Traveling is one of my passions. Not as a typical tourist searching for a sunny beach, but as a way to get to know countries, cultures and people. As a historically and politically interested person, I am especially keen on travelling to countries and regions where there is revolution, upheaval or other major changes in society, something which has expanded my understanding of politics and international relations, I hope.
So far I have been to the following countries:
Abkhazia: This small country by the Black Sea, that not many people know of, was one of the biggest surprises. The capital Sukhum is a beautiful and interesting city, with a waterfront like on the Cote d’Azur and a shot-up parliament building a few blocks away. It’s not far to the mountains and the people are friendly. I learned a lot of things in just a few days.
Albania: When you visit Albania, take a lot of time with you because transport is slow. I have only been to Tirana and Vlora, but I marveled at the beautiful mountains from the bus on the way from Macedonia and when I hiked up Mount Dajti. I was very impressed by the story of Albanians who hid and rescued Jews during the Holocaust, the only country in Europe to do so on a large scale.
Antigua: It was just a one-day stop on a cruise from South America to Europe, so I only had time to explore St John’s. Quite a beautiful town, not as much transformed by cruise tourism as many other Caribbean islands.
Armenia: I liked the small mountain town of Dilijan even more than Yerevan. Very friendly country where I had excellent hitchhiking experiences. But the landscape is so tempting that I would rather cross Armenia on foot on my next visit. The only weird thing was when my host in Yerevan showed off his collection of Nazi memorabilia.
Australia: A dream destination ever since I was a little boy, this dream came true earlier than expected: When I was 15, I won a scholarship for a 3 month-long student exchange program to Australia. In 1992, I attended Concordia College in Adelaide, South Australia and also had the chance to travel the outback with visits to Ayers Rock, Alice Springs and a night in an old mine in Coober Pedy. A one week-long field trip with school to Kangaroo Island almost turned into “Lord of the Flies” due to lack of food.
Austria: Coming from Bavaria, Austria is not exactly an exotic destination, but it’s still beautiful. I have always experienced it as the friendlier, nicer and more relaxed version of Germany. And, as I discovered late in life, the best things sometimes are very close by: After spending three summers in Vienna, I can declare it my favorite city unequivocally.
Azerbaijan: A slightly weird country. All streets, public squares and monuments are of huge dimension but empty of people. They only serve the personality cult around ex-president Aliyev. But the small town of Göygöl was a welcoming place.
Belgium: In summer 2019, I was lucky enough to live first in Antwerp in Flanders, then in Brussels and finally in Chastre in Wallonia, thus getting to now the different regions of the country. But don’t forget about the German-speaking East and about the micro-nation of neutral-Moresnet! A field trip with university led me to Ypres, following the traces of World War I. Belgium is the place to ponder about the duration and intensity of the World Wars. In every village, in every forest and almost at any intersection, there are cemeteries and memorials. Oh, and I tested it for you: It’s perfectly possible to survive on fries alone!
Bolivia: I have never felt as happy as in Cochabamba. A city with a perfect quality of life, spring-like climate all year round, and the mountains nearby. The rest of Bolivia, too, is incredibly beautiful, exciting and varied, with everything from the Andes to the jungle, from the Chaco to the salt flats, from colonial towns to Lake Titicaca. The latter, pictured below, is perfect for hiking and makes me want to walk all around the lake for a few months. Bolivia was the friendliest and most welcoming country I have ever lived in. Really awesome!
Brazil: Salvador, the old capital of Brazil was my first stop after crossing the Atlantic by boat. Great old Portuguese architecture, but I am more a nature than a city guy, so I moved on to Chapada Diamantina, where I went hiking (and helped fire fighters extinguish some forest fires) in the most incredible nature. It’s like the Grand Canyon, just in lush green and with waterfalls.
