Auschwitz Birkenau

Sunny Day In Auschwitz

We went there on a Saturday in August. When we hit the road to do the 100km from Kraków it started to rain heavily and the photographer in me thought – all while thinking this thought is completely inappropriate –  that this would be the adequate weather to take some classical shots from this dark site, showing the essence of its sad history.

But when we arrived there the rain stopped and the hot August sun came out and stood out for our entire visit.

The severe significance – for me and probably for everybody else knowing history – was in me until I heard from Auschwitz for the first time at young age. Already the name “Auschwitz”, more than everything else, evoked this darkness inside of me. What humans are able to do to other humans. The pure evil. The dark side of humanity.

We arrived there and the emotions I have expected to come up were buried under a thick layer of tourism, noise, fancy colored clothes, bad organization and millions of people. Our Polish 3,5h-tour-guide spoke German with a strong accent and she told history and stories aggressively and without any shown feelings. I’m still not sure about my feelings towards this kind of rhetoric in this special place.

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Guilt Comes In Many Forms

As a German I surely have a special connection to the subject. I was raised, as every western German child, in a country that – at least from the early 70s – was highly aware of the guilt of their grandparents generation. When I went abroad later, it was always on my mind because the first associations made by fellow travelers from other countries  towards Germany, were football, Mercedes and Hitler. And even the characteristics related to Germans – like being punctual, being well organized and effective – were those which make people able to run concentration camps.
Sometimes I really wished to come from a country which is known in the world for its large variety of cheeses instead of its ability to cruelly kill people at large scale. I have never been proud of my country and I never had a clue of the meaning of patriotism.

When I look at history today I have a swift impression of what being proud on your country means, because we have been one of the only nations who really dealt with this kind of guilt. And this psychological work, makes Germany, not entirely but more than other countries, immune to populism and demagoguery. But maybe just in my hopes and maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
We’ll see. Elections are coming up.

 

Imagination vs. Reality

There are some pictures which are burned in the collective mind of everyone of us. The portal of the main camp with its inscription Arbeit macht frei made by Jewish blacksmiths. The thousands of glasses collected from the victims. And above all the gateway of the train entry to Auschwitz-Birkenau which was the last thing many victims saw before being sent to the gas chambers.

I was used to see this pictures in black and white and I saw a lot of documentations and fictional movies in which everything was dusty, dirty an grey.

But Auschwitz is green and clean. Well managed lawns, some wildflowers, thoroughly renovated buildings. People taking photos of each other, sometimes even in sexy poses, in front of the small train wagon which transported up to one hundred people into death.

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Human dignity is inviolable

I was well informed before going there, but I only became aware of the dimension of terror when I saw it. Auschwitz was the biggest place of engineered annihilation and strategic killing. Other than the inscription Arbeit mach frei on the entry portal suggested – prisoners didn’t come here to work but to die. That meant for example that they weren’t fed properly, with only about 500 calories per day but with a severe workload. If they wanted to survive, they had to steal food, for which they could be punished to death at any time.
Strategic Hunger, abuse, deprivation of family members and deprivation every kind of human dignity: They have been tortured and humiliated in every possible kind of way. I imagine that the most horrifying element of Nazi torture were the psychological effects of the permanent face-to-face with the knowledge of a coming certain and violent death. One of the SS officers told prisoners on arrival: The only way to get out of here is through the chimney.
Human dignity is inviolable.

The Endlösung, the Nazi regime resolution of 1941, specified the extermination of all 11 Million Jews in Europe over the coming years.

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Somehow – I thought, while walking down the infinite pathes of Birkenau Camp in the burning sun – somehow this could be only ruins of old buildings standing in a green field in the south of Poland.

But we saw the ramp where the selections of worthy and unworthy life took place, we saw the places of execution, the ruins of the gas chambers of Birkenau which were blasted by the Nazis shortly before leaving the camp, which proves that they have been well aware of committing a crime. We saw the 80.000 pairs of shoes, the thousands of glasses, the barracks, where thousands of people slept without heating during wintertime and under very critical hygienic circumstances, we saw the gas chambers and we saw the ovens where 1200 bodies a day were burned.

