Do you have an adventurous life
There is no danger in courage
"No breakthrough without a departure."
With this book I would like to take you on a journey through my life. I want to tell the stories that made my life so different from what it was originally planned.
It all began in Bielefeld in 1935, between the Botanical Garden and Olderdissen Zoo, in the vicinity of Dr. Oetker's vanilla scent. But man does not live on fragrance alone. It doesn't fill you up. A four-year-old knows that too. In the meantime I had met my grandma's dried apples. All of my endeavors were directed towards them. I had been there many times by my mother's hands. I knew the way. Somewhere in the direction of Schildesche. Today I would say the distance was five kilometers. But that was at least ten for the legs of a little toddler, and even fifteen without mom's hand. I got lost. It was evening. I got tired and crept under a rhododendron bush on Elmenstrasse. My mother in parental panic, I in deep sleep. The police found me in the morning. Mummy happy, but always on guard ever since.
That lasted until the age of seventeen. Only then did I have the big breakout. But before that, owing to the post-war period and hunger, things started off solidly and crisis-proof at the age of 15 as a baker and confectioner in Münster with the aim of self-employment. At 68, the statistics of my life insurance company predicted, I would put the scraper down and make my contribution to reducing overpopulation and for the benefit of life insurance.
Fortunately, hunger wasn't the only thing that dominated my life. Much stronger than the repetitive everyday life between the sourdough vat and the oven was the insatiable curiosity about the world, coupled with a thirst for adventure, the joy of risk and a dash of naivety and fatalism. At 17, the time had come. Without my parents' knowledge, I cycled to Morocco with the promising goal of learning how to conjure snakes. I had assembled the bike myself from parts at the scrap dealer. One aisle, one porter. So, well equipped and with a mark a day in my pocket, I set off. 1952. I traded cakes for torture.
My expectations were more than met. I experienced a bit of the Orient, a completely different culture and the great hospitality of the people. I was infected. Several times I was driven to North Africa. By hitchhiking. With our own camel caravans. I ended up in jail in Jordan through indebtedness. I lost a friend to murder on the Blue Nile. Unforgettable, formative stations in life.
The theme of survival, imported from the USA, changed travel. I put myself in a position to get along alone in nature like any wild animal. Without equipment, pursued, on a simulated escape. With the new knowledge I was able to venture into the Brazilian rainforest. I witnessed the impending genocide of the Yanomami Indians by an army of mafia-controlled gold prospectors. Shotguns against arrows. The losers were certain. I decided to stand by them. At first alone, then with changing partners. Becoming an eyewitness became my greatest motivation. My adventure got meaning, life got fulfillment. At the beginning I could not have suspected that this project would last almost 20 years.
I had to learn to accept patience, to turn defeat into victories, not to piss off swindlers and enemies. At some point I even sold my flourishing pastry shop. I also learned to find advisors and allies. From the policeman who taught me to shoot from the hip, to the hunter who initiated me into the instincts of animals, or the combat swimmers who trained my fear of the Atlantic off. I've been to the Pope and the World Bank. With creativity and my joy in spectacular actions, I systematically alerted a growing public and strengthened the Brazilian pro-Indian lobby. The weapons of my ability were books, films, lectures, and the Brazilian Constitution. I went from being an adventurer to a human rights activist, a front man. Ultimately a fight between David and Goliath. And finally, in 2000, the Yanomami received an acceptable peace. The time was ripe for something new without abandoning the old.
That's when I met Annette. She was the lid on my boiling pot. Like me, she dreamed of the rainforest and medical care for the Indians. Because the Yanomami were now internationally known and were under trustworthy observation, we became active with the Waiãpi Indians, a comparatively small people. It already had its own sanctuary, but no medical care. We changed that. We are still taking care of it today.
But then the total upheaval happened. The outrage of female genital mutilation exploded into our lives. A new type of crime. Both in extent and in cruelty. The experiences I had gained with the Yanomami and on trips to the Orient also benefited us here. When we heard that most of the 8,000 daily victims were Muslims, the strategy was quickly established. We wanted to put an end to the 5000 year old custom with the power and ethics of Islam.
When all acquaintances declared us unworldly, when no organization could join our vision, we spontaneously founded TARGET e. V. It was the best decision of our life. He made us independent of all doubters. From the first moment we experienced success after success. Developments arose that quickly silenced our critics. We achieved something historic that no one had thought possible before.
What about TARGET e. V. is really achieved, which mountains, paper and real, have already been moved and which blessings, frustration and struggle are associated with it - this can be read in the annual letters that we send to our sponsors at the end of November and which are all published on our website are (www.target-nehberg.de).
In this book I tell the events from my perspective as an adventurer, baker, activist and visionary. I want to entertain, shake things up, encourage people to realize their own dreams and visions. And, very importantly, motivate us to make the world a little better together with us and TARGET. For the future of present and future generations with our projects for the preservation of the rainforest and the health of the indigenous people - and with the vehement and tireless commitment against the greatest civil war of all time, which in the affected areas half of the people, namely girls and women , fall victim to: genital mutilation.
Rausdorf, in spring 2020
2. The beginning
“And then I went too far.
