Have you ever been robbed in Singapore?
It's exciting to see a place that is experiencing its second spring
What do you have to bring with you when you travel?
The rule is: less is more. Because I have to carry every kilogram that I take with me. Otherwise I have a rule of three: three of all clothing items come with me on the trip - three shirts, three pants, three pairs of socks, etc. Cycling shorts should be included, because jeans and underpants can quickly lead to a sore butt. If I don't want to be dependent on boarding houses, then a tent, sleeping mat and sleeping bag as well as possibly cooking equipment must be part of the equipment. But I also know people who don't need anything more than their bike clothes and a credit card on a two-week trip. Ultimately, the equipment always depends on the people and their preferences.
Less is more.
What does a normal day on a tour look like for you?
It always depends on where I'm currently traveling and what time of the year. In 2018 I was on the Danube Cycle Path for two months and the temperature felt an average of 35 degrees. With this warmth I get up early. At home, nobody can get me out of bed at 6 a.m., but the mornings are most pleasant when cycling. I try to be on the bike until 7 a.m., ride until noon and, if it gets hot, take a longer lunch break. It continues in the early afternoon. I also film, take photos and meet people who can show me something. In the evening, the data from the camera memory cards is usually copied, saved and checked. So after twelve to 14 hours, a day has passed quickly.
Can you also imagine an all-inclusive vacation by the pool or do you always have to be on the move?
I actually go on vacation with my wife for two weeks once a year. Then relax on the beach or in the hotel. I'm not someone who demonizes hotel stays or all-inclusive travel. I take the bike with me on short trips, but I spend my vacation without it, as the remaining 50 weeks are all about the two-wheeler for me. I need the distance.
You film your travels and publish documentaries about your tours. How did you get into filming?
A friend made a film with her class while she was at school. I watched the making-of of the film and saw how much fun the students had while shooting. I decided I wanted to do that too. So when I was 14 I bought a film camera from Grandma's Christmas bonus and started shooting nonsense videos with friends. Later I combined my two passions, filming and traveling. This connection is a luxury for me.
As a travel journalist, do you see your trips as work or as vacation?
The term “work” is generally associated with a certain compulsion, but someone once said: “If you have a job that you enjoy, you never have to work again.” For me, my job is mainly work. But a damn cool one - my absolute dream job.
Do you have an unfulfilled travel wish?
The wish list is so long that I probably won't have enough time to work through it. For the next few years I will either plan tours with a short drive or I will set off from home by bike. At the top of the list, however, is the Panamericana. This route stretches across the entire American continent and leads from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.
You buffoon, I don't understand Chinese.
Were there any countries on your bike tours that disappointed you?
No, I felt comfortable everywhere. The strangest country for me, however, was China. I don't speak Chinese and it is actually possible in every country to communicate without knowing the language, for example by means of gestures. Only not with the Chinese. They were completely sideways, be it with hand signals or when using a small picture book that I carried with me. As a matter of principle, they did not understand that and handed me a written note. The Chinese thought that maybe I couldn't understand them acoustically, but at least I could read their text. I always wrote on it in German: “You buffoon, I don't understand Chinese.” They found that very amusing.
What are the differences between your trips abroad and at home?
We have an incredibly good bicycle infrastructure in Germany. It's frightening that it took me four years and 55,000 kilometers abroad to realize that. For example, I used to go on a short trip to Barcelona rather than get on the saddle for three days to explore my surroundings. We have 75,000 kilometers of long-distance cycle paths in Germany. With a little organization, it is possible to travel all over the country without driving on a main road. This is a luxury that not many countries have.
Have you ever wanted to emigrate?
There were moments when I considered going to Australia. But I like to live and work in Germany. Germans have a reputation for being punctual and reliable. You appreciate that when you've spent years abroad. I worked for six months in a beach bar in Thailand that another German and I had set up together. If I told ten workers there that the next day it would start at 10 a.m., the first one would not come at a quarter past eleven and four. At that moment I noticed: I'm far too German, I can't work like that. In contrast, none of my 200 German travel companions was ever late. There is no such thing in any other country on earth (laughs). However, I also sometimes think: Germans shouldn't be so cerebral and dogged.
I live and work in Germany.
You spent an incredible amount of time in the saddle. Surely everything didn't always run smoothly?
I've traveled a total of four and a half years in over 40 countries and in that time I haven't even been mugged or stolen. You have to be careful not to be ripped off as a tourist who is still green behind the ears. But something like that is also part of it. Something can happen anywhere, but I think it is more dangerous to be alone in certain areas of Berlin at night than, for example, by bike in rural Russia. Among other things, I drove through Nepal when a rebel group was active there in the mountains - luckily I did not meet them. Others, however, had to pay this group a € 30 road fee.
What lessons have you learned from your travels?
When I was in my mid-twenties, on the tour to Singapore, I was traveling alone for seven months and was about to give up everything. Getting through the tour was an experience that I grew from. There was no one I could ask for help. I had to solve my problems myself. But when you finally manage to do something like that, you notice, "Okay, you can do all of this." That gives you a lot of self-confidence.