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I myself am not ready. I had to write down this words to clear my thoughts, to get rid of them, in a way to be able to go on with my life. But I’m not ready. I’ll never be.
Auschwitz confused me. On the one hand the numbers, the rational and visible part. The hectars, the size, the green lawns. It’s there, it’s real and it’s graspable under the bright sunshine. But it’s just objects. On the other hand the suffering, the torture, the mind sickness, the stains of blood under today’s green lawn, the extinction of so many families, which could have been on our planet today. It’s beyond comprehension. At least it is for me.
Even if it would be only a crowded touristic place today with a green, fresh lawn where people in bright colored cloths pose for photos in front of a train wagon, you cannot close your eyes in front of your knowledge. You cannot not cry inside.

 

This is one of the places where we can have the uneasy sense of the fact that the evil is a part of everyone of us. Our duty is to be aware of that and fight it at all cost. We have to decide against evil in every moment of our lives.

Because we are humans. And we have to act as such.

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9 Things You Probably Don’t Know About The Forest

Forest Knowledge 

Since some years I roam Berlins, Brandenburgs, Germanys and Europes forests. During the time I saw many phenomenons and asked myself a lot of questions which I googled or read about afterwards. Here is a collection of the most astonishing explications I found.


A One Hundred Year Old Beech Tree …

  • is 20 Meters high
  • has 600.000 leaves
  • it produces 12kg of sugar per day
  • takes in the CO2 Emission of 3 houses
  • evaporates 400l of water
  • and produces oxygen for ten people

Always think of a tree as somebody that makes it possible for you to breathe!

 

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The Age Of Trees

Normally they are cut down early for their wood, but trees are able to live much longer. Spruces can live up to 300 years, Beeches 250, Pines 500  and oaks up to incredible 1000 years which makes them one of the oldest living organisms on earth. Go to the article If Old Trees Could Tell Their Stories to read about the moving story of an only 400 years not-so-old oak.

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The Soil Is Alive

In a hand full of forest soil are more creatures than human beings on earth. They are the binmen oft he forest and transform dead organic material to humus which becomes new soil to feed new plants who create everything humans need to survive.

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The Communication Of Trees

When trees are attacked, for example by a parasite, they produce fragrances to defend themselves. But not only the attacked tree, even the surrounding trees do it. Those fragrances are very different from each other and represent the vocabulary of the trees. Worldwide there are already more than 2000 “words” discovered trees exchange with each other.

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There is an Antibiotic Atmosphere in The Forest

In a classic needle Forest you’ll find a lot of antibiotic fragrances which makes the air nearly germ free. And even if we as humans don’t notice them, it could be, that we react on the communication of trees.

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Shin rin Yoku – Bathing In The Forest

Is a form of therapy against stress and depression in Japan. Our immun system is stimulated by the forest and the effect last up to one week from our last forest walk. Blood pressure normalizes. Forest air has a different electric charge from city air and the oxygen concentration is much higher through photosynthesis. Both is good for human health.

Grumsin Unesco Naturerbe Schorfheide

 


1000 Liters Of Water

Together with other nutritive substances the tree transports water from the roots to the leaves on the top trough capillary action. When it rains a tree can store up to 1000 liters of water.

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Crown Shyness

There is a phenomenon called Crown Shyness which means trees don’t touch each other and only grow their branches to the point that they can move in the wind.

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Planting trees means thinking of the survival of mankind

After every war or traumatic event people planted trees. The reforestation represented as a sign of hope, a vision that there will be a future even after the own life has ended. Because a tree won’t grow during your lifetime. I wish todays politicians would be as farsighted as those rangers of the past.

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Foto 16.08.17My cousin and her family in Africa

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Eiche Oak Tree Stories of old trees grunewald

If Old Trees Could Tell Their Story

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Yesterday I crossed a more than 400 year old oak tree in Berlins biggest city forest , the Grunewald. She stands near to Großes Fenster a small beach with a great view approximately 1 km north of the land bridge to Schwanenwerder.

Passing older trees, did you ever think of what this creatures have already seen in their lives?

 

What is this trees history?