Because where else should I have gone? "
Alison Louise Kennedy
I have just secured my bike against theft with a thin black rope on my leg and stretched out dead tired. It's pitch black. Next to me at waist height, my dagger, ready to hand in the sand. Serrated edge. Sharp like a shark's bite. Next to it the flashlight. I had been driving without lights for half an hour. Nobody should see if I left the dusty street somewhere and disappeared into the bushes.
I was 17 years old. My boss had given me six weeks of unpaid leave in addition to the two paid weeks if I stayed with him after the baker's apprenticeship to begin an apprenticeship as a pastry chef. A great deal, I thought, because Morocco, then still a French colony, was my first big world exploration. My boss and my parents had no idea. They thought I was in Paris. Instead of French there, I want to learn the art of conjuring snakes in Marrakech. My friend Jean-Paul will send you a pre-made postcard with colorful stamps every week. At least that's what he promised.
My father would be happy. Every evening I remember his parting words: “Paris! This is very good, my son, because it is a natural way of learning the world language French! You learn them much better on site than at school. "
At last he was of my opinion! I liked living languages.
Even while he was still in high school, his motto had sounded very different. Latin was important to him then. "It is the basis of all Romance languages," he argued. And promptly he mentioned his little latinum again. I've never seen it.
“I'd rather learn Spanish. That is the language most closely related to Latin, and you can do something with it, ”I justified my hesitant contradiction. No, it had to be Latin at all. And so, wasting time and yet in vain, I crammed this dead language.
Incidentally, the Latin nightmare still haunts me today. I'm back in my old high school, which smells pungently of floor wax, and I'm supposed to translate some cube of letters into Latin or vice versa, which even the Google translator can't do. And how the ancient Romans talked back then! I felt sorry for their children. They must have had constant tongue pain and hunger because there were no realistic practical sentences such as “I want to eat a piece of bread”. Or the Romans were as frugal as bacteria. Or they didn't like bread at all. And spaghetti wasn't available back then either. I can only say in my realo Latin: "Tu Roma pauper,› You poor Rome! " I later learned what really interested me in countless courses at adult education centers. Three courses in parallel. I became their best customer.
But now I'm on my way to Marrakech and already in the middle of Morocco. I live on bread and tomatoes. No money is planned for hotels. Hence the thousand-star hotel in the open air between cacti and acacias.
And suddenly the scream! I must have just fell asleep. How electrified I drive up. Tear out the dagger, cut the rope to the bike and grab the flashlight - three reflexes merge into one. I duck behind a higher tuft of grass and shiver that the grasses can't vibrate too quickly. I've never heard such a scream. Instinctively it is clear to me: It can only be a death scream, drawn out, horrifying. He dies with a gurgle. Then men's voices.
I became an ear witness to a murder. It must have happened within a stone's throw behind a bushy dune. I'll be the next victim when they discover me. No murderer tolerates witnesses. No matter how much secrecy I can promise, I can offer my bike as a gift.
At the same moment, flames flare up. Behind the dune it becomes light like a second sunset. I hear a laugh. Someone sings and beats a drum rhythmically. My fear suddenly disappears. That encourages me to crawl carefully up the hill at some point. It is immediately clear to me who was screaming for his life. It was a sheep. The butcher is pulling the fur over his ears. Another man helps him. Another throws wood into the flames. The last stone falls from my heart. A completely peaceful picture. Water is steaming in a kettle. It occurs to me that I didn't eat anything earlier and must have faded away from tiredness. After all, I have 165 kilometers behind me today.
Without further consideration, but still with shaky legs, I stand up, light myself up with the flashlight and shout "Salaam alaykum!"
“Wa alaykum as-salaam,” they reply in surprise, but as if from one mouth. I don't understand the next words, Moroccan Arabic, but your hand gesture means: “Come here! What kind of person are you?"
I won't be told twice. They are only 20 steps away. I put my right hand on my heart, bow deeply and repeat the greeting. Then I say in French “Je suis allemand. Veux all à Marrakech. Avec un vélo. “My father would have been happy: I'm learning French on site!
“By bike?” They are amazed in disbelief.
"Yes, everything by bike. It's behind the hill."
Two of them come with me. You obviously doubt. I should show them. And so I lead them to my simple bike, or to be more precise, my junk box, which has been put together. No screw was too much. But not too little either. A lamp with a dynamo, a luggage rack with stabilized struts and a luggage bag, a handbrake, a back pedal, a rock-hard leather saddle. And my little backpack. Everything simple. Just as easy the gearshift with believe it or not a single gear. I am proud of every piece of my scanty equipment.
When the farmers in the fields saw me, they would call me over and give me tomatoes or lemons. Depending on what was just ripe. When I told the baker that I was a colleague from Germany, the bread was promptly given for free. I was often able to save my one Deutsche Mark travel expenses per day. I felt really rich.
First of all, my journey continues to Marrakech, the real goal of my efforts, the city on the edge of the desert and the epitome of the romantic Orient. On the Djemaa el-Fna, the big market square, I want to learn the art of conjuring snakes. In principle, I know how it works, after all, snakes are my hobby. But I want to experience the atmosphere, breathe it in and maybe imitate it one day. Because one of my dreams is to act as a snake charmer myself and earn money on the side so that I can become self-employed faster. Self-employment is my declared goal in life. My father implanted this in me from the first day of my apprenticeship. “You must never remain an employee for life.” He finally got me right.
