My dad used to be a bicycle enthusiast until an accident kind of threw him out of cycling for a long time. He once told me that one of his role-models is Thomas Meixner: a middle aged man from Saxony-Anhalt in Germany, who travelled almost the whole world on his numerous bike-journeys.
Ever since I’ve heard about “the guy who went to Sydney by bicycle” I was fascinated. Since 1998 he covered more than 250.000 km* with his two-wheeler cycling from Germany for example to Cape Town in South Africa, to Vladivostok in Russia, along the historical Silk-Road to China or from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in Chile/Argentina on the Panamericana. I had the pleasure to talk with him about his experiences, his special lifestyle and his journeys.
The “world cyclist” Thomas Meixner was born on September 19th 1965 in Wolfen/District of Halle in the G.D.R. (nowadays Bitterfeld-Wolfen in Saxony-Anhalt/Germany). Already as a small child he and his parents spent most of their holiday-time camping in the nature and as he says, his connection to nature was defined even before he was born: “I had my first camping-trip to Mecklemburg in northern Germany when my mother was in the 7th month pregnant with me. Thus I’ve always loved to be in the nature and got used to a somewhat simple life.”
As citizens of the G.D.R., the people’s travel corridor was by definition very tight. But nevertheless as Meixner became older, he started his own journeys by hitchhiking during the late 1980s. Destination: Bulgaria. After several years of hitchhiking, the bicycle started to become the most favored vehicle for him. The very first longer bike-journey in 1989 thus lead him around 2.300 km from his hometown in East-Germany to the Black Sea in Bulgaria.
“You can never have absolute freedom – it is just an illusion; but travelling by bike, you’ll have maximum freedom!”
In 1990 things changed radically: the reunification of Germany was completed, in ‘91 Meixner (like many other East-Germans) became unemployed but also gained new freedom to travel. “I still remember the time, when we could hardly go anywhere, and now the German Passport is worth gold. Most Germans aren’t even aware of this! Even US-Americans or for example French people have more trouble to get a visa for many countries in the world. As Germans we are kind of blessed with that and we should appreciate and use it!”
Travelling educates and lets you see the world from different perspectives. That’s why, in Meixner’s opinion, people should go out and see the world and its people. Not necessarily by bike, because for him it is just the most practical way of travelling.
“Most people in Germany are somewhat rich compared to millions of other people on this earth that have less than we have. But many miss the fact that material richness is not everything – for example when I was travelling on the Balkans, I also was in Macedonia in 2006 and I can tell you that the people there are much richer than most people in Central-Europe if it comes to the small, human things, even though you cannot measure it by the GDP or something like that… They may not notice because they are so used to it, but as a German, I can tell you, that their families and social communities work much better down there. The people still get together, talk with each other and help each other! It is simply a pleasure!”
About money he says “I’m rich compared to what most people in the world have. But the thing is that I don’t need much. When I’m at home I earn some money by selling books and DVDs and making slide-show-presentations in different places about my journeys. But I managed to set my regular expenses to zero, so it’s enough for a good life. I don’t understand the people that work all their lives to have a fancy car or stuff like that.”
Travelling most of the time and living a very simple life lets you see what’s really important: “When I see all the people who worry about having sufficent pension when they’re old or ‘problems’ like that I always say: Don’t you waste your thoughts about what will be in 20 years! Whatever plans you have, always consider that things can change overnight! It’s better to live here and now, ‘cause maybe you’ll be dead by the next week!”
There has been a lot of times during the trips that Meixner spent travelling alone. This experience made him reflect and get to know himself better. It might not be everyone’s thing to live like that but for him it is a privilege to have this opportunities. “And in the end you are actually never really alone because you meet so many kind and welcoming people along the road…
The main highlight is always the people and cultures that you meet!” Regardless of troubles getting a visa for certain countries, some accidents, being robbed in South America or imprisoned due to some misunderstanding in the USA, it still is a great and adventurous life. “Most of the people who come to my slide-show presentations would never go on such a trip! And indeed you cannot just go like that. It takes a lot of preparations. If you live in one place you always know what to do, but when you’re always moving you have to manage your safety, orientation and food and all these things every day anew.”
Asked what advice he can give to the youngsters, he replies that we are living in troubled times: the climate change will produce many problems and it might become the biggest conflict since World War II. The capitalist system like it is now, the social inequality on the world and the materialistic views of a lot of people must come to an end at some point: “The young people nowadays should appreciate the small things in life, put their smart phones away once in a while and rather communicate verbally – well I mean for real…over sound waves! (laughs) The old people’s time is almost over and the future belongs to the young generation – therefore the youth must be prepared for a lot of drastic changes!”
Photos: Thomas Meixner