  • At first – like every existing tree today – she was lucky because she was the one who survived the competition with thousands of other oak tree seedlings and the appetite of animals.
  • In the beginning of the 17th century she was born right into the Thirty Year’s War where half of the early Berliners where killed and the city has been nearly destroyed.
  • This was a time where the tuberculosis killed millions of people, where the inquisition and the persecution of witches took place, where Shakespeare wrote Macbeth and where Copernicus’ claim, that earth revolves around the sun, was reinforced by Galileo, a discovery that pretty much rocked world’s history.
  • The oak saw Napoleons entrance to Berlin and the beginning of the industrialization.
  • A lot of trees where cut down in this time but the Berliners started to realize the value and the beauty oft he forest. They protestet and the Grunewald became a protectet area from there on. Today it is the biggest city forest in Germany.
  • During the second world war the oak stood in the middle of a battlefield between russian and german soldiers.
  • After WW2 she was a part of West Berlin, while her colleagues on the other shore of the Havel and only some kilometers more, where suddenly part of another country. In 1989 the wall came down and they where fellows again.

 

Today the oak still stands there. Peaceful and dignified in the garden of the German Water Lifesavers Society (DLRG).

Go and listen to the stories she has to tell.

 

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Trail Review: Gran Senda de Málaga, GR 249

I had a very good time on the Gran Senda de Málaga but there were some difficulties, too. These were because I had some unfulfilled expectations on what would or wouldn’t happen. I hope I can help future hikers to know a little bit more about this wonderful trail than I did while planning and hiking.

What I did:

My original plan was to trough-hike the western part of the trail from Nerja until the end of my two weeks holidays. But the unmerciful heat and my therefore blistered feet made me jump the big stages and only do the small ones and to finally give up the idea of a through-hike. The result was that hiked a sample of nearly every possible landscape of the Gran Senda de Málaga and some other famous trails in Andalusia.

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I did one stage starting in Nerja in the Sierra de Tejeda, two stages in the gradually decreasing Sierra, starting from Periana and from Pulgarin Alto, I had to rest my feet for two days in Antequera, sent home my shoes and bought new ones, then I continued in the very flat and dry northern area of the trail starting from Alameda to continue the next day from Fuente de Piedras. This part of the trail was so f…g hot and therefore so exhausting that decided to do day hikes with only water in my pack. I stood four nights on the wonderful Camping Parque Ardales and did the stage Ardales-El Chorro, the Sendero Gaitanejo and the famous Caminito del Rey from there. Than I went on to Cartajima in the South of Ronda to do a hike to Los Riscos and one to the white villages of the Valley of Genal. My last day I sat on the roof terrace of the wonderful Refugio Hostel and did nothing but looking the swallows whizzing through the blue sky.

Facts about the Gran Senda de Malaga:

Location: Andalusia in southern Spain

Length: 656 km

Potential dangers: Hunting, some road walks, breeding boars, wasps, dogs, getting lost, no water, river crossings in the colder seasons, eventual forest fires.

Difficulty: There are very easy stages and very long and/or difficult mountain stages. To predict the difficulty of every stage there is a very useful table provided by the Gran Senda Organisation. Also you will find the composition of paths (single trail, dirt road, road, river crossing) at the beginning of every description of the stages in the downloadable guidebook provided in english language.

Civilisation density:  You will have at least one point of civilization on or at the end of every stage. This doesn’t mean that you’ll find accommodation or something like a pharmacy over there. But at least there will be a bar and a cold cerveza.

Landscape: Very diverse and very beautiful, sometimes unbelievably lovely. You’ll see the Mediteranean Sea, the mountains, agricultural landscapes, lakes and hills. A very good reason to do it! I was completely overwhelmed.

Cultural sites: You will cross some “bigger” cities with wonderful cultural sites like Ronda, Archidona, Nerja and Malaga. But in general the trail passes through simpler, rural areas.

Best time to do it: There is one thing I can already say: Do it in May, but in the beginning of May. It’s the time of bloom, the landscape buzzes and you’ll see the most fantastic colors around you. But in this year it was a particularly hot May and there is not a lot of shadow on the road. It can be hell, too. Maybe it’s better to do it in autumn or even winter. But you won’t experience the wonders of spring then. Look at the climate table of Andalusia and see what suits you most.