Once in Marrakech, I can hardly wait for the late afternoon. Then the square comes alive with traders and jugglers of all kinds. I crouch there, the bike on the support stand next to me, the Moroccan and German flags hang exhausted in the mild, dusty desert wind.
Finally he's coming! He may be 60 years old, with a wrinkled face, torn pants (today they would be fashionable and would cost a lot of money), fluffy shirt, sandals made from car tires. Obviously you can't earn much with the demonstration, it goes through my head.
He shouts something into the crowd, commands space around him with plenty of gestures - because the snakes are so life-threatening - and crouches on a worn carpet. In front of him is a closed basket, in one hand a flute with a bottle gourd the size of a child's head mounted on it. Many curious people stop immediately. Me on the front lines.
He begins to blow a simple melody into his decorative flute. The distance to the basket: one meter. Apparently the musical prelude, the overture, the signature tune. I would like to accompany him on my bicycle bell, but I don't dare. I don't want to upset him, I still need him. His game attracts more and more people. But nobody gets too close to the basket. You know what is about to be offered and keep a proper distance. Curiosity, respect, fear.
The same will be the effect if one day I give the same performance in Germany! Of course only in selected top-class hotels, I tell myself excitedly. After all, I came here from Germany for this great moment. I'm at the goal.
The old man enjoys the encouragement. Finally he lifts the lid off the basket.
He blows a few Phon louder.
Then he hits the basket with the flute. The cobra instantly soars. She hisses, spreads her neck shield and then remains motionless. This reaction is pure showing off.
Parents hold onto their children. “For God's sake, be careful! The snake is deadly, ”signify her gestures. I understand that without hearing her words. It's just typical. My own show will live from exactly the effect.
The snake is unimpressed. It doesn't even flicker. No matter how loud he plays. Snakes are deaf. The music is for the people. Snakes "hear" with their pelvic nerves. They respond to vibrations. Only those who walk quietly through nature will ever see it. Those who rumble loudly through the landscape will not experience such encounters.
The senior and his flute move slowly to the side. The snake follows the movement. The old man is a danger to them. His gourd on the flute is the part of his body closest to her. She must be careful of that. She fixes the pumpkin in front of her eyes. That it doesn't bite is survival economy. She has to be economical with her poison. If it bites, the bite has to be right and take out the opponent. As long as the pumpkin and the man move calmly, she too remains calm and just follows the movements exactly. Man and animal slowly commute from one side to the other, back and forth.That's the whole trick. Should she take a bite, she'll bite the pumpkin.
The snake seems tired and lean to me. It lacks natural tension. My feeling is confirmed when the man gets up and fishes the reptile out of the basket with his bare hand. It hangs helplessly from the hand like a rope. She doesn't even attempt a bite. People are still impressed. When he approaches the audience, they rush back. At some point he lets the animal slide back into the basket and closes it with the lid.
He asks for donations. His ten year old son walks around with a tin cup. Until then, I hadn't noticed the boy. I thought he was a spectator's child. The coins tinkle only sparsely. Mini donations.
The people crumble. I use this to noisily clatter a thick Deutsche Mark into the pot for the boy in front of the father's eyes.
He realizes that I have a different interest than people.
“I'm from Germany,” I reveal. “I also have poisonous snakes there.” All in French. It actually got better and better over the course of my trip.
I deliberately conceal the fact that my two adders are as small as two cooked macaroni compared to his anchor ropes. I can take a seat next to his carpet. The next show won't start for 15 minutes.
"Do you have any more cobras at home?" I want to know.
“Oh yes, two,” he replies.
“May I see you later? I would give you five German marks for it. ”I can risk that easily because the bakers of all nations have given me plenty of bread and my pocketbook is well filled.
The man bites. It's not just the money that attracts him. There is also something exotic about me, this young man with a bicycle from Germany. He wants to show me to the family. Tourists weren't invented at that time. Not even the vocabulary existed.
Finally he finishes his performances. I follow him excitedly. I have to push the bike. The streets are getting narrower and narrower. The houses are at ground level and the poorer the further we get away from Djemaa el-Fna. Finally we enter a back yard. One of the doors leads into his apartment. It's depressingly simple. Two little girls and his wife come out of a back room. First of all, of course, there is a lot of excitement. “Who is that?” You will have asked, and he will have answered you the devil knows what. His son empties the tin cup. The result will hardly stop hungry mouths, I think with a look at it. My five German marks are all the more valuable.
Despite all the modesty in life, I am offered the obligatory tea. In a metal cup very similar to the collector's cup. Were the dusty coins in there yesterday, I wonder silently and with regard to my health. But very quickly the thirst is bigger than my mind. The beguiling are the fresh peppermint leaves. Peppermint - the incense of the little cyclist. It gives the tiny room a completely different atmosphere.
Finally I can't take it anymore. "Where are your other snakes?" I want to know. So far I have looked in vain for a terrarium.
"Ali, get her!", He must have told his son, because he leaves immediately barefoot and comes back with a sack. He puts it at his father's feet. The sack moves and I realize: This is what a Moroccan terrarium looks like.
The old man patiently opens the inextricable knot in the semi-darkness of the room. He should have it patented, I still think. It's as secure as a padlock. He's finally made it and unexpectedly tips the contents right between his and my feet. Without any fuss. As if he were presenting two ropes to me. I jump back. Keep a distance of one meter from cobras.
