35,000 metres of altitude, two broken chains, one broken spoke and only one flat tyre. In this interview, business education student Lennart Zembsch tells why he cycled from Oldenburg to Piraeus in Greece for his Erasmus semester.
You are currently spending an Erasmus+ semester in Greece, at the University of Piraeus. How did you choose your destination?
I wanted to spend my semester abroad in a big city with cultural diversity and with a large or medium-sized university where courses are taught through English. All this applies to the University of Piraeus. As a student of business education with a focus on political science and as a person interested in history, Greece presented itself as the cradle of democracy and Western civilisation. Another decisive factor was that I had planned to set off for my Erasmus semester by bicycle from the very beginning. For me, the journey has always been the destination.
How come you chose to travel by bike to Greece?
The bicycle has been an everyday companion in my life ever since. At some point, I was tempted by the idea of simply setting off in a direction, leaving my familiar surroundings behind and seeing how far the two wheels would carry me. After my first major bike packing tours, I was immediately enthusiastic about the bicycle as a means of travelling long distances. I like the sense of distance you develop, the closeness to the country and its people as well as the sporting activity itself - and the subsequent reward of culinary delights of the respective regions.
Obviously, sustainable travel is important to you...
Yes. One reason why the bicycle is the means of transport of choice for me is its compatibility with our environment. If we want to preserve our planet in terms of inter- and intragenerational justice, I think we need a sustainability-oriented transformation of society. Ultimately, I hope that my tour also inspires others to cycle. Maybe I can get people excited about to leave the car behind and use the bicycle instead, or to think about whether a flight is really necessary when planning a trip.
What was your most exciting experience?
Apart from the many, often nerve-wracking, encounters with wild dogs, the nightly visit of some wild boars in my camp was certainly one of the more exciting events.
You travelled through many European countries...
On my 5221 kilometre tour, I crossed a total of eleven countries. Many of them I visited for the first time. After the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Kosovo and northern Macedonia, I didn't take the direct route south to Greece, but added a detour via Bulgaria and Turkey, and then rode from Istanbul along the Mediterranean coast to Greece.
Has your trip offered you new perspectives on these countries and on Europe?
I already had ideas about the respective countries. These theoretical thoughts have now come to life through practical experience. My view of the individual countries has certainly changed, Europe as a whole has become more tangible for me. The many unbelievably impressive encounters with local people as well as the enormous willingness to help and the sheer boundless hospitality that I encountered again and again on my journey have contributed to this. Completely enchanted by the beauty of many regions, I was, on the other hand, downright shocked by the amount of rubbish and the heavy pollution in many places.
What do you hope to gain from your studies in Piraeus?
Deep insights into Greek culture, friendships and encounters with people from all over the world. I am looking forward to studying and hope for stimulating modules from - economics to sustainability.
Do you have any tips for students who might also want to set off on their Erasmus semester by bike?
Don't plan too much - things usually turn out differently than expected anyway - and take things as they come.
Interview: Constanze Böttcher