A trip around the world is now something like the Abitur trip after school. Compulsory program. The – mostly young – pilgrims believe in the cathartic effect once they have traveled around the globe, they believe in being a different, better person when they have seen what life is like elsewhere than in the bacon coat of Western society.
Like Max Trommsdorff. “Unplugged – Around the World with Guitar” is the name of the almost 400-page book written by the father of three children, who is now doing a doctorate at the Fraunhofer Institute in Freiburg. He was in his mid-twenties when he set out one winter in the Bavarian village of Mittenwald to see the world, with a guitar and provisions in his backpack, nothing more. Money? He doesn’t want to, he doesn’t need to. He earns his meals with street music, maybe a bus ride, maybe even a flight, but then with an extremely guilty conscience and only because there are 7000 miles of ocean between the US west coast and New Zealand.
Trommsdorff travels on foot, environmentally friendly, just like you do if you want to be a virtuous person. His route is impressive, even more impressive are his courage and naivety to make music on the streets of those countries in which you end up in prison for it. He travels from Italy via Greece to Syria, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, lands in Bangladesh and Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, and flies from there to the USA. He sleeps in barns, on the floor of trains, in a shelter for the homeless in Los Angeles or with one of the many people on the road whose hospitality and kindness shaped him most, as he writes.
The street musician is not even looked at by people in suits
The man has a lot to tell. And often tells what you least want to know. How long it takes in each individual country to get his visa. That there is “a lot of activity” and “hustle and bustle” in Damascus, which has been shaken by civil war, and that it stinks of exhaust fumes there. Doesn’t it do that in every big city? And that Barcelona is a “pulsating metropolis” and Dubai consists of “highly surreal skyscrapers” and “bombastic glass palaces” – you can guess that even without a trip around the world.
But then at some point he seems to have written himself warmly and not only describes what he sees, but also puts his readers in his backpack, lets them look out and shows them the world, classifies. When his guitar is stolen in Mexico, feelings finally stir, the significance of the loss of his only travel companion becomes tangible. When he hangs on a street corner in Wellington in New Zealand in the morning and “sips” cold canned beans and people in suits walk past him without looking at him, then he reveals the low points that this trip holds. And with that he takes – luckily – a touch of educational morality from his story.