria responds. I look at her with question marks written all over my face. "My mother invited you to dinner," Daria says. "Great, and when" I ask. "Today, later, we have to go." At this point, I remember what Daria and Leo told me in the pub about the people in Moscow. If you live in Moscow, you are always on the road, you are always in motion and always have something in mind.
I am at the doorsteps of Darias apartment near the terminus of the red subway line Rosskovska Bulvard. It is the 9th floor, I think I remember. In my hands I hold a bag full of food and two bottles of wine. Daria opens the door and I hear her little brother jumping around and yelling. Then Darias mother enters the hallway. She has dark hair, wide awake eyes and welcomes me with a mild, friendly smile. Dasha also takes part in the cooking session, she is Darias cousin. Daria shows me the apartment. It consists of three rooms, kitchen, bathroom, hallway and balcony. The view over the entire city is great. We sit down in the kitchen, open the wine, begin cutting vegetables and start a conversation. Darias mother was already in Germany and speaks a few words German. The grandfather lives in Düsseldorf. For several years she is living alone with the children, separated from her husband. The relationship was not going well. She works as an ergo therapist and likes to travel during her holidays. She is a good person to be around with. There are tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce and a whole chicken. For dessert we make an apple pie. We talk about everything, eat a delicious meal, drink and laugh. It becomes even funnier when I take out my dictionary and open the slang chapter. There the expression "freak out" is translated with "писать кипятком", which literally means "to pee boiling water." The evening is very entertaining and goes by way too fast. At the end of the evening, Darias Mom asked me a crucial question. She asks me what we think of Russia and Putin in Germany. In my opinion, I am too little of an expert to be able to judge the whole situation. In general, however, I believe that neither the Western nor the Russian media can be trusted and the truth will lie somewhere in the middle. But it doesn’t mean, I approve that human rights are not respected or protected. Putin still has to catch up on those issues. She nods approvingly and I ask what she thinks of Putin. She thinks that in comparison to many other influential politicians in Russia, Putin is maybe the least evil.
The days in Moscow fly by, we keep busy exploring the city. On the last day, Daria and I go shopping. She offers me to cook a few things for the long train ride with the Trans-Siberian Railway. I agree and we cook some eggs, grill some steaks and pack everything. Suddenly, a friend calls and asks if we come by for a photo at his driving education school. The photo will be published in a newspaper and since the course is not so crowded today, we could help as extras. We will go to the school right away. When we arrive, we meet Ivan. He is 28, took over the driving school two years ago and makes his living with it. He is a very pleasant guy and offers me tea and sweets. A short time later the photographer comes and we go to the classroom. Today's topic: road signs. I have to laugh out loud because I’m thinking of Andre's accident in Tallinn. After a few minutes everything is over and I take the opportunity for an interview with Ivan. He likes Jazz music, likes to walk with his girlfriend and is probably the only Russian who officially doesn’t like Vodka. For his future life, he wants his driving school to develop well so he can start a family. I think this wish could also come from one of my friends back home.
After seven eventful days in Moscow, I’m at the train station and say goodbye to Daria. I would like to thank her for taking care of me and I wish her all the best for her semester that is starting soon. I get on the train and go to my coupe. There I meet Oleg and Maxim from Russia as well as Will from the USA. We welcome each other briefly and the train starts. I'm taking four beers out of my bag to set a relaxed mood, build trust and serve the stereotype – Germans drink beer. We enjoy the beers and try to introduce ourselves by using our hands, feet, online translators and dictionaries. It turned out that Will works for an online app in San Francisco. Oleg is a security man from Rostov-on-Don and likes fishing and hunting, and Maxim is working with the army in a space research center in Xatabarovsk. With these three fellows I spend the next three days. After a few hours, the first excitement fades, and everyone does what he wants, like looking out into the countryside, walk around on the train, eat, listen to music, read, sleep or solve crossword puzzles. One could also say: “drink, eat, sleep, repeat.” At this point, everyone is wearing sweat pants and slippers. It is always exciting when you stop. At those stops, there are usually small stores or flying traders with all sorts of stuff. Many people use the break to stretch their legs or to smoke. On the second day, the nice lady who swings the vacuum cleaner and refills the Samovar (a metal container to boil water for tea), allows people to smoke between the compartments on the train, if you buy five sweets. Maxim is taking her up on the offer. He is gives us a round of sweets. Oleg, on the other hand, digs out his self-brewed Russian whiskey, including glasses and gives a round of shots. “Nastarowe”. Because one should always eat something when taking shots, I take out the good German sausage which “Vaddi” (dad) gave me. Even the guys in Riga loved it. So I'm sure the guys in my coupe will enjoy it as well. They are thrilled. Good German sausage, another German stereotype. We empty the bottle together and then we sleep peacefully. There are also some things happening outside. First, we see only deciduous forest, then swampland, then mixed forest, then grassy landscape. From time to time, we cross big rivers or stop in different cities. Sometimes five, ten, or 30 minutes. The cities are so far away from each other, it feels like they are in the middle of nowhere. But almost all of them have a population of over a million people. Not only the landscape changes, but also the faces and clothing of the vendors and passengers at the railway tracks change from stop to stop. On the third day on the train, I look out of the window and realize that Russia is really a huge country with multiple ethnicities. The typical Russia does not exist.
