Pongo Estonica

I took a friend’s suggestion very literally when she mentioned during a little gathering with friends last spring, how important it is to always watch your back when you’re spending time in the Estonian forests. She said that she had developed a move that allowed her to keep picking chanterelle while watching over her shoulder. I wondered, what could possibly happen to you in an Estonian forest that required to stretch your body into such an odd position. Well, she said, that she wouldn’t want to run into one of the 700 brown bears that wander through the 2 million hectares of abundant forests in Estonia. I laughingly added, that you naturally wouldn’t want to lose you dear hand-picked chanterelle when running away, which she in turn explained dutifully to be the exact wrong thing to do when encountering a bear. Make yourself bigger than you really are, she said, scare-the-bear so to say. I noted her advice and came up with another reason, why you’d want to watch your back in the forest – you wouldn’t want to lose track of where you are. I’ve been told the story of an old lady, that went into the forest to pick mushrooms, but didn’t return for a couple of days until she surprisingly popped up healthy but a little confused on the side of a road. While gently cutting chanterelle, she had taken the occasional sip from a bottle, that she was still carrying around when she was found again.

A few weeks after this conversation I followed my friend’s advice when I decided to go to the forest. I just wanted to breath fresh air and drove off from the city. It was still quite cold, but sunny. When I got out of my car, I took my stuff (no bottles with suspicious liquids), turned on my GPS-Tracker and marked where I had parked my car. Google had helped me to find this place, from above it seemed like a great spot. A tiny river, loads of trees, few meadows and even fewer signs of people. From time to time I crossed a few narrow roads, jumping over small, muddy ponds induced by 4×4 wheels until I passed an abandoned wooden house. It must have been a cozy home one day; in the months before I had seen dozens of these kinds of houses with roofs fallen in and grass peeking through the empty windows. The setting was really romantic, but another friend recently told me that we’re romanticizing way too much. Life’s not romantic at all, he said, it’s full of hard decisions to take, not to mention the horror that we hear about from less peaceful areas. I also noted that advice and decided to keep the romance at a minimum when describing my adventures in the Estonian forest. By the way, there was still old hay in the house’s little barn and boxes full of moldy apples.

I could go on and on about what I saw that very day. About the trees and their branches reaching out to each other like in a dance, or the moist soil and soft moss covering everything the sun doesn’t reach. But there was one thing that truly made this trip exceptional. I would have never even hoped for such a discovery. At some point, I sat down on a stone next to the river, I wanted to rest, eat a bit and just pull in the intense green around me. Still I was everything but light-headed. I made sure to look over my shoulder once every minute and attempted to find a way that didn’t seem too ridiculous (to myself). But nothing ever was behind or above me. My back was safe until I heard a noise, a splashing sound not too far from me. I didn’t dare to watch right away, as it could have been a bear. Very slowly I turned around, preparing to get up and scare the hell out of whatever there was behind me. When I had completed the 90° turn I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Eesti-pl CC BY 2.0 Orang.jpg Can you spot Pongo? 

I had hardly ever thought of this opportunity – across the river, about 70 metres away, one of the very rare and incredibly shy Pongo Estonica sat and watched me. For the first time, I had heard about the wild Estonian Swamp Orangutan in my Estonian class at university and I wouldn’t believe my teacher. She said that Pongo Estonica is a little smaller than his Southeast-Asian sisters and brothers. It also differs in the color of his fur, as its red-brown is much darker and a slight greenish touch. Also, they like to swim and eat plants from lakes and rivers, which explains why their fur is often very moist and  darker than it really is. Nobody knows how many of Pongo Estonica there are, because it’s so very rare to see them. 

And there one of them sat just as astonished as me. I couldn’t stop smiling but reminded myself that Pongo Estonica is just as wild as Ursus Arctos. Anyways I didn’t get up, as Pongo sat just as comfortably as me. I took a quick snap with my camera and continued watching him. He barely moved until he eventually had seen enough of me and got on his feet. He went away with dangling shoulders and soon became one with the greenery around him. Still, I could swear that he did glimpse at me once again over his shoulder.

P.S.: By the way, Pongo Estonica is more fortunate than his brothers and sisters in Southeast-Asia, they are endangered and need help. Read more about them here (National Geographic) or here (Orangutan).

Pic based on: Sheila Thomson & Eesti.pl, both CC BY 2.0


A lyrical conquest

Mr. Claus Høxbroe is quite the prominent poet in Copenhagen’s vivid scene of lyricists. Back in 2013 he and I started working together, as he allowed me and a couple of Danish students from the university of Kiel to visit his very unique study at that time in the district of Amager. Afterwards he took us on a walk through Amager, showing the oddities of the neighborhood, that he enjoys so much.

Høxbroe truly is a lover of Copenhagen, even though his admiration for the Danish capital at times turns into a love and hate relationship, as the busy city tends to make life more and more foreseeable and also marginalizes his much loved odd characters and corners. He’s recently switched his Amager-based study with a bunker-styled basement apartment in the city center, in order to be an attentive observer of the ever changing heart of the city.

During the last year a number of new publications provide evidence for Høxbroe’s observant eye. Most prominently Høxbroe launched a new record with his good companion, the pianist Oscar Gilbert and a small orchestra. Check out the video below, to get an idea of the most recent release.