Canada: The highlight was crossing Canada by train. Because it went so slow and because the train doesn’t have internet, it was the perfect opportunity to get to know the country and the people. The highlight of the highlight was sharing the ride with old-order Mennonites. Because it was winter, I didn’t spend that much time outside, except for one week in Canmore. As in many countries, it turned out that the city that most people warned me about became the one I liked the most: Winnipeg.
Chile: If you manage to survive traversing the more than 1,000 kilometers of the dreadful Atacama desert, Chile is quite a beautiful country. And it’s a welcome change to find a South-American country where not every driver wants to kill you when you cross the road and where not all of your neighbors play loud music around the clock. I very much liked Arica and Iquique in the north and was highly impressed by the ghost town of Humberstone. Easter Island was of course something very special, and indeed a stark warning on what happens if you prioritize economic growth while disregarding the environment.
Colombia: Maybe I should have waited with my conclusions about South America until I visited Colombia. Although I am not a fan of big cities, I really liked Bogotá. Green, bicycle-friendly, cultural. And the little house in Tenjo, where I lived for a while, was really charming.
Croatia: It was still Yugoslavia back when I visited, my first trip to a socialist country. Oh, the good old times!
Czech Republic: I first went to Prague in 1990 after the revolution and have been back regularly. It’s a very charming and interesting city. A visit to Terezin/Theresienstadt, the site of a former concentration camp was very memorable. The spa towns of Marienbad, Franzensbad and Karlsbad are beautiful testimony of an era when these little towns were the cultural hotspots of Europe.
Ecuador: I only got there towards the end of my life in South America, so I didn’t have enough time. But I found Cuenca very beautiful, and the scenery in the south of the country was fascinating as well. Only in Vilcabamba, claiming to be the town with the highest life expectancy in the world, there were too many wannabe-hippies.
Egypt: Just one day in Sinai, on a day trip from Israel. I remember Egyptian passport control which my friend successfully bribed, a car rental company without any cars, a hotel that had just been blown up, a dubious meal in the desert, soaring heat and a bus that looked like it would fall apart any second.
Estonia: In late October 2012, coincidentally on the day of the first snowfall of that winter, I went to Tallinn and then to the island of Hiiumaa. It was a beautiful, interesting and exciting trip, not least thanks to a great guide whom I met on Couchsurfing. He showed me everything from hidden cemeteries in the forest to crumbling Soviet bunkers to beautiful beaches.
France: In 1992 I attended a forest fire fighting camp of the Scouts de France in Luminy, outside of Marseille. One week we had to help the fire fighters with spotting forest fires, and one week we learned how to sail, climb and dive and were just hiking along the coast, sleeping under the stars. Beautiful! Since, I have been to Strasbourg and to Paris, where I once ended up by accident when returning from New York. My plan to get to know France better by joining the Foreign Legion was not so successful.
Georgia: Tbilisi is an interesting city with Persian palaces, European architecture, modernist knick-knack, but two blocks further there are wooden balconies on slowly collapsing buildings. One can walk around for days and still discover something new every hour. Kutaisi and Zugdidi are the other cities I know so far.
Germany: Well, what am I supposed to say about my home country? I used to find it a bit dull. But the more I have seen of the world, the more my approach to travel has changed. And now I find it just as fascinating to hike or hitchhike through Germany. Interesting stories and interesting people can be found anywhere. And then there is still Eastern Germany, almost completely unknown to me.
Guernsey: One of the Channel Islands, which are not part of the United Kingdom, but a possession of the British Crown. Even when the UK was a member of the European Union, these islands weren’t, but were treated as part of the European Community area for some purposes. They each have their own parliament, but the UK Parliament has some power to legislate. Each of them have their own currency (Guernsey Pound, Jersey Pound), but they are always in parity with the British Pound. An so on, in a typically British constitutional mess.
Hungary: Budapest is a beautiful city, but for my taste – which prefers Eastern over Western Europe – it’s too preppy, too clean, too organized. And boy, taking a train across the Puszta makes you long for mountains so badly.