It's midnight and I wake up. We have just stopped in Krasnoyarsk. I go on the platform and it is quite cold. I see Maxim as he smokes, shivering in his thin shirt. I stretch a little. As Oleg comes out of the station building and says: "Piwo, no." I remember that he wanted to drink another beer last night with me. I shrug, and say, "I have some Vodka left." He replies, "Malinki Vodka" and gestures with his fingers that he wants to drink only one shot of vodka. I nod. When we're back on the train, Maxim falls asleep. Oleg begins to cut a few cucumbers and the sausage. I get the dark bread and the bottle of vodka, which is still untouched, out of my bag. Oleg and I toast, eat a piece of cucumber and drink the vodka. He refills again. We toast, eat a piece of bread with sausage and drink a second vodka. The smell of the sausage wakes up Will. We gesture him to come down from his bed, eat something and drink some vodka with us. He nods and comes down. We toast, eat and drink. Then Maxim wakes up again. We start to laugh, get the cards out, eat together and drink. At some point, the bottle is empty. Will and I look at each other. Will says, "Okay, now we can go back to sleep." "Indeed," I replied. We look at Oleg and he grins with his slightly blushed cheeks. "I am magical Oleg," he shouts out while reaching for his seat. He brings out a bottle of his self-brewed Russian whiskey. Will and I shake our heads, but Oleg's loud laughter makes us all have to laugh. When we emptied the bottle, it was six o'clock and the sun was back outside. The first rays of sunlight strike the mist between the shallow hills. We enjoy the view. I drink another tea and go to sleep.
When I wake up we stop. Oleg is on the platform, the other two are sleeping. As we continue the ride, I wash myself, brush my teeth, grab my things and make me a noodle soup. An hour before we arrive, Oleg again has this grin on his face. "I am Magical Oleg", he says again, pulling a bottle of cognac out of his box. "He bought the bottle on the platform earlier," Maxim says, "and now Oleg would like to teach you 'Passatchock." The rule is as follows. First, in Russia, you toast with 'Nastarowje', or 'Starowje'. But the last round is always with 'Na Passatshock'. However, there is never just one last round. That would be a pity. That is why the wistful Russians, who can’t stand the coming pain of separation, sometimes drink the entire last day before the actual farewell 'Na Passatshock'. The four of us drink the whole bottle of cognac 'Na Passatshock' and then the glass Ctogram Vodka, which I still had in my backpack from St Petersburg. When Will and I leave the train in Irkutsk we brotherly say good-bye with kiss-cheek on the right, kiss-cheek to the left of our Russian friends. Arriving at the hostel, we notice that we are both tipsy again.
The Rolling Stones Hostel in Irkutsk is the best hostel so far. I am enjoying the best shower ever since Germany. I am not saying that because I was tipsy and had no shower for 3.5 days on the train, but it is fact. The hostel is relatively new and the two guys, who own it, work and sleep there as well. After about an hour, I checked in, showered, ate, put my clothes in the washing machine and organized a transfer for the next morning to Lake Baikal. I also got a map from the island of Olkhon with a marked place, which is good for the camping on the beach. So I put my feet up, call home and go to sleep.