“Don't be afraid, they won't bite,” he laughs.
"Why not?" Does it have non-toxic cobras to offer in addition to the wonder knot?
The two reptiles are trying to escape in any direction. He grabs her somewhere on the body without any care and pulls her towards him. Like cuddly toys. Or like fabric snakes. And sure enough - they don't even attempt a bite. As before on the square. "Look here," he explains to me. “I sewed their mouths shut. They can't bite at all. "
I am appalled. Did I cycle all the way from Germany to Marrakech for this? Since I had imagined my performance on German stages completely different. I wanted to perform in a three by three meter glass cage with six healthy animals at the same time, and not with such placebo cobras.
"How do you feed her?" I choke out at least. I hardly get my own lips moved. At the same time I wonder whether I should give him the promised five marks at all. The man bags the animals again and cleverly devises another suspected patent knot.
“They don't get anything to eat. If they get too weak, I'll kill them and get new ones. The desert is full of it. They usually last eight weeks. "
I put the money in front of him without a word and say goodbye.
The experience occupies me for the next few days. I decide to tell the audience about it at my own snake summoning. I have chosen the Hansa Varieté Theater am Steindamm in Hamburg as the goal of my world premiere with Six Spectacles. Acrobats perform there, magicians and people with animals who do extraordinary things. Theater slogan: “Never on TV, only in the Hansa Theater!” To prove this, any spectator should choose any of the six animals. I'll take it out of the basket and let it bite into a foil-covered wine glass. One should see the teeth and the poison running down the glass. I would play the music from the tape. I can no more play the flute than snakes can hear. Somehow we complement each other.
Cobras have the advantage for the summoner that they are also very healthy and relatively slow to strike. Very different from a mamba. I would never take the risk with a mamba. Your bite is like a whip. No, like lightning. There is no time to react. And it is instantly fatal. But cobras stand up. "Hello, here I am. Don't come too close to me! ”That's what I call partnership. They only strike when the threat gets too close. I also realize that with six queues you have to be a lot more alert. But that increases the attraction. I feel up to the challenge. I'm already imagining the headlines. “One against six cobras!” - “Rüdiger in the snake pit!” - “The cobra symphony orchestra!” But it turned out a little differently than planned.
At some point I had accepted a job as a confectioner journeyman in Hamburg. Now there was the opportunity to present my cobra performance in the Hansa-Theater in the evening. I asked the management in writing for an interview and promptly got an appointment with the theater director personally. I had baited him with my plan: "... to present a performance with snakes that you have never seen in your theater or on television." World premiere, so to speak. He had probably expected the usual: a large, humane boa that writhes around male-seeking female bodies. Anyway, I got an interview straight away.
There I sat in front of him, a small closed basket under my arm, a magic flute in my hand and a charming smile on the lower part of my face. He looked confused.
"Damn tiny boa!", He complained in greeting and let the connoisseur hang out. Or he tried to imitate the clairvoyants as they sometimes appeared in his vaudeville.
I put the basket in the middle of the room, opened the latch and lifted the lid. Deliberately slow. To increase the tension. Before the cobra appeared, there was a loud and clear hissing sound from inside the basket. A noise like a bicycle tire from which the air audibly escapes. After all, I knew my way around that. Two seconds later the cobra shot straight up. Definitely 60 centimeters. She spread her neck shield, ready to defend in all directions. Her body vibrated excitedly. She licked. She breathed in deeply and visibly, then hissed it out again. What an animal! That's exactly how I had hoped for the presentation.
The director seemed thrilled and did the same. He jumped up from the chair. Full 180 centimeters. I took that as an expression of the highest degree of approval.
"What is that? Is that a cobra? Is it poisonous? "
“Yes, a spectacled snake from Calcutta, a cobra fresh from the rainforest. With fangs and glands, untreated, perfectly healthy. That's what is special. "
By then he was out the door. Then I heard him calling from outside. "Pack them up again very quickly. There is no room in this house for anything dangerous. "
Shocked and disappointed, basket and head under my arm, I left the room and made one last attempt. I was talking about a safe glass cage, even six cobras at the same time, explaining the trick to the audience - by then I had long been complimented by his anteroom lady and was back on the stone embankment. I expected everything. Just not with such an uncompromising rejection.
Fortunately, I still don't suspect that in Morocco. First it goes back to the hot country road towards home. Three and a half thousand kilometers the outward journey, three and a half the return coach. That makes 7000 in 60 days. I have to do my daily quota of over 120 kilometers. Days off are not included in the invoice. Every day off increases my remaining daily quota. Time is running out. I can't let my boss down and I have to be back on time. My buttocks are still sore, my arms are ulcerated. Sunburn of the highest degree. Due to a lack of experience, I made the mistake of rolling up my sleeves because of the heat. It is to despair.
And then comes the dreaded moment that I will give out. Absolutely groggy, high fever. In the evening I leave the road between two villages and fall exhausted behind a bush. I feel like a dying animal hiding. I don't even have the time to tie my bike to my leg - I fell asleep by then. Flop and go.
"Monsieur," I hear a voice again. At first I think it's a dream. Until I feel a touch. So not a dream.
