Encounters on a trip to the Balkans

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Encounters on a trip to the Balkans

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Encounters on a trip to the Balkans

Encounters on a trip to the Balkans
Europe extreme

Eleven days, ten countries, 5825 kilometers, lots of secondary routes and night trips. The tour to a Bulgarian children’s home brings four motorcyclists from Germany and Kosovo formative encounters: with new countries, helpful people and many borders ?? also your own. A non-chronological documentation in ten episodes.

Thomas Schmieder

April 8, 2009

Eleven days, ten countries, 5825 kilometers, lots of secondary routes and night trips. The tour to a Bulgarian children’s home brings four motorcyclists from Germany and Kosovo formative encounters: with new countries, helpful people and many borders ?? also your own. A non-chronological documentation in ten episodes.


Insecurity, accident and incomprehension: How does the country get into the EU?
It is around one o’clock in the morning, we are having coffee at a 24-hour gas station, talking to Nino. “Oh man, these motorcyclists really have to have a shadow” was his first thought, he says when he picked us up on the Macedonian-Bulgarian border in a slightly desolate way in the middle of the night. The German lives in Sofia, his company supplies German troops in Kosovo with everything they need to live.

Nino ?? escorted ?? us to Sofia; flies his VW Touareg through the curvy, pitch-dark mountains. Always aim exactly between the fat rear lights of the off-road vehicle, then it will be fine. Exhausted, we reach the hotel at three in the morning, bogged down at the bar until five. A hat full of sleep, then rubbing our eyes at the sight of the Bulgarian capital with its prestigious glass palaces and numerous luxury limousines. Is that what we expected?

The glittering metropolis is quickly followed by bitter rural poverty. There, horse-drawn carts drive around instead of SUVs, donkeys and goats are tied to wooden stakes, women farmers in headscarves scissor the meadows by hand. The houses in the villages are crooked or dilapidated, the streets are smooth and slippery. How did Bulgaria, so bitterly poor, make it into the EU? Croatia, which was passed through just a few days earlier, appears to be much more developed economically, but is not a member of the European Union. politics…

Wolfgang and Martina, our couple in a BMW GS, stop in a Sinti and Roma village. A good idea? The atmosphere is tense. We don’t know how to meet the dark-skinned inhabitants, they are unsure about us visitors from the other planet. Hordes of children surround us. Buki, the Kosovar Albanian who travels with us, breaks the ice, speaks Turkish to the Sinti, explains where we come from, what we want: meet the Eurobics who run a children’s home and a hospital with money in the city of Gotse Deltschew. and support donations in kind.

The village elders warn the children to keep their distance from the motorcycles. You only have to be careful with non-verbal communication: In Bulgaria, shaking your head means ?? yes ??, nodding signals rejection. So be careful.
Suddenly a high-pitched, shrill voice sounds: a lament, intoned by an older woman. Messengers have just delivered the news that her brother has died in a hospital. We leave people alone with their grief. Drive to the city of Nessebar, a world heritage site on the Black Sea. Framed by hotel bunkers in rows of five, the medieval city is surrounded by water. The employees in hotels, petrol stations and restaurants are unfriendly, spoiled by tourists’ money. Let’s get away.

Somewhere in southern Bulgaria, Buki’s Fireblade picks up the front wheel a moment too late after a knoll. It shatters in a left turn on a boulder, Buki remains uninjured. A short time later, a tow truck saddles the 900. International claims processing is new for the young workshop owner in the next town. He’s doing great.


Family get-togethers, a relaxed attitude towards life and traces of the struggle for freedom
Can this be? So much joie de vivre in Prizren, the city in the south of Kosovo, which you usually only think you know from the news. From the times of the bloody civil war in 1999. But today this is a different world. Young people stroll in groups through the streets. There is really something going on, the people are remarkably well dressed. Newly renovated, the facades on the central square of Prizren shine. In front of it, EU flags are blowing in the wind, a sign of thanks for the support.

Buki, who lives in Switzerland, unfolds the side stand of his Fireblade in front of a restaurant. Thereupon motorcycle friends waiting for him stand up with cool headscarves, hands interlock in a biker salute. Welcome Home!

When Buki’s family arrives, spontaneously informed by mobile phone of the unannounced visit, tears of joy roll down. You sit outside, there is a lot of talk and laughter. Buki had already shown us in the Albanian town of Kukes, which is just before the border between two two and a half thousand meter high twin mountains, where he had fled in 1999 before the war in Kosovo. Now he is leading us through his hometown. For example, to a shoe shine who polishes the street dust away from Daytona boots. The old man speaks a few words of German and praises the German soldiers in town as his best customers. We meet them as ordered on this mild early summer evening, the G3 rifles shouldered. Somehow seems unreal. Whether they don’t want to be photographed because of that?

A few kilometers, but many hairpin bends further, photography is again prohibited. Roadblock. Heavily armed Ukrainian KFOR troops control the transition to the Serbian-dominated part of Kosovo. I know your blue and yellow flag on the sleeves of your combat suits well. Tell the English-speaking officer about my fiance Valentina from Kiev. He asks what else I know in Ukraine. But there is hardly any time for explanations.

It’s already getting dark, and it’s still a long way to Sofia, Bulgaria. Buki’s buddies from Kosovo accompany us on through picturesque gorges and astonishingly high mountains, even with ski areas.


Warm encounters in the poor country that is only rich in gravel roads
In the entire hinterland of Albania there is a lot of peace and solitude, little traffic. Wherever we stop, people rush over enthusiastically. The interest in motorcycles is obviously huge. Because these are still in short supply in Albania, which has been hermetically sealed for so long. Only in the larger cities do a few copies of simple, mostly unknown makes. Plus a manageable number of scooters as a simple means of transport. That’s it. Soon traffic cops on aging Guzzi NTX 650 be waving to the right with a trowel. Not to collect baksheesh. No, out of pure interest. We don’t speak Albanian, but Italian, English, hands and feet are fine too. With “Have a good trip, good luck and health in life”, the law enforcement officers say goodbye after they have thoroughly inspected the BMW and the automatic Aprilia Mana.

