5 months later
“Don’t look at your mobile phone” says a colourful sticker on the side rail of the escalator taking me to the departure floor of the Hong Kong International Airport. My plane back to Auckland is leaving in 13 hours so I have a Lot of time to kill. Work, write and recap the last 5 months. Finally.
It has been eventful, to say the least, and I feel like I have been too in transparent about what has been happening offline. I will change that from now on.
The panorama I am looking at is spectacular. Planes of all airlines take off and land rhythmically.
The almost typical background is put together of newly built, scary similar-looking apartment blocks the size of skyscrapers slowly conquering mountain ranges falling steep into what appears to be the ocean.
I can see the shape and the rough structure but the details of these giant stay foggy, barely visible to the eye, covered in a thick white layer.
I cannot tell whether it is fog caused by the deep hanging clouds or smog caused by the many factories and chimneys reaching into the “sky” across the harbour, continuously spying new, white gases into the air.
13 hours in an airport give you a lot of time to look around. Since this is the start I feel it might be time for a little recap of how I ended up doing what I am doing. I hope you brought some time.
In December 2013, shortly after my high school graduation I had a sudden urge to leave the place I grew up in. Looking back I went though a depression and I had the feeling my life was leading nowhere. After two years it got to the point where I realised I had to make an essential decision to save myself. And I can recommend this to everyone who can relate. One lonely night at 5 a.m. I decided I would fly to New Zealand. Being so lucky to have some money at hand I booked a flight to spend a one year working visa there. The reasons I chose Aotearoa at that point were various and are not too important. I looked for jobs and traveled around for the first few months, then a friend picked me up in Wellington and we traveled south.
We walked the Abel Tasman walk and I ended up living in communities for the next months, hitch hiking around and slowly awakening spiritually. The good times began.
After some photography and website work in Christchurch I extended my stay there and volunteered at the World Press Photo Exhibition. During this time, looking at and talking about some of the worlds best work in photojournalism on a daily basis an idea started to emerge. One of an alternative for the work I saw, which I eventually also wanted to produce. One that went further, one that extended the tools of storytelling to everything that is so easily available nowadays in the age of the Internet.
Simultaneously I stumbled across “Snow Fall” and “A game of shark and Minnow”, two pulitzer-price winning articles published online by the New York Times Magazine. Groundbreaking multimedia stories combining photos, videos, maps and interactive graphics, creating an immersive experience for the user. One thought they were a wake up call for a tumbling journalism-industry that faces the big challenge of finding new financing-models in the modern age. If people don’t want to pay for content like they used to anymore, how can work in journalism still be paid? How can you force people to pay for content? These questions are driving the industry at the moment and nobody has seemed to really pick up on this well-made multimedia approach yet.
It was in the moment of scrolling through these two articles when I decided that THIS is what I want to spend the next years of my life producing and working on. Because I strongly believe know, that this is the short-term and maybe even long-term future of journalism.
With these thoughts Voiiage was born. But I had no idea how to set up a website so it got clear that there was groundwork to be done before I could start producing. Also, I had the feeling that one aspect was still missing. The next months in Wellington and further up New Zealand’s beautiful North Island I worked on creating the website, coming up with designs and writing first example articles. I spent months just sitting in the university library, day in day out. During this time it became apparent that I’ll need a way of financing and that the way I’d like to go is crowdfunding.
So I dug into how to run a crowdfunding campaign and ran one on my own. Definitely not perfect yet, but it was a big learning process and to my big surprise many amazing people trusted me enough to help me raise 3300$.
But for documenting I still needed something to document. Four years ago I started hitch hiking. My first trip lead me through Poland at 17, then all the way to Morocco and a year later via Istanbul to Ukraine. I might have done a good 20.000 km and for a while a dream has been floating around in my mind. Hitch hiking around the world. It became apparent that this might be the time to realise this dream. While producing Voiiage I started researching whether it was even possible to do the trip. I mean, you always hear of people circumnavigating the globe, cycling through the Americas or walking 7 years from Ethiopia to Patagonia. Every time somebody would tell me about a story like that I would think to myself “Life is too short to not do something like that”.
But how do you prepare a 30.000km hitch hiking trip? That was the big question.
I started reading and reading but soon found that I could not find anything similar to what I was doing. Not many people have written about how to do professional photography and story telling while hitchhiking and living for as cheap as possible on the long term. I had to come up with back-up solutions, equipment choices (especially for on the ocean) and an uploading strategy for Voiiage, which is running on WordPress. Now, half a year later I have figured it out and it might be the topic of a different article.
So anyways I wanted to leave in October by sailboat. The simple google search “hitchhike sailboat” showed that hitchhiking sailboats and crossing oceans this way is totally possible. I mentally prepared for it but had to find out that no boats will be leaving until April 2015. This gave me more time to prepare. By December 2014 my visa for New Zealand was running out but I still had the strong feeling that something was missing. I did not feel ready yet. I decided to fly to Australia to extend my visa and come back after a week to see what else I would find. Coming back I talked to someone I knew from a festival about sailing boats and he sent me a link to the Facebook page of a the Alternative World Sailing Community. I contacted them and they told me to meet them at the Rainbow Gathering in the Coromandel. I had heard of the Rainbow years before that from a hitch hiking brother at the bulgarian-turkish border. It was a hot day and we walked past kilometres of queuing cars waiting to cross from Asia to Europe. He was heading to a Rainbow Crystal Land in Cyprus over the winter. I did not know what any of those words meant but I wrote them down in the hope the universe would one day lead me there. Now, in the Facebook message of the Alternative World Sailing Community it came back to me. I felt a strong calling and an immense excitement about what was about to happen. Something was telling that everything was going to change and it did. The Rainbow Gathering changed my life in more ways than I could even express.
After a few days at the Rainbow digging shit pits, singing around the fire and connecting with many beautiful human beings I sat in a tree and talked to one of the members of the Sailing Community. It became apparent that they needed someone to do the general internet work and run a Crowdfunding Campaign. This was what I had been doing for the past months working on Voiiage so I got involved with them. It felt like we had known each other for a long time already.
I spent a month at the Rainbow. Then, one warm summer night in Auckland I got a call from my mother. The tone of her voice was unusual. She told me that my grandmother had passed away. At the age of 97. I felt confused at first, but then slowly realised how close I had been to her as a child. In this moment I decided to go back to Germany.