At 7 o'clock I get up and after a small breakfast I hear the horn of the minibus from the driveway. It is about 120 km on partly unassembled roads, also called 'bumpy roads'. We are 15 people on the bus and we are really squeezed in. Fortunately, the luggage is strapped to the roof. The trip is already an adventure. The windshield of the minibus has innumerable cracks. In the meantime, we have to avoid some cows that claim the right of way. The last kilometers in front of the ferry to Olkhon Island are rather bumpy and we are thoroughly shaken. The very friendly group of Koreans on the bus smile all the time and during a short stop, unexpectedly gives out a round of ice cream. Then we reach the ferry and after the crossing it takes another bumpy hour until we reach Xushir, the only real city on the island. I say goodbye to the others, buckle up my backpack and go straight to the sea. There I have a great view of the famous Shamans Rock. I reach a coastal section from where I can enjoy the sun, the view and the fresh air. After a while, I notice drumming and indeed, a few shamans have come to speak their prayers. I watch them but do not want to disturb them. It is truly a magical place. After I have hung out at this magical place for a while, I feel full of strength and energy. So I walk past the Prayer Point with the thousands of Prayer Flags, down to the beach and search for the place indicated on the map for camping. When I see a small hill, on the edge of which stands a tree, whose roots are curving down to form a seat, my campsite is found. I pitch my tent, collect wood in the nearby forest and start a small fire to cook a soup. Then I enjoy the sun setting behind the beautiful mountain ranges on the other side of Lake Baikal. I stoke the fire and enjoy the loneliness after all the company. I’m thinking back to some of the moments I have been able to experience so far. At the same time, I haven’t noticed, how others put some fires up next to me. The night sky is coming out. The sky is clear, full of stars and the Milky Way is clearly visible. It’s a beautiful sight. I’m thinking about how small and unimportant we are. All the things that really concern me so much, stress me, the things I’m thinking that are so important, or constantly try to get my attention, appear so insignificant in the face of this sight. I feel small but at the same time I feel being part of this great whole something. I accept my place in it and feel free. Free from expectations, free from constraints, free from thoughts. I dive into this moment, in this place, at this time.
The next morning, I get up, jump into the ice-cold Lake Baikal, with a temperature of approximately 12 ° C and I feel alive. After my breakfast, I put on the hiking boots, grab my backpack and go into the forest. I would like to see the other side of the island and the larger part of Lake Baikal. The island is 73 km long and 12 km wide. I go cross-country through the pine forest. It’s a good walk. After an hour it becomes steeper and the last walkable path ends. Now I am in the middle of the forest and when I am on the first hill, I still see no end. It becomes more difficult. I have to beat through 1.5 meter high thicket and a machete would certainly be better than the walking stick I have picked up. While walking through the thicket, branches crack under my weight and I arrived on the next hill. I look at the GPS and there is a way for the last third of the way. I fight myself through the thicket to the next hill and go to the valley where I can see a path. But to my disappointment, there is a broad, densely engulfed moor area. The mosquitoes rush at me immediately and I decide to go to the steep hill to my left. It costs me some effort to get up there and partly I have to climb on all fours to climb the rocks. At the top, I take a break and see a blue glimmer between two hills in the distance. I look at the position of the sun and the clock. It's 4 o'clock, I've been running for four and a half hours, and I've traveled about ten miles. The sun goes down at about 7:45 pm. Phew, I should have started earlier today. Heavy hearted, I decide to turn around and go back. It is anything but clever trying to fight my way back at night through this undergrowth. So I go a few steps in the opposite direction and suddenly I hear a snort. I stand still as if rooted to the ground like a tree. I listen in the direction from where the sound came. Another crack, then silence. I look into the forest and a thousand thoughts run through my head. What is there? Is it a stag or even a bear? There will be bears on Olkhon. I look around and look for a tree I could climb. Then I remember a documentary on National Geographic. When you meet a bear and he notices you, you can only do one thing. Run downhill, because the main weight of the bears is at the back and the short front legs do not allow it to reach its full speed during the downhill run. I wait for a moment and sprint