You can use luck here. In addition, a portion of driving skills and swallowing undercarriages. Every normal overland trip here is almost an enduro adventure. You stir up a lot of dust. Yet. Because fat road construction machines and heavy transporters ?? all imported from Germany? are ready for fresh asphalt paving.

Will the country remain as authentic afterwards? ?? Where do you have to drive so many kilometers together with trucks and buses over the roughest gravel passes? Brilliant.?? Reiner, our fellow traveler on the HPN-BMW R 100 GS Paris-Dakar, is absolutely thrilled. He is currently buying olive oil, directly from a farm, filled in recycled mineral water plastic bottles.

Here life plays on the simple side. These kind people have time, no money. ??Bravo?? people call after us in the car that has just been overhauled. Are we who rush past you here in a hurry? if the roads allow this? really richer? Or just wealthier?


A young Russian on the R1 tour and women in all professions
The curve paradise ends suddenly. A wide barrier seals off the coastal road, which is often already covered with new asphalt. The construction workers explain that they cannot get through, not even with a motorcycle. But suddenly an R1 rushes in from the opposite direction. Your driver was obviously less inhibited. He stops and smokes a cigarette with Reiner. His name is Max, he is 23 years old and comes straight from Moscow with the supersport plane that is just a few weeks old. In Kiev he had two serious falls after wild biker parties, the right engine cover is thickly welded. Now he is happy at the destination of his journey: his girlfriend lives in the port city of Bar.

The small coastal state welcomed us with unusual customs officers and the euro as the official means of payment, even though the country, which only became independent in 2006, does not belong to the euro zone. The traffic on the coastal road in Montenegro is sometimes very slow. Columns of heavily sooting trucks torment their way through the curves. Particulate matter? These are more like whole briquettes. In contrast to its southern neighbor Albania, there are plenty of hotel bunkers everywhere. Remnants of mass torism in Yugoslavia.

A post-socialist aha-experience awaits in a construction site: there is an attractive, long-haired, sun-gazed blonde? active as a land surveyor. Marvel also in the Bay of Kotor: There were scenes for the James Bond film? Casino Royale? turned. We cross the fjord of the south by ferry. Next time we will go around it. You’d be stupid if you didn’t…


Curves, dream roads and weddings with long-term consequences
In the middle of the night, somewhere near the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Sleeping in the hotel room is out of the question with the loud music and the many voices. A wedding party celebrates loudly. The next morning, completely exhausted, I talk to the hotel employees who worked black in Germany in the 1980s. ?? It wasn’t a big celebration ?? weigh down my request, ?? in Croatia a wedding only counts from 250 guests! ??


Life is raging on the street. Two-wheelers are everywhere
Although the tanker truck drivers are on strike, squads of scooters and motorbikes are pounding through the urban canyons of Thessoloniki. My Aprilia Mana 850 needs a new rear tire. There are coffee in thick plastic cups and expensive clubs on the beach.


A country at night, trouble at the border and nice help
No, nothing to be done. The border official remains tough. Do not want to let me leave his Macedonia because I only have a copy of the vehicle registration document with me. But entering the country wasn’t a problem ?! He doesn’t care. It’s one o’clock in the morning. Only when Nino shows up in his VW Tourag and accompanies us to Bulgaria does the situation relax. The customs officers greet him with a handshake. How we liked his country, does an older civil servant want to know when we say goodbye? What should we answer, we only saw it at night, flew through it in transit, circled the capital Skopje on expressways. ??Good,?? Reiner, the policeman from Berlin, replies diplomatically. ?? But we have to come back with more time. ??

Bosnia Herzegovina

A finger ten kilometers wide reaches for the sea
No problem, the border guard doesn’t want to see the papers. Neither that of the driver nor that of the machine. He only gives one thing to understand unequivocally: That we should, please, really accelerate again when driving off his border crossing. So we come with plenty of speed in the ten kilometer narrow coastal corridor of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is wedged between Croatia in the north and in the south. We can pay for the inexpensive fish platter in between meals while the waitress talks about her time in Germany. People in the south like motorcyclists. And motorcyclists the people of the south.


Land under in the Alps and the escape from the rain
Saturday evening, the autobahn is almost deserted. In 20 minutes I just passed two cars. That makes good travel cuts. Unfortunately, there is neither time nor sight for the Wurzen Pass. So drunk through the Karawanken tunnel. The fingers are clammy at the toll booths, the gloves are soaked. Quickly stashed some relatively young Slovenian euro coins. And further. It’s pouring what’s going on, the Julian Alps gray on gray.


Refuel cheaply again, then back to Germany
After almost 5,000 kilometers, the strength is at the end. I nodded away almost briefly several times now. Microsleep threatens. Breaks become vital. The body craves food, drink and, above all, coffee. Minus nine degrees are at the highest point of the Tauern Autobahn, 1430 meters high. Here the cappuccino at the gas station costs 2.70 euros, in Slovenia it was 90 cents. And the people are much rougher, somehow duller than further south. But the toll is better solved by sticker in Austria. Refueled one last time with cheap fuel, then off to home.
Stopover in Munich, girlfriend Tina and warming cognac are waiting. On the last day it is pouring rain on the A8 home. A low-flying pigeon almost collides with a truck trailer near Ulm: It flies for its life in a panic, being chased by a peregrine falcon as fast as an arrow. Just like the pigeon, we had time-lapse encounters on this extreme tour. Just very pleasant.

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