A boy of about eleven is standing in front of me. He is startled when I open my eyes and takes a step backwards. Lots of goats around him. The young shepherd is wearing a worn undershirt. His pants are held in place by a rope. He is carrying a battered military canteen over his shoulder, branded "Much through". He is barefoot despite the thorns everywhere. I try a tired smile. He replies cautiously. I realize I can't stay here any longer. Soon the whole area will know. I'm afraid for my bike. Even the boy could easily have stolen it.
"Are you thirsty?" I indicate his outstretched arm with the bottle. I won't be told twice. The fever dehydrated me. I take a long gulp greedily. As soon as the mouth is wet, skepticism prevails again. Hopefully I won't get oriental diarrhea as well.
The boy has to go on, after the goats. I fall asleep. But only for a short time. This time it's the boy's parents who wake me up. The boy called her. Whether I want to come home with them, I have to rest, whether they should call a doctor. You are really concerned.
“No”, I quickly dismiss, “I have no money.” I am sure that miracle doctors are expensive. What I need is nothing but rest.
“You are sick,” says the father and feels my forehead. “You can sleep with us.” The mother doesn't even ask. She quickly grabs the bike. The father grabs me and helps me on my feet. To this day I don't know how far it was. I was carried more than I walked myself.
In a very modest mud house, I am allowed to use the only mattress. The woman covers me with all kinds of blankets and gives me hot mint tea. I'm supposed to sweat. She gives me two pills. I swallow everything without resistance. Then she cools my forehead with water and a piece of cardboard as a fan. I glow like a car roof in the blazing sun and fall from one sleep to the next.
When I finally wake up, two days have passed. I feel noticeably relaxed and automatically calculate by how many kilometers I have to increase my daily workload. The man crouches next to my bed and cleans my bike. When he sees that I'm finally awake, he gives me goat milk porridge with sugar. The delicacy slips unchecked into the stomach.
The fever is gone. Only now do I really appreciate the modest living conditions. An obsolete wardrobe closet. A table made from a wide, unplaned board, two benches. No running water, no toilet, no electricity. Next to the house is a thorn wall for the goats. The mattress I'm lying on is actually the only one. The family slept on newspapers and covered themselves with perforated blankets. I hardly dare drink the tea or eat the porridge. You saved it from your mouth. I think about how I can return the favor. On the spur of the moment, I parted with my second shirt. One thing is enough for me. That has to go as far as Münster. I put my two-blade pocket knife in addition. I don't need it, my dagger is enough for me. The one with the shark serrated edge. I still carry knives like that to this day. I can also easily part with my only military triangular tarpaulin. I only used them once in France when it was raining. It's August now. It won't rain anymore. So get away with it. Especially since it makes my luggage a kilo lighter. Plus the cookware. A big astonishment and a hushed smile from my hosts thanks me. We exchange addresses.
It was precisely this little experience with such great people that touched me deeply and established my love for North Africa, the people, their culture and the exoticism of the Orient. It was the primordial nucleus of my connection with the desert and nomadic hospitality. And it became the spark for my very special résumé, a thriller full of experiences between my own caravans and months of marches, war and imprisonment, raids and murder. Of course I had no idea that. Compared to all the much more dramatic that I was about to experience, Morocco was almost forgotten.
After exactly 59 days, I am at home in front of my parents' apartment building. I had increased my daily output as best I could. I park the bike and lock it. As ever. There is not much luggage left. I can easily carry it with one hand. For a long time I thought about how I should explain the Marrakech excursion to my parents. Did my friend Jean-Paul really always send you the pre-made postcards?
The question is superfluous because at that moment the postman comes.
"Do you have mail for Nehberg?"
Yes he has. And underneath is one of my cards from Paris. More coincidence is not possible. In it I write that it is unfortunately raining and that I have made a trip on the Seine with the covered ferry boat. I think I prophesied that well.
More coincidence is not possible? Yes, one is still possible. Because that's exactly where my parents come home from shopping on Saturday. You see the dusty wheel, you see my inflamed arms, my tan, the long hair, my ragged body and the German, French, Spanish and Moroccan flags on the front wheel. Two left, two right.
My father can identify them all precisely. "Have you been to Morocco?"
I think the question was meant to be a casual remark, a little joke. When I frankly say yes, there is speechlessness. I feel like a traitor. But I'm sure my parents would never have allowed me to travel. But now I'm back. I'm healthy and hungry for death and have tons of stories to be told. At the end my mother has tears of joy and pride in her eyes. Your previous concerns have turned into respect and admiration. From now on I enjoy fool freedom.
3. A rat tail of successes
"Good animals, says the wise man,
you have to breed, you have to buy.
Just the rats and the mice
come all by themselves. "
So I'm back home and fattening myself up with mom's apple pie. With a smack, I also look back on the hardship with which I had picked up every single mark for the bike tour in order to be able to allow myself this dream trip. Not a single penny of the wages was included. As well as? I only received two marks per 80-hour week. That was normal, second year of apprenticeship.In the first year of the apprenticeship it was only a single mark.
Half of the salary went to my building society account. I had promised my father that. We had signed the home loan and savings contract together. I was then 15 and underage. At that time, you were not of legal age until you were 21.
“The Sparkasse has to see that you can save regularly. That creates trust. The amount of money is initially unimportant. "
Rather, I earned my travel money selling rat tails.