Iran: Probably the most interesting country I have ever been to. Two trips in 2009, the first as a tourist, exploring Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz for 2 weeks. A beautiful country with the biggest possible discrepancy between smart, open, funny people and a brutal and backward government. The second trip to join the protests against the rigged elections in 2009. I have never before seen so much courage as in the streets of Tehran in that time, and I experienced the brutality of the crackdown myself. I was beaten up by riot police, later arrested by the Intelligence Service, taken to Evin prison, spent a week blindfolded in solitary confinement, being interrogated day and night, without anyone knowing where I was. That’s how I like my holidays!
Israel: I have been to Israel so often, it felt like a second home at times. I first visited as a 16-year old in 1992 on a youth exchange program and experienced fantastic hospitality, wonderful nature and cities, an overwhelming amount of history, both ancient and recent. And I began to understand more and more about the Middle East. Israel is the perfect combination of Mediterranean beauty and the excitement of the Middle East. And Jerusalem is the most fascinating city in the world. My last visit was in March 2015 when I ran the Jerusalem half marathon and hiked the Jesus Trail in the north of the country.
Italy: When I was a child, we took a few family trips to the Dolomites in South Tyrol. Later I visited Rome, the most beautiful city in the world, and Venice. In October 2013, I finally moved to Italy, first to live in Sicily for 6 months, which was not enough to explore that diverse island with its fascinating mountain ranges, old cities and volcanic islands, and then another 6 months in Bari.
Jersey: Situated off the coast of France, but with closer political and economic ties to the United Kingdom, this is one of the Channel Islands. I went hiking there for my birthday in 2011, mostly along the beautiful coast and slept close the shore. It’s a beautiful little island, with a surprising range of historical monuments, from Neolithic ritual sites to the more ugly remnants of the German occupation in World War II.
Jordan: Only a day trip, but a positively memorable one. It began with the very friendly and jocular reception by the border guards at the crossing between Eilat (Israel) and Aqaba (Jordan), and continued with an apparent wrong turn that led into a military zone, and again joyful encounters with Jordanian soldiers at both checkpoints and in a garrison. Petra is amazing, if a bit overrun by tourists.
Kosovo: In February 2009 I went to Kosovo to join the celebrations for the 1st anniversary of Kosovo’s independence. I stayed in Mitrovica, a town divided by a river between a Serb north and an Albanian south. My Serbian friends in the north would never go south of the river and the Albanians would never venture north; I myself crossed the river constantly. It was interesting to see such a young country with many former refugees returning (some voluntary, some not), in a very optimistic and upbeat spirit. Also, like elsewhere on the Balkans, this pro-Western Muslim-majority country is a nice contrast to the simplistic Islam-vs-West narrative.
Latvia: I spent a beautiful week travelling through Latvia, staying with Couchsurfers. I hiked through Gauja National Park, hiked up Gaizinkalns, Latvia’s highest mountain, was overwhelmed by the beauty of Riga and walked on the frozen sea at Jurmala.
Lebanon: For Christmas 2005, I was in Beirut, where tanks and soldiers with assault rifles were protecting the churchgoers and where buildings were still riddled with bullet holes from past wars. Most memorable though was the taxi ride to Damascus (Syria) in one of the most severe snowstorms I have ever seen. We were continually bumping into other cars, veering off the road and because all other passengers were strong smokers, we couldn’t close the windows. At the end of the journey, I was covered in a few centimetres of snow. Worst of all, one of the passengers lauded Hitler upon learning that I was from Germany.
Liechtenstein: No, it didn’t have anything to do with money.
Lithuania: I lived in Vilnius for one year from 2012 to 2013. A very beautiful, sweet country and perfect for a lover of nature and history like myself, although the local historiography is sometimes a bit distorting. In summer, it’s a great country for outdoor activities: hiking, canoeing, cycling, running; everybody here seems to love and appreciate nature. Winters are long and tough, but it was a great experience to walk on the frozen sea at Nida on the beautiful Curonian Spit.