Trail signage and way markers:

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If there is one compliment to be given to the Gran Senda Organisation then it is that one: The signage is nearly perfect. Everywhere, even in the most lost areas, you’ll find wooden posts with striped (go!) or crossed (don’t go!) trail marks. You wont get lost if you hike with your eyes open. As I hiked in the end of May and nature was in full bloom it happened that one or two posts were hidden behind bushes, but in general they were easy to locate. There were only two times when I had some difficulties finding my way. On the stretch from Nerja to Frigiliana behind the river crossing I lost one hour because of bad signage and in the forest from Ardales to El Chorro I saw a “corzo morisco”, a kind of a mountain deer, directly in front of me and out of surprise I missed the  junction which was well hidden in some bushes.

Sometimes I had the impression that someone coming from the opposite direction has installed the trailmarks.

Busyness and Solitude:

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Between Nerja and Frigiliana I briefly met two girls from Switzerland who did more than one stage. I also met some day hikers on this stage. Between Periana and Pulgarin Alto I met a group of American day hikers on a visit to Andalusia again. That was it. This trail is – regarding other hikers – completely deserted. You’ll meet forest workers, farmers and some tourists in cars when the road is near, but there aren’t any hikers. At least in the areas where I was. It’s quite a lot of solitude to take in. You either search for that or you have to deal with it when you are hiking solo.

Documentation:

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There is this great guide which you can download for free on the website of the trail. There is some really good information in it, like the lengths the heights and the level of difficulty of every stage after which I chose the stages I wanted to walk. If you are interested in it there is even some quite useful information about history and geography. Unfortunately it also lacks some really important information.

  1. Maps.
    The maps they provide in the guide and on the website by the Gran Senda Organisation are completely useless. Don’t even bother to load them down or print them out. I recommend some kind of App with offline Maps based on Openstreetmap (for example MapOut for IOS). Offline Maps are – in my opinion – mandatory.
  2. Water.
    There is no real indication about where and when to find water on the trail or even the possibility of water. As I walked in the month of May at an shadowless average of 27°C I would have been very grateful not to have to pack 3 liters of water on top of the weight of my backpack. In the guide they write about water but more generally, where it comes from and why and the geological conditions. In case you are sweating like I did, this is quite useless.
  3. GPS Downloads.
    There are GPS downloads of every single stage and they are obviously very detailed. I don’t know what I did wrong but I wasn’t able to load them into my map app (MapOut). There is no download of the complete trail. At least I didn’t find it. Instead I downloaded it from gpsies.com. But this was clearly not always the designated trail (read this, if you want to walk Nerja-Frigiliana).
  4. Accommodation and transport.
    There is no useful information about the end of every stage. If there is civilization, accommodation, something to eat and drink or private or public transport. All things you are longing for after an exhausting hike. There are some random links on the website but accommodation should at least include a short description and a price range.

As I posted some pictures on Instagram the Gran Senda Organisation contacted me and offered me help if I would need it. I was pleased to hear that. Later I had one question but they couldn’t answer it and the reaction alone took some days. At the end they offered to meet me an give me some “presents” – I can’t imagine what kind of presents that would be and I’m really not much into merchandising stuff but I would have liked to talk to someone who maybe did the whole through-hike  – but when I said I would like that but I had no car and I’m kind of far from Málaga they didn’t answer anymore.

 

Coverage

Spain is public network paradise. Even in the mountains you will frequently have at least one point of coverage. I think it happened to me only four or five times that I looked on my phone and read “kein Netz”. Wifi in the hostels and on the camping sites on the other hand is more or less useless and ultraslow. Better to have a good plan from your home provider.

Anyway: In my opinion it is absolutely necessary to have offline maps with you. Print them or use something like MapOut (IOS).

 

Camping

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I carried my (ultralight) tent all the way but if I had known that I would barely use it (which was more out of personal reasons than out of exterior conditions) I would have left it at home. But this was my thing and it is completely possible and even easy to pitch camp all the way. As usual it is more difficult in the mountains. If you want to, you can look out for “recreation areas” where you can camp legally and where there is water most of the time.