Yes, you read that right. After the war, the city of Münster paid one German mark for each rat's tail to avoid the disease. And there were army-strength rats in the rubble of the city. I discovered this source of income long before my trip to Morocco.
I had four traps. My boss Theo Pohlmeyer had given it to me to eliminate any rodent intruders in the bakery. He was a hunter and had given me the tricks to be a good trapper.
“It is important to always work with gloves. And never set up a trap twice in the same place, where you have already caught an animal. "
Yes, rats are smart. I learned that very quickly. I only caught one in the bakery. The traps were boring. I heard her moan with her coil springs and I saw her dust. So I expanded my hunting ground, because after all, the rubble city was teeming with rodents of all kinds: rats, mice, rabbits.
At 16 I was already the proud owner of an air rifle and was able to shoot one or two rats on a bright Sunday morning in the summer. The leftover crate in the bakery provided food to attract them. On Sundays because I didn't have to start until eight instead of four, and in summer it's light up very early. Rifle light. Instead of sitting in front of the oven, I sat in my hiding place in front of the bombed-out neighboring property.
But that and also the rat trap catching route did not satisfy me. Once I only had a mouse trapped. Anyway, I thought, "Tail is tail." I told the paymaster at the health department something about a young rat. Unfortunately, he could tell one thing from the other. Like I did poppy seed rolls from sesame rolls. Rather, it was his arrogant smile that offended me. And made creative. The longing for the big wide world, nourished by the planned trip to Morocco, fueled my creativity. I couldn't wait to put the idea into practice.
And that was soon done: I started an extensive rat breed! She should secure my travel expenses for me. With the help of a self-built live trap, I very quickly had four rats and one rat, a hard-working quintet, the basis of my breeding. I had installed a large wire cage in the neighboring rubble site, three by three meters in size, but only one and a half meters high. The building materials required were not available in the hardware store. It wasn't invented yet. Building materials were in abundance in the bombed houses. I shared my great secret with only one colleague. Not even my parents knew about it. A baker breeding brown rats would not have been compatible with their hygiene requirements. I also feared that, as agreed, I would have had to pay half of the extra income into the home loan and savings contract. Or that animal lovers set the rats free. So: topsecret!
My decision was increased when I read in the Brockhaus lexicon how much these lively one-mark coins on four legs are able to multiply. In theory, a female can have up to a dozen cubs, they said - in other words: twelve German marks! And the young are ready for reproduction after only three weeks. Just be careful to separate males and females. Otherwise there would be inbreeding, I had read. That wasn't a problem for me. When the males were three weeks old, their tail was significantly larger than the miserable mouse tail that I remembered painfully, I was back on the mat at the health department's paymaster and made him poor. For the unsaleable females, three money-producing males were enough for me.
“You are a hardworking young man,” the purser praised me. If you only knew, I thought, and thanked me with a well-indicated servant. That was so common back then.
During the trip to Morocco, the said colleague I trusted wanted to look after the animals. Because I didn't want to give up my breeding, even if the travel money had long been collected. Almost every day I thought of him on the way and asked myself whether he was conscientiously fulfilling his obligations and how high my account balance would be by now. The old Brockhaus rumbled again and again in my brain: A female rat can theoretically produce 1,000 offspring a year! Mathematically, I came up with huge sums of money for the time of my apprenticeship and saw my independence as a baker and confectioner within reach.
But as everywhere in the world, there was a wide gap between desire and reality. In a sense, they are mortal enemies. One sunny morning - I was just back - an excavator appeared and unceremoniously removed the rubble on the property I trusted. Where the source of money was gushing until yesterday, in the evening the measuring line for the foundation of the new building was stretched.
“It was teeming with rats here,” I heard the excavator operator say to the client. I wanted to strangle him most. Because here it was not only teeming with rats, but also ringing with coins to my ears!
So much and so little about my first experiences with extra income, creativity, the financing of my “world trip” and the skillful powers with which there is no eternal fence to be woven.
4. In Jordanian prisons
"In jail some people think
Thank god there’s hackers,
that bloom in secret. "
We have been on the water for ten minutes when the sirens start to howl. As cutting loud as if they were installed on our bow. Searchlights scurry hastily, panicked across the dark sea. Not just from the Jordanian side. At the moment also from Israel and Saudi Arabia. All hell is going on. It is clear to us: We have been discovered, there is no doubt about that. We underestimated the vigilance of the soldiers. We had waited until 2:30 a.m. when they were in deep sleep. Puff cake.
We are in a small rowing boat in the quadrangle on the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea. We want to go over to Bir Taba, a small fishing port on Sinai, Egypt, an estimated 15 kilometers away. We don't know for sure. Our cards are puny. But during the day you can guess the place over there. Actually a stone's throw.
The first engine is started. Then another and another. Gerd suspects it: “They definitely don't want to go night fishing. That applies to us. "
They rush over the water from the direction of Aqaba at top speed. We immediately stop rowing. Just don't make the wrong move! Those who are supposed to catch us are under high tension. A single millimeter of her nervous fingers on the trigger of the machine gun is enough to sift us through. We hear their loud calls. What they are calling is incomprehensible. But one thing is clear, that means “hands up! No movement!". We have long done that without being asked.