Luxembourg: OK, this one did have to do with money.
Macedonia: Full of history, beautiful mountains, Roman ruins, monasteries, very friendly and hospitable people. Macedonia offers the most beautiful train rides. Too bad that somebody decided to turn Skopje into a second Las Vegas.
Malta: I moved to Malta in December 2011 to spend the winter months on this small Mediterranean island. I was lucky to live right by the sea. Very relaxing. Beautiful old cities, beautiful coastline, fantastic sunsets, but unfortunately not more than maybe 100 trees. I like the style of the architecture with its mix of European and Middle Eastern styles. But I sometimes had problems with the island mentality.
Mexico: After Mexico was becoming more dangerous than the Middle East due to its drug war, I had to go there of course. Monterrey impressed me with the surrounding mountains, and Guadalajara with its beautiful old city around the cathedral.
Moldova: I only spent a few days in the capital city of Chisinau in 2015, and I liked the mix of old architecture, Soviet city planning, lots of green spaces, but also the many discussions I had about Moldova’s course towards the EU or to a closer connection with Russia or something in between. It’s sad to see how a country alienates a large part of its population with its language policy, as has already happened so often in Eastern Europe.
Montenegro: The most beautiful mountains in Europe, a wonderful coastline, interesting old cities and wonderful people. Don’t forget to take the train from Bar via Podgorica to the mountains. The train journey is so scenic that you just want to go back and forth through this not too large country by train.
Morocco: That was a really short trip, just one day in Casablanca, but it was worth the experience. What I remember most is the colorfulness in the city, in the streets, in the people. It was so hot, I got sunburn through my clothes. On my other trip to Morocco, which I had been looking forward to a lot, I unfortunately missed the plane. I am not always a travel pro, you see.
Netherlands: Did you know that the island of Texel saw the last fighting of World War II in Europe? There is quite an interesting museum about it on the island. But overall, I am less fascinated by flat countries that by mountainous ones.
Palestine: Several trips to the West Bank, mostly peaceful, except one time when kids in Jericho were throwing stones onto my car (while I was inside). I also tried to get into Gaza, but my entry was prevented by the IDF at Erez crossing (which was probably better for me than being kidnapped by Hamas).
Peru: In August 2016, I moved to Arequipa and then to Mollendo. Unfortunately, both cities are the loudest I have ever experienced, so it’s hard to enjoy it here. Tacna in the south of Peru however is a very friendly and cute city, although completely surrounded by desert. Overall, not a country I would recommend. But what would you expect from a country where people eat cats?
Poland: No idea why it took so long to visit our neighbor to the East, but in 2018, I finally came to Poland, thanks to a university seminar. It was the right decision to focus on only one city, Krakow. Rarely has a city enchanted me so totally. Everywhere I went, even in the suburbs, and yes, also those built by the Communists, it was beautiful, green and full of culture and nice people. If only Polish wasn’t so hard, I would know where I want to move.
Portugal: Sintra may have the world’s best combination of castles, palaces and nature. Breathtakingly beautiful. Lisbon is an enchanting capital city. And then the islands! I’ve only been to Madeira for a day, but during the Corona pandemic in 2020, I was stranded on the Azores for three months. Nothing better could have happened to me!
Romania: I moved to the city of Târgu Mureș in Transylvania in October 2014 and discovered not only one of the friendliest towns in the world, but also an extremely beautiful and interesting country. If you like mountains, forests and castles, Romania is a paradise. I even encountered a bear in the forest.
Sark: This Channel Island is even more confusing, because it is semi-independent from Guernsey and the last place ruled by feudal Norman law, but more importantly, it is one of the most peaceful places in Europe: no cars, almost no people, and bays that make you think you have discovered paradise.
Singapore: On a stopover to Australia. It was the first time for me to feel tropical heat and humidity. I remember the temples that smelled like weed and the food market in the basement of a shopping mall where people brought live animals and killed them upon purchase.