Most of the land is privately owned though, and it is not advisable to pitch camp there.

There are no dangerous animals, snakes or insects in Spain so this is nothing to be worried about. What you will hear at night are owls, boars, deer, goats, mice and squirrels.

Near to El Chorro I recommend the fantastic, huge and very wild camp site Camping Parque Ardales with very friendly staff, directly on one of the clearest turquoise mountain lakes .

Keep in mind that it is forbidden to free-camp all over Spain.

 

Landscape

This is why you should do the Gran Senda de Malaga. The landscape is diverse and at least once on every stage I found it really breathtaking. I chose the stages I walked because of a mixture between their level of difficulty and where they would lead me to, but they were all fantastic and I have a lot of wonderful pictures in my head which I will be able pull out on cold German winter days. It surprised me and it is much more beautiful than I thought it would be.

Dogs

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After my second day I bought a pepper-spray in a hunting and fishing store in Antequera. A lot of farmers have untrained guard dogs which are alone on the land or around the houses. Sometimes they are aggressive and won’t let you pass which can be quite a problem in the mountains when there is no alternative path.

 

This was my hike. And I finish with a short abstract which is purely my opinion:

Do it …

  • if you like solitude and don’t want to see any other hiking tourists
  • if you want to see fantastic landscapes
  • if you don’t want to be in the wilderness but in rather near to little spots of civilization
  • if you don’t like dangerous animals (there aren’t any)
  • if you want to do a through-hike in southern Europe (maybe in winter)
  • if you speak a little spanish. At least I found this very relaxing.

 

Don’t do it …

  • if you are afraid of dogs
  • if you are looking for a wilderness trail
  • if it’s hot
  • if you would like to have a very pre-organised trip (I think you can’t plan and book in advance, or at least this will be very complicated)

 

 

Please ask in the comments if you have any questions. If I can answer them, I will do so. And if you do/did it, let me know. Have Fun!

 

 

 

 

Cartajima Refugio

The Refugio Hostel In Cartajima – Traveling And Feeling At Home: Priceless.

I had quite a trip these holidays. As I hiked solo, the trail was more or less deserted and there were no other hikers around, I felt quite lonely on some of the evenings.

Most of the time this is not a problem for me because I need this kind of solitude. But on some evenings I just craved talking to someone else but an Andalusian senior citizen with a strong incomprehensible accent. Do not get me wrong: This is why I learned spanish and this is why I travel but above all a conversation gets interesting when you share at least some similar experiences. And neither can I deny the exhaustion which comes with talking to someone who is barely comprehensible.

In this case the best thing to do for me is to look out for a hippie-style hostel where I’m quite sure to meet some likeminded people and if the hostel is in a hiking area I’d maybe even meet some hikeminded ones 🙂

This is how I found the Refugio Hostel in Cartajima, 18 kms south of Ronda. I booked a room by phone and got there in the evening. Botz, the british host, opened the door and told me that there are no other guests, just us. A short disappointment came up in me, but volatilized quickly as I saw the 300 years old house with its fantastic roof terrace into the surrounding mountains. And above all when I sat down with Botz and we started talking.

What I want to say since the beginning of this article: There are those rare people in hospitality business who really know what they are doing. Who have this delicate intuition what to do and what to say while completely staying themselves. Who let you be yourself and let you feel like you’re belonging here since a long, long time.

This is Botz. I had some wonderful and crazy laughing evenings and even a long hike with him. He loves the mountains and the Andalusian countryside. He traveled a lot. He is completely in love with a girl from Austria. He was a drummer in Amsterdam. He was a chef and the food he is offering is just wonderful. He looks like an argentinian, younger version of Iggy Pop.
And he made the last days of my holidays a pure blast.

This days in places like this, are not about five star perfection. You won’t have television, room service or infinity pools. Sometimes you won’t even have hot water*. But you will feel like home.

So if you ever get to Andalusia go visit Botz and the Refugio in Cartajima. You won’t regret it.

