The Idea

In eastern Germany a lot of people think I must be unemployed. They just assume that if I have the time to walk from Berlin to Basel then I must be out of work.

In Falkenberg I take a break in front of a small supermarket. The first one I have seen in three days. The shop assistant, wearing a pink apron and glasses with a golden frame, gives me a bread roll with liver sausage and an apple. It is her own shop. “At the age of fifty you are one of the younger people around here”, she says. “There are no doctors any longer. If you fall over in the street no one is going to help you. You may as well just stay on the ground.” As I leave the shop I glance at the headlines in the Bild newspaper. “Take it with you”, she says, “but bring it back when you have read it!” Closing-down sale. She won’t be able to keep her shop open much longer, I think. She’ll be closing down soon. I get the feeling that anyone here can take something out if he promises to bring it back later. Household goods, toys, magazines.

Bild does its readers a real service today. It provides a translation of a greeting between two heads of state at the G8 summit. “How are you?” George Bush asks. Gerhard Schröder replies, “Thank you, I‘m fine!” Bild translates into German.

People living in the countryside are wary about picking up and touching my flipbooks. Their hands are used to a different kind of work. They prefer to ask me to show them the flipbooks.

I meet a man walking his dog. He is very embarrassed that he has no money with him. He would really like to pay me something for the flipbook show. He shrugs his shoulders sheepishly and tugs at his trouser pockets. They are empty. I have eaten, I am happy, and I have already made a few euro today. I tell him that. And I am happy that he likes my flipbooks. Somehow I am surprised too, I hadn’t expected him to like them so much. We say goodbye and I walk on. I have gone about four kilometres when I see a man on a bicycle coming towards me. First of all I think it is someone else and want to let the man pass, then I recognize the man with the dog by a tattoo on his arm. He is sweating heavily. “I was worried I wouldn’t find you”, he says, wiping the sweat from his face. He gets off his bike and takes a muesli bar out of a little bucket that he strapped to his bike rack. Then he puts a ten euro note into my collecting jar.


The heat is amazing. Wherever possible, people are starting their working days three hours early, so as to finish before it gets too hot. In the Rhine there are eels floating belly up. The sweat pours into my eyes. The countryside of the Allgäu is reflected in my sweat.

I feel weak already, so I take a long break under the canopy of a tree. My clothes are dripping with sweat, so I spread them out on the grass. People driving past stare at me, in my underpants. When I get dressed again my clothes are so hot that they feel like they just came out of a tumble drier. The grass pricks my bare feet. I don’t think I’ll be walking far today.

I see orchards, the trees in tidy rows under large green nets. Fruit from Lake Constance. I want to eat my first apple straight off a tree. It is too hard and sour, so I spit it out again. The furry taste stays in my mouth a long time. I am walking downhill and see a harvested field of straw, a small piece of green meadow and a stream shining through some trees. I leave the road and come to a vegetable garden. I pitch my tent for the night beneath a tree. My legs are tired. I am exhausted like I was in the early days of my journey.

A moped rattles towards me along a path by a field. It seems to be much too loud for the speed it is doing. A small boy is sitting on the petrol tank, clinging to his driving father. While the man waters the vegetables with water from the stream, the boy plays with a sailing boat on the field. It is quite a rough game. He knocks the long grass over as if it were a reed bed. The sail of his boat breaks off but he doesn’t seem to bother. I ask him if his ship floats on grass. He looks at me silently, with big eyes. Perhaps he has now only just noticed that I am there. Then he carries on with his game. Without looking up again, he just says “no”. My question comes back to me. When he rides away again with his father, he turns back suddenly and looks at me. He waves goodbye to me. His little hand goes directly to my heart.