in the direction of the valley. I notice how my heart is racing and I'm full of adrenaline. In the valley, I walk another five minutes as fast as I can through the shrubs. I look around and see nothing. I go on quickly and think how stupid it was to go without knowledge of the area, without a guide or telling anybody where I’m going. Quickly I go further and after another hour, I find tracks. I follow the tracks until I arrive at the outskirts of Xushir right after the sunset. When I reach the tent, dawn has already set and I decide to cook something and go to sleep. I can’t make a fire anyway, since I have no wood left. Suddenly two figures came up to me. "Hey Buddy, how are you?" Asks a young man with curly hair and Spanish accent. "Fine, what’s up?" I say. “Same same, but I like to ask you if you have a sleeping bag to share for the night” he asks. "You're lucky, I got a sleeping bag inlay, I could give you" I say. “Great, I take it, and if you want to, just come over to our place over there, we are going to make a fire”. “Yes why not, I will come after dinner”, I replied. After my dinner, I walk over. The young man with the Spanish accent is Manuel from Argentina and the other is Martin from Bremen - Germany. Both quit their jobs and are now traveling the world. It sounds familiar to me. I’m not going to be the only guest. Two Polish girls as well as three Russian guys are joining later. Of course, there is vodka and beer again and we enjoy some drinks under the charming starry sky. We talk for a long time, tell stories about our journeys and start philosophizing with rising alcoholic levels. It will be an unexpectedly funny evening.
The next morning, I just see how Martin is running across the beach to catch the bus. Manuel comes to me later and we go to Xushir to meet the Polish girls, because we all want to explore the area with bicycles. Since we do not meet the girls at their camp, Manuel and I go for ourselves. In Xushir we find a bike rental and ride along the sandy and rocky paths through the forest. It is really hot. But when we get on a hill, we see the wide meadows that lead to the cliff, we push the pedals hard. The refreshing wind in our hair, the feeling of freedom as well as the beautiful view makes us scream out for pleasure and joy. What a great moment. After a while we take a break. We pick up the conversation from last night and talk about the reasons behind our trips. We both agree that we want to fill our days with life and not just our lives with days. However, this can only be achieved if one knows oneself, which is only possible through self-reflection. So Manuel tells me that he wants to go to a monastery in Uruguay for half a year. On the other hand, I see this journey as an opportunity to face new challenging situations, grow and learn more about myself.
After we left the bikes in Xushir, we got stranded in front of a small shop. We treat ourselves one ice cream, then another one. The old women, who sell fruit in front of the shop, are reading their future from the coffee ground of their cups. When they see us, they praise their fruits. One shows a stack of fruits. She tells us that the apples are from Georgia, the plums from Tashkent and the watermelons from Burma. We smile and Manuel asks: "Do you have anything from Argentina." The old woman points again to the plums and this time they are supposedly from Argentina. We all laugh and ultimately Manuel and I take a couple of plums, wherever they may come from.
The rest of the day, Manuel and I spend together at the beach. In the evening a girl from Russia passes by and warms up at the fire. Manuel tells her about my adventure through the jungle the other day and she says that it is teeming with wolves in the forest. They are relatively relaxed in the summer, but in the winter at -40 ° C it’s better not to go there. The next morning, we get a visit from little Anjeshka. She comes from the Tippi, which is built about 100 meters further up the beach. A few hippies live there, who always greet friendly, when they pass by on the way to get water. The little girl already came by a few times in the last couple days to climb and race around. This time, she brings yogurt and M & M's alongside her bow and arrow. She is a bright child and comes from an area some hundred kilometers north of Lake Baikal. Soon she will go to school. Unfortunately, she can’t give me any information on how this is going to work in Siberia. Later I learn that the school stays open up to the temperature of -36 ° C. The little one has a lot to do in the coming winter. Heavy hearted I grab my things and say goodbye to Manuel and little Anjeshka. I walk along the beach back to Xushir. From there, the minibus (delayed by an hour) brings me back to Irkutsk. In Irkutsk I spend another day before I leave early in the morning. I’m taking the train towards Mongolia. This is the end of the exciting and varied time in Russia. What should I say now - Как сказать.