*this is NOT the case at the Refugio! There was always hot water 🙂

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Weihnachten

Off Topic: Christmas Gluttony

Rote Beete Mousse: 125 ml Schlagobers 125 g Topfen Saft und Schale von 1/2 Orange 6 Blatt Gelatine 320 g Rote Rüben (vorgekocht) 2 EL dunkler Balsamico-Essig Salz & Pfeffer 2 TL Kren (sehr fein gerieben) 1 EL Ingwer (sehr fein gerieben) Schwarzbrotscheiben (ohne Rand, rund ausgestochen) Zicklein in Wurzelgemüse, Ente mit Semmelknödeln und Sauerkraut, Lime Pie (nach Cynthia Barcomi) […]

Awarded

Thanks!

I’d like to thank Jenny Stephens, from https://exploreadventurediscover.wordpress.com for my Liebster Award nomination! She writes a great travel blog.

The Liebster Award 2016 is an online award that is given to bloggers by other bloggers. The earliest case of the award goes as far back as 2011. Liebster in German means favorite. It’s a great way to explore new blogs and expand your network.

 

My Nominations

I just want to nominate those three writers. I don’t know them personally, but reading their blogs, I got the impression of some really extraordinary people and I want to get to know them 🙂

https://jennybruso.com
https://simonbeckford.wordpress.com
https://hello-mountains.com

 

The Rules

Official rules of The Liebster Award 2016 if your blog has been nominated and you have chosen to accept it, are below.  I’ve found varying rules on the internet, so hopefully I have included them all!

  • Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog. Try to include a little promotion for the person who nominated you.
  • Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”.  Images you can use for your 2016 Liebster Award can be found here.
  • Answer your nominator’s questions and create 11 questions for your own nominees to answer.
  • Nominate about five blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 200 followers.
  • Give 10 random facts about yourself
  • List these rules in your post.
  • Once you have written and published it, you then have to: Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it.

 

11 Random Facts About Me:

  1. I love the sunrise but I always miss it ’cause I sleep too long
  2. If I’m swimming in a lake I always think of sea monsters
  3. I’m a hiker and I’m afraid of heights
  4. I love Nutella (I just changed to another brand called Samba)
  5. I’m afraid of the world developing backwards in terms of tolerance
  6. I hate gender marketing (it’s one of the reasons the world develops backwards)
  7. My second toe is longer than my first one
  8. I hate clogged tubes and the bffff-sound when they unclog
  9. Sometimes I’d like to have a armpit hair-do
  10. Mosquitos love me
  11. I own R2D2 socks

 

 

My Responses to Jennies Questions:

What inspired you to start writing a blog?
I wanted to conserve my experiences and my photos. And I wanted to share.

Tell me three things people might not know about you?
I’m a Salsa Dancer. I took ballet classes. I work as an experience designer.

Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
As I write about hiking, nature is my biggest inspiration.

How has your attitude to blogging changed over time?
At the beginning I was less outgoing, now I know exactly what I want to share (and what I don’t want to share).

What’s one of the best places you’ve ever been and why?
Cuba. As a consequence of the system, people look at the world differently. And it is a beautiful country.

Name three things you always put in your backpack/suitcase.
Water, map, my Dad’s whistle.

Name a few favourite books (preferably travel-related) – I’m always looking for new recommendations!
Water Music, T.C. Boyle.
Zauberberg, Thomas Mann.
Cien años de soledad, Gabriel García Márquez.

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new place?
Take a walk.

How will your blog look in 5 years time?
Really no idea.

How would you describe your travel style?
I prepare a lot out of anticipation. I read, I look at blogs, I learn languages. I will go there completely informed. But when I’m finally there, I will do everything spontaneously.

Any travel goals for 2016?
Not yet. Chile?

 

 

My Questions:

  1. Did you ever think about not taking a camera on your hikes?
  2. Are you afraid at night when you camp solo?
  3. What do you do against it?
  4. Which human quality/characteristic would you like to have (more)?
  5. What makes you angry?
  6. In which situation have you ever wanted to stop a hike and why did/didn’t you you do it?
  7. What is the best funny quote you found lately?
  8. What is the best serious quote you found lately?
  9. What was your favorite hike ever and why?
  10. Why do people vote for Donald Trump?