Sint Maarten: Just like in Europe, on this Caribbean island you can visit the French part Saint Martin and the Dutch part Sint Maarten in one day. Only the latter one is an independent state, so the EU external border runs through here. I was lucky to meet a friend, so I didn’t only see beaches and palm trees, but learned quite a bit about the economy, the social structure and racism on the island.
Slovakia: That was a really brief visit, but nonetheless, I include it proudly because I walked from Vienna to Bratislava.
Slovenia: If you only have time to visit one country when in Europe, go to Slovenia (or Montenegro). It has everything from the Alps to beautiful cities to the Adriatic coast. I am really not into Christmas, but Ljubljana at Christmas is an unforgettably beautiful sight. Piran, Portorož and Koper are also worth a visit.
Spain: I once spent a few days in Barcelona and a few days on Gran Canaria, from where my ship to Brazil departed. I liked the island so much that I was almost sad to leave Europe. And then, when I started my house-sitting career, I was invited to Andalusia for a month. There was nothing much happening in Venta Micena, but the landscape was amazing.
Switzerland: I love mountains, direct democracy and multi-lingual countries, so it’s perfect. If only it weren’t so expensive.
Syria: After an adventurous taxi ride for four hours from Beirut, I experienced Damascus. The old city is truly astonishing, with the Umayyad Mosque the most impressive mosque I have ever been in. The rest of the city is nothing spectacular though. A few years before the war that is now destroying Syria, it was weird to see people celebrating Bashar al-Assad as the “softer, gentler, more modern” president after his father’s reign. Nobody suspected him to become an even greater mass murderer.
Thailand: Ok, I was hardly there. On the way back from Australia, the plane made a stop at Bangkok airport but I didn’t even leave the plane.
Transnistria: A country that is unfairly associated with the words “conflict” and “crisis” when it is in fact a relatively normal, friendly country in Eastern Europe. Tiraspol is a somewhat sleepy capital city, but Bender somehow won my heart, maybe because it shares the name with the hero in “Twelve Chairs”. I walked all the way between both cities, in soaring summer heat, along the river Dnestr and blooming sunflower fields. In Tiraspol, I also had one of the nicest birthday surprises.
Turkey: I have only been to Istanbul so far, mainly due to stopovers on the way to the Middle East.
Ukraine: Thanks to housesitting, I get around quite a lot, but unfortunately, there are rarely any offers from Eastern Europe. A wonderful exception were two sweet kittens in Kiev. I took a liking to the Ukrainian capital, which offers lots of culture, many green spaces, and one almost feels like living by the sea. Then I visited a friend in Odessa, and halfway between the two cities, I tried to make sense of Uman.
United Arab Emirates: One stop in Dubai on a flight from Iran. A lot of sand. I don’t share the hype, honestly. And people who go swimming or shopping in Dubai and then claim that they have been to the Middle East, that’s just embarrassing.
United Kingdom: When I closed my law firm in 2009, ready to start a new life, I spontaneously took the train to London. I ended up staying for two years. I even walked across England, from coast to coast, the West Highland Way in Scotland and a few other long-distance paths. It’s a very cute country, but seriously, that Brexit thing was not properly thought through.
United States of America: After graduating from high school in Germany, I rewarded myself with a 2-week trip through California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. Since then I have been to the USA many times, for work, for business, for pleasure. I have been East and West, North and South. Yosemite National Park is the most beautiful place on this planet. I have done internships with Clark County District Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas, the German Consulate in New York and a law firm in Los Angeles and each of them helped me to get to know the country much better than a mere stay as a tourist could have.
Vatican: Didn’t quite feel like it was a real country. (Read my contribution to that debate.)
I don’t buy souvenirs, but I still have dozens of notebooks filled with observations, thoughts and stories. Please let me know which countries or stories you are most interested in, so that I know which ones to write first.