They are already on. There are two boats that brake fully and whose bow waves make us sway. The machine gunmen get tangled in the cartridge belts. We keep shouting: “Almaani! German! ”It would be fatal if they thought we were Israelis, their mortal enemies. Israel is within reach, maybe 500 meters away. In theory, that too could have been our goal. We have to change to their boats. Then they rush back with us to the military camp on the outskirts of Aqaba.
First interrogation. We are three Germans: Gerd, Hans and me. We took the master confectioner examination in Hamburg and wanted to treat ourselves to something special: a hitchhike around the Mediterranean. We experience the longed-for special at this very moment.
Here in this darned port on the corner of four countries between Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Egypt, we had stayed for two weeks. It just couldn't go any further. No ship wanted to take us as far as the Suez Canal because only cargo ships docked here that were forbidden to transport people. Then we asked the fishermen in Aqaba. They refused. You should not approach the center of the golf course. We went to the police about an exemption for the fishermen. Nothing. Jordan and Egypt did not get on well with one another in 1959.
That gave me the fateful idea of rowing to Sinai in one of the small wooden boats on my own. At night when everyone was sleeping. Two days earlier we had improvised oars from old boards. Hans wanted to bring the boat back. He wouldn't get an entry permit over there. His passport had been stolen from him on the beach a few days ago. He had to go back to the German embassy in Amman and get a replacement document.
“You wanted to go to Israel! You are spies! You are Jews! ”Yells the man who interrogates us.
Now we are in trouble. Espionage has a different status worldwide than unauthorized use of boats. Especially in a kingdom that feels threatened in its existence by the neighboring state.
“No, we wanted to go to Egypt, to Bir Taba,” we affirm again.
You don’t believe it. They repeat their accusations. We repeat our answers. The two sentences fly back and forth like ping-pong balls, only differing in their volume.
When the sun rises, we are handed over to the police chief. Fortunately, he is honest and confirms that days before we asked for permission to cross into Egypt.
The situation relaxes noticeably. So no enemies after all! The luggage is searched. There is nothing that smells like espionage. Except for my ancient .38 revolver. He was supposed to increase our security during the following weeks, when we went through endless lonely areas in Libya, where one could quickly become fair game. I had bought the working antique on the black market in Jerusalem (then still Jordan), along with six cartridges. I would have loved to have had a few more.
“You don't need more,” the dealer knew. “If you don't hit your target with six shots, further cartridges won't do you any good either. Then you are a bad shot. Or you're dead. "
A convincing argument. It somehow corresponded to my thinking. I've always wanted a revolver rather than a pistol. If I ever had to shoot, I am convinced that it would only be in extreme self-defense. Then you no longer have the time to unlock and load, but have to pull and pull the trigger. A vital second. Apart from that, the revolver is less susceptible to dirt and repairs than the pistol. Years later, on the Blue Nile, this was to prove itself. Otherwise this book wouldn't exist.
Interestingly, the revolver found plays no role whatsoever for the soldiers. He's confiscated, and that's that. We're going to jail.
In 1959 Aqaba is a tranquil village. A small quay wall where two ships can moor. A sandy beach with date palms, corals up to the surface of the sea, a military camp, trenches and - the romantic prison, our new home. Board and lodging included. A four meter high square wall made of hewn sandstone surrounds the prison yard. In two opposite corners of the square there are hexagonal two-story towers with narrow loopholes instead of windows. The whole area measures around 30 meters square.
Our hosts, the guards, live in the tower next to the prison gate. They are slim, tall Bedouins, elite soldiers of the king. They stand out because of their decorative long, brown robes and the traditional red and white checked headscarf, the kufija. It is held in place by a black double rope ring, the agal. Two cartridge belts cross in front of the chest. Another spans the waist. On the shoulder is a heavy repeating rifle from the last world war. You greet us in a friendly manner, probably also curious. The boss introduces himself. It's quick, because his name is simply Ali. Not a syllable too many.
Externally, the property looks well-kept. If it were my property, I would plant three trees in the yard. But nobody asks me. We'll be quartered in the other tower. The only difference to the Bedouin tower: Black traces of dirt run down from the loopholes here and spoil the friendly sandstone look.
“You have to use water for that,” says Gerd, solving the problem in passing. We don't yet know that you can get rid of your liquid urine through the slits in the wall at night.
We have to climb up to the first floor to get to these striking viewing slits. Not by spiral staircase, but by ladder.
“Well,” criticizes Hans, “but it's not built to last!” Hans is Austrian. With him everything has to be solid and durable. Like the Alps.
"It doesn't matter," I reassure him. "I don't want to stay that long anyway."
Neither do the other two. One of the recurring moments when the question arises as to how the adventure will continue. How long will we be given hospitality here? Or asylum? We are approaching an uncertain future.
The would-be leader probably came from a rehearsal exercise at the local kindergarten, if there ever was such a thing. It is crooked, wobbly and noisy. Bedouin Ibrahim shows us the mattresses. They are made of bare concrete. But we have headscarves. So at least the head is reasonably soft. But above all, it's hot up here. Not a breath of wind squeezes through the loopholes. The wind is happy to be outside in freedom and to be able to throw sand in all directions. We envy him. Through the notches we see the fateful Gulf of Aqaba, on the horizon Bir Taba as a white point and, within reach, our borrowed boat. Its owner has just moored it to the floating buoy in the water. The sea ripples. Either because it laughs at us or because the boat owner exhaled with relief.