However, Høxbroe is not only performing in Copenhagen and Denmark. Together with Helena Nagelmaa we were able to bring Høxbroe to Germany for the first time in 2014. Høxbroe and Gilbert performed in Kiel and Berlin. I had the pleasure of translating a selection of poems to German and performing them with Høxbroe. Since then Høxbroe was invited to perform at the summer of literature, organised by the Literaturhaus Schleswig-Holstein, based in Kiel. The reading tour in summer 2015 brought the author and the pianist to remote places in Northern Germany. Again we had the chance to perform together.

Reading with C. Høxbroe in Friedrichstadt, Germany, 2015.
Reading with C. Høxbroe in Friedrichstadt, Germany, 2015.

Shortly before the readings in northern Germany, Høxbroe and I had the pleasure to publish the first Danish-German edition of his poems with the great publishers hochroth! The Danish Arts Council supported the project “Asphalt und Auferstehung / Asfalt og opstandelse” willingly and thankfully and we’re very happy, that the bilingual edition can be ordered online and has helped us to continue our journey.

Cover of the bilingual poetry selection by Christina Egede
Cover of the bilingual poetry selection “Asphalt und Auferstehung” by Christina Egede

Since the publication, our publishers and the Nordic Embassies in Germany have invited us to perform at the Book Fair in Leipzig on the 18th March.

Last but not least after performances at the book fair, Høxbroe will continue his lyrical conquest of Europe, performing at the literary festival PRIMA VISTA in Tartu, Estonia on the 5th of May. Together again with pianist Oscar Gilbert, he will introduce the Estonian audience to their jazzy improvisations and the beat of Copenhagen! Make sure to come by to one of the various readings!

Eiseskälte und ein kaputter Zug

Gemeinsam mit HIMATE habe ich Geschichten über Gastfreundschaft gesammelt. Die Kurzversion gibt’s heute noch hier – die langen werden nach und nach hier bei mir veröffentlicht.

Von Estland über Georgien nach Vietnam und Australien, nach Togo und weiter nach Norwegen und Deutschland.


Mit der Zeit wird jedem Autofahrer das Rattern der Güterzüge in Estland und Lettland zu einem vertrauten Geräusch. Die schier endlosen Züge, die in der Regel voll mit Öl beladen aus Russland kommen oder eben leergetankt in die andere Richtung fahren, fahren in recht gemütlichem Tempo über die Gleise und ganz plötzlich hat man viel Zeit.

Ein entsprechend gemütliches Reisemittel sind demnach auch die Passagierzüge. Zeit spielt in der Regel keine Rolle auf den Schienen zwischen der lettischen Hauptstadt Riga und dem estnischen Tartu. Fünf Stunden für 250 Kilometer inklusive eines Umstiegs in die estnische Bahn am Bahnhof der Grenzstadt Valga. Aufgrund des günstigen Fahrpreises und meiner Nostalgie nahm ich die Dauer jedoch gerne in Kauf. Dennoch wollte ich gerne pünktlich mit meinen lettischen Gästen Zane, Liva und Gunta auf meiner eigenen Party in Tartu aufschlagen. Und dann das: Lettisch- und russischsprachige Durchsagen, hilfesuchende Blicke meinerseits und ein abrupter Stopp in Ieriki eine Stunde hinter Riga.

Ieriki - taken Tobbe_JK
Eiskaltes Ieriki. Foto: Tobias J. Koch

Es ging nicht weiter. Der Zug hatte eine Macke, die sich nicht vor Ort würde beheben lassen. Ein Ersatzzug musste her. Zwei Probleme: Erstens, der Ersatzzug musste erst in Riga losfahren, um uns wieder auf die Strecke zu bringen. Zweitens, die Zugverbindung nach Tartu wird nur zweimal pro Tag angeboten und wir hatten die Nachmittagsfahrt gewählt. Sprich kein Anschlusszug im estnischen Valga. Unsere Erschütterung hielt sich anfangs in Grenzen, mit der Zeit verflog unser Optimismus jedoch, denn im Zuginneren war es nicht viel wärmer als in der eisigen Winterluft draußen.

Mit cirka zweistündiger Verspätung kamen wir mit dem Ersatzzug im stockdunklen Valga an und verpassten wie zu erwarten den Anschlusszug. Typisch Deutsch und verwöhnt wie ich bin, bat ich meine Partygäste darum, die Schaffnerin zu fragen, ob uns die lettische Bahngesellschaft eine Taxifahrt erstattet. Bei einem Fahrtpreis von umgerechnet ca. 4,5 € ließen sich aber keine 100 € für eine Taxifahrt nach Tartu rechtfertigen. Alternativen? Keine. Der einzige Überlandbus, der noch fuhr, nahm keine weiteren Fahrgäste auf und so standen wir hilflos in Valga. Die Party würde einfach ohne mich stattfinden müssen.

Dann der brilliante Einfall. Meinen einzigen Kumpel in Tartu mit Auto, Lemmit, anrufen! Und tatsächlich, mein Partygast fuhr die 80 Kilometer nach Valga, wir drängten uns nach einem Imbiss beim lokalen Chinamann in seine orangene Konservendose und fuhren zu meiner Party. Riga Balsam hatten wir im Gepäck und Lemmit hatte zweifellos einen großen Schluck verdient. Äitah!

Geschichten, die euch noch erwarten:

Mia in Tasmanien

Kathrin in Oslo

Robert in Togo

Hier findet ihr eine Geschichte aus Vietnam und hier aus Georgien.

One Baltic Sea Trip

I have a past as a Baltic Sea Region blogger. I admit it. The Onebsr project contributed a fair share to my fascination for the Baltic Sea Region. Part of it was a trip to Warsaw, Helsinki and Tallinn with my fellow bloggers. Take a look at the video or check out my story on storify.com