CHRISTOPH REHAGE

14/04/2015

      “My name is Christoph Rehage, and I like to take walks sometimes.”

 

I was born a fat kid to a Hungarian mom and a German dad in Hannover on November 9th in 1981.

During my childhood, I spent my time mostly consuming adventure stories and setting things on fire. Later on, I ended up in Wichita, Kansas, for a year, then in Paris as a laborer, and eventually in Beijing, this time as a student of Chinese studies.

At some point in between, I spontaneously decided to walk home from Paris. Walking was both terrible and awesome at the same time, and I realized that this was something that I liked very much. More than reading. More than swimming. More than taking pictures, and probably even more than watching TV.

It was better than fire.

On the morning of my 26th birthday, on November 9th 2007, I started walking home from Beijing to Germany. I walked and I walked, growing a beard that got later called mighty by some and patchy by others, and then, after a year on the road, close to the border of Kazakhstan, I stopped walking.
I returned home to our village, made a video about the walk called “The Longest Way”, and posted it online. Little did I know that it would turn out to become a minor internet sensation.

And then it happened: I found something that I liked and feared more than walking – writing. I struggled with the pen and the paper for many a sleepless night, and eventually I came out of battle with two books: a travelogue (“The Longest Way”/Malik: German) and a coffee table book (“China zu Fuß”/National Geographic: German) about the walk.

The books did well enough for me to keep doing this. I am now working as a columnist for a Chinese newspaper, and my next book (“Chinese Characteristics”/Contemporary China Publishing House: Chinese, a collection of the articles that I am writing there, has just hit the market in China last summer.

  • Walking, okay, I get the idea. But I’m still a bit confused: from where to where did you actually walk? I started walking in Beijing on November 9th 2007, and I stopped in Ürümqi in northwestern China almost one year later, on October 25th 2008. Two years after that, in the summer 0f 2010, I walked a few hundred miles more, from Ürümqi to Usu. And in 2012, I went from Usu to Khorgas, the border checkpoint between China and Kazakhstan.
  • How did you get the idea for the walk? I had walked from Paris to my home in Germany before – a walk of about 800km that took less than a month. There were no metaphysical questions, no big worries, just pragmatic problems to solve: where to sleep, what to eat. It felt good, and it felt meaningful.
  • Can you describe the process you undergo to prepare for a walking trip? I prepared for a year. Basically, it’s all about getting as smart as possible. I talked to German embassies all over the world, stumbled through map archives in several libraries, and read books, books and more books. Then I got equipped. Then I got vaccinated. Then I walked.
  • What state of mind were you in when you were walking? It was just the way it would be on any normal day. Sometimes you think about stuff. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you worry about passports, dangers, pains, relatives and loved ones, and at other times your steps are light and you sing songs in the desert. Sometimes it’s boring. And sometimes you feel at peace.
  • How many hours did you walk each day? I would usually feel comfortable walking 20 to 30 km in one day. That means I would have to be constantly moving for about 4 to 6 hours. Put in some breaks for picture taking, eating, resting, peeing, talking to people, wondering about the way, and I am on the road all day – but I didn’t walk every day.
  • Why did you stop walking? I wanted to gain back my life. I had to regain control over myself, eliminate the inner boss that was telling me to keep walking. A lot of people look at the video thinking “I want to be free like that guy!” – but they don’t realize that I was driven by something, and maybe I was losing control over it.
  • What is this something you are talking about?  I think this something was partly my ambition and partly my principle. It seemed more and more like I was living to fulfill my ambition, and I was directed by principles that I had no way of changing. I didnt feel very free.
  • What does it mean you were losing ( or better you had to regain) control of your life because of this experience?
    I had to emancipate myself from my ambition and from all principles. To become a free man again.
  • Who is Teacher Xie? Why did you dedicate the video to him? 谢建光 (Xie Jianguang) is a brave man who has been walking all over China since 1982. I ran into him somewhere in the desert, and we have been friends ever since. He has taught me some valuable lessons.
  • What lessons did you need to learn when you met him? I didnt know it back then, but Teacher Xie taught me about walking as a physical excercise, which was important for me. However, more importantly he taught me to think about your priorities in life. What is the most important thing? What is number 2? Number 3? You must always know what you want. Otherwise you will be confused.
  • Why is the video also dedicated to love? I think it is important to know what we value most in life.
  • How is the video dedicated to love? How? Well, I think any journey is just a way of spending time. You dont have to go far to live an adventure. But it is important to remember what you value in life. Love could be one of these things.
  • What did you use to think of China before the journey, and what do you think now? Did something change? Well, I had been living in Beijing for two years when I started my walk. So the walk really didn’t change much of my perspective on China. Except for the fact that I got to meet so many fantastic people out in the countryside, out on dusty roads, and in the mountains of China. They are the best!
  • Do you have any tips for people who are on their own search for peace? I am not very good at this. There are brief moments when I am feeling at ease, but they usually don’t last very long, and then the wolf starts howling again. However, I think age and experience probably helps with this. You have to know your priorities.
  • So, in which way Chris today is different from Chris right after the longest way? I am hopefully better at controlling myself. I am hopefully more able to take on some responsibility. But some things never change. You stay the same idiot. Just slightly altered. 
  • What major advice do you have for someone who wants to do pursue his or her own dream?  Sounds tacky, but here it is: Take the first step!
  • Would you, please, introduce your two blogs: bookslap.com and SlowerPulse.com ? On the book blog, I read travel books and introduce them for you. I do this because I enjoy reading travel books, and I think it is not easy to find the books that are really worth reading. So I try to help a bit. On the pulse blog, I talk about vodka brands that I have tried. It is nothing special, just a hobby of mine, because I picked up drinking only when I was 27. So it is all new and exciting!

Here’s a Chinese news item about Christoph’s satirical video show 德国自干五有话语权, he makes fun of modern-day newspeak and blackwhite in the Orwellian sense. As he said, there are English subtitles on this news item, but they look like someone used Google Translate, so watch it just for fun!

 

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