Abdoulkader is right next to Gerd. It has the best place because the wind, if at all, then breathes out of its gap. He has placed his kufija above her. She catches the rustle of the wind and lets it caress his belly. The other inmates have to be content with sweating. So do we. Only sometimes do we feel a breeze as a gesture of hospitality and a sign that there is still another world. The ones out there, those of freedom. Our declared goal.
Abdoulkader did not acquire the privilege of being a guest here as easily as we did. It took some effort. And his sister's life. And her boyfriend too. Abdoulkader caught the two careless people in flagrante cuddling in a room and felt not only irrepressible disgust for the sister, but also committed to the family honor. He included the cuddlers. Then, with a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and even more peace of mind, he went to the suuq, the market, and bought a knife. With that he killed her. If he had done it immediately, in the affect immediately after the discovery, he would have been exempt from punishment. But now he has to take a year off. In jail at Aqaba he is the uncrowned king because of the deed. He even gives autographs. Everyone admires him. His family too, at least those of them who are still alive. For them, the crime knife is a relic that has been given a place in the middle of the dining room. Every few days the family sends him a large box of the most delicious groceries. We also participate in this. We each get an orange.
“In the future I will always wear a knife on my body,” he confides in us. He probably has more sisters. When we tell him that each of us always carries a dagger during the trip, he is very enthusiastic. “Do you have sisters too?” What else would you have to carry a knife for?
The other fellow sufferers cannot boast of such heroic deeds. They are simple thieves. One stole money, two others a donkey each.
“How long do you have to stay?” We are interested.
“One year”, everyone shouted in unison.
"Me two. Mess ”, one of the donkey stealers cursed. We don't understand. After all, a donkey is a donkey.
The others in the group of thieves laugh at each other. "His donkey was pregnant."
So he stole two donkeys. Yes then!
"The family lived from selling the foals."
Aha, Arab justice. We should get to know them better.
“It's good our boat wasn't pregnant,” jokes Hans. "Then we might get away with a year." Because we are learning the relevant paragraph today: There is usually a year for theft. And that's that.
If the Bedouin guards are within earshot, the actions of the men sound very different. All of them have been subjected to the worst slander. They are all innocently imprisoned. "Woe to the slanderers when we get out!"
“If you are interrogated, don't admit anything!” They recommend us unanimously.They shower us with good advice. Everyone thinks they are the best lawyer.
"Nonsense, we were caught red-handed," Gerd practices in reality. "Every judge will feel ripped and increase the sentence."
In order not to have to constantly think about the injustices of this world, the men crouch all day long in the wandering shadow of the courtyard walls and doze off.
The crampedness, the different people, the simple and scarce food remind me of my first imprisonment. I was the only professional among the three of us.
My first imprisonment was in Denmark after the war. The escape shortly before the Russian invasion had taken us to the neighboring country. First as free people. That changed overnight at the moment of the surrender on May 8, 1945. Danish military trucks drove up and rolled out rolls of barbed wire around our school. We were trapped. It was tight, typhus broke out. My youngest brother Reimar died. Soon we were moved to a large camp, where we were housed in horse stables with 35,000 other Germans. We were in "U 12", unforgotten to this day. Compared to the post-war chaos that prevailed in Germany, we were doing very well. The food was okay, the guards cautious to friendly. What wasn't there was tobacco. The men were desperate. My father too. Both parents were heavy smokers.
“Beyond the fence, woodruff grows in the forest. The other men dug a narrow trench under the fence with their hands. The fence area is not mined. Can't you crawl out with them next night and pick me woodruff? If children are caught, they have nothing to fear. ”So I was made the family's tobacco procurer.
The plants smuggled in were quickly dried in the oven and the first half-dry leaves were smoked immediately - with eyes closed and greed never seen before. Until after a few weeks all men complained of severe headaches. The spook was over quickly. When I was able to beg a cigarette from one of the guards every now and then, I was promoted to favorite son. I have seldom seen happier parents. Perhaps those were key experiences, which is why I have never smoked myself. I instinctively never wanted to get addicted.
After two years we were finally released because my grandmother, who had been bombed out in Bielefeld, could take us in. Until my father was able to work as a banker again in Münster. There, in Munster, I started training as a baker.
So I had experience with imprisonment, smuggling, bribery and escape. That was everyday life in our camp. Maybe that could be used here in Jordan too. I tell my two friends about the experience.
“Stop it!” Complains Gerd, “I would be insane. I need to do something. ”But we have only been sitting for one day. What will it look like in a year? Do we have a camp fever then? During the imprisonment in Denmark, camp fever was the order of the day. Will our friendship break? But he speaks to Hans and me from the heart. We need to do something. Unimaginable if this lethargy lasts for a year.
There is work enough. She laughs at us from all sides. Gerd takes over the well rope independently. It only hangs on two fibers and has to be braided or knotted again. Otherwise it'll tear, like just now. Then someone has to go down into the dark depths on wobbly iron rungs. Nobody likes to do that. It's cool and dark down there. The iron rungs are not the youngest either. Gerd doesn't mind. It should be his main activity. When his knots are done, the others fetch bucket after bucket of water for him and he scrubs the courtyard. I help him.
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