Have you ever had doubts that your plan to be able to make a living from traveling is not working out?
It was difficult for me, especially at the beginning. Since I can't make a living from traveling alone, I decided to shoot documentaries about the tours and give lectures. But no matter where I called to organize a talk, I was asked for references first. Since I was still at the beginning, it was said that I should build a reputation in the field and get in touch again in three years. I have now been giving lectures about my travels for twelve years, a sure-fire success.
You don't get any younger - what if at some point you can't ride your bike anymore?
Cycling keeps you fit and is not an extreme burden. An e-bike is also easy on the joints. When I was on the bike a lot, I had severe knee pain. Fortunately that went back. I think I'll be cycling for a long time. And as far as the lecture industry is concerned: There are also 70-year-olds in front of their audience. As long as you can speak and walk upright, there is no age limit.
So far, Germany has been the most varied and exciting country for me.
What is more beautiful for you: the wide world or home?
I like them both. I am not saying that I will never leave Germany again, because I feel wanderlust slumbering inside me. Germany surprised me the most on my tour through the federal states. Here I had the lowest expectations and didn't expect to see anything exciting. What is on the doorstep does not seem interesting to some - especially when flights to other countries are so cheap. My tip: enter your own address once on Google Maps and see what surrounds you within a radius of 50 kilometers. Anyone who goes out to explore the area will be surprised. There is a lot to discover, even for those who have lived in a particular region all their lives. So far, Germany has been the most varied and exciting country for me. There is hardly any other country in the world that bundles such diversity in so little space, both culturally and in terms of landscape.
What does home mean to you?
Many believe that this is the place where you grew up and where your roots are. I see home more as a temporary place of retreat and relaxation. My origins are in Munich, but things move quickly for me: If I stay in one place for three to four weeks, it becomes home. And that has been Brandenburg an der Havel since summer 2018.
What was your first impression of the city?
I still remember that very well. Back then, on my first visit, I walked over the Millennium Bridge in the direction of Neustadtischer Markt. The view of the main street was just great. A fantastic sunset, sparkling water - awesome. I haven't had this feeling anywhere else. At the time, I was looking for a new center of life and thought to myself that I could endure here. Everything is there and Brandenburg an der Havel is really pretty.
So you see Brandenburg an der Havel not only as a starting point for the next tours?
We don't plan to leave here anytime soon. We feel very comfortable in the city. As a native of Munich, I enjoy a lot of things here that the Bavarian metropolis does not have. For example, nature. I think it's great to arrive in the forest after only a five-minute drive, where I can walk my dog for an hour without meeting a soul. Not constantly being stuck in traffic, finding a parking space quickly - the city of Brandenburg has many advantages. The infrastructure is also great: Everything you need for everyday life is there, without having to have another 1.5 million people around. If you want to go to the big city, you get on the train and drive to Berlin.
We feel very comfortable in the city.
Have you already settled in in the year and a half that you have been living in the city of Brandenburg?
I travel around 150 days a year for work and Brandenburg an der Havel is my base, here I have peace. I quickly make friends and have already built up a small group of friends. However, like the number of my friends in Munich, this group is manageable. I couldn't do justice to a lot of friends because of my time consuming job.
Do you have favorite places in Brandenburg an der Havel?
The big plus point of the city of Brandenburg is the environment. I like to kayak on the Plauer See and the Breitlingsee and camp there. Before moving, I thought it would be great here in summer and spring - but it's also really beautiful in winter. A winter walk along the water with the dog - simply world class!
Aside from your travels, do you cycle a lot in the city?
Yes, I make sure - as far as possible - to leave the car behind. Brandenburg an der Havel is a manageable size, it takes me 45 minutes to get from one end of the city to the other. Of course, that is not possible in Munich. When it rains, however, I go around the cobblestone city center by bike. In connection with the tram tracks, this is a bicycle killer. The bike paths around it make up for it though. In times when climate change and CO2 Big issues are, an infrastructure needs to be created where people shouldn't be afraid of falling heavily. That would motivate more people to use the bike. I think we have to develop concepts in the next 20 years that are less geared towards the driver and more towards pedestrians and cyclists. Brandenburg an der Havel shows a corresponding potential.
Is there anything you would change about the city of Brandenburg?
You can improve things anywhere, but you shouldn't lose sight of the positive. It is typically German to first see the negative. Since Berlin continues to grow, Brandenburg an der Havel will also develop well in the future. The newcomers to Berlin need living space. This will make Brandenburg more attractive in the long term. The cityscape is already changing continuously. Houses are being restored everywhere and tourism is also increasing. I find it exciting to experience a place that is experiencing its second spring. Friends from Bavaria came to visit last summer - when they saw and experienced the city of Brandenburg, they understood why I moved here.
All photos: © Maximilian Semsch
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