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Interview with Stephan Behringer

Stephan, tell us something about your background and how your interest in travel developed.
I am German, 35 years old, single, economist, entrepreneur since 2010 and heavily travelling since the age of 25 as before I hardly had money and time. I am a very curious person and as far as I remember at the age of around 5 I already got strongly attracted by my parent's foreign currency and stamps collection. But throughout my youth I remember rather not travelling a lot, especially hardly beyond Germany or further than our neighbour countries, thus in my early twenties I recall having seen maybe „only" around 10 countries.
You are the polyglot traveller. Tell us something about this: how did you get the idea, which languages did you learn and how difficult was it to learn them?
I was lucky that I had English and French already at the age of 7 in a special form of school (Waldorfschule), then I left after 3 years and went to a normal school. There as well English and French were my favourite subjects and I graduated my A-levels in both. Unfortunately until the end of university at the age of almost 25 I did not endeavour to learn any other language, but in October 2006 I made a life-changing decision: I decided to learn 10 world languages and travel to 100 countries within ten years, by the time I turned 35. I started with Chinese for one year, then Spanish, followed by Russian (the most difficult language I currently speak), then Portuguese and Italian. I also tried Arabic and Turkish but did not get fluent yet. In order to „reach" my goal within 2016 I learned Swedish and finally Croatian. I speak those languages at different levels though, 4 at mother tongue level, three more fluent and I can maintain proper conversations as well in the remaining three. For next year Romanian is already on my list.  

Has speaking these languages actually enhanced the travel experience?

Yes, absolutely! I would refer to it as language immersion travelling which goes so much deeper than any other form of travelling in my point of view, especially as I often travel to countries and regions where almost nobody speaks English. And even if I do not speak the local language I try at least to pick up the „5 magic words" meaning hello, thank you, you are welcome, bye and no problem!

Tell us a couple of travel stories that have really made an impact on you.

In general for me travelling is almost more about getting to know people than places. I am a huge fan of Couchsurfing and use it whenever possible to connect with locals. Some of my best stories include the following, but to be honest it was hard to make a choice as there have been too many great stories so far.

I experienced the largest hospitality which really overwhelmed me during my trip to Iran in autumn 2015. I have never in my life received so many invitations for tea, meals, sightseeing, conversations and even stayovers. Now I am curious if this can be even topped by another country to come.

I also remember my trip to Surabaya on Java, Indonesia where I visited some Indonesian friends of mine. They brought me to their German school and I really was the first German person most of these pupils ever met in their whole life! They even sang a German song for me and asked me so many things about my home country.

Another thing I remember was on my first day in Havana, Cuba when I was sitting alone on the Malecón listening to a trumpet player. I then started to talk to him with my almost non-existing Spanish and he then invited me to have dinner with him and some friends in his barrio which was my experience of the real harsh life of locals behind the Tourist scenery. Although everybody was nice to me I had a strange feeling in my guts and in the end they let me pay for all the ingredients and some rum, but luckily let me leave at the end of the dinner. It was just afterwards I found out I had been in the most dangerous neighbourhood Marianao where tourists are absolutely not recommended to go. Once again my curiosity to meet people was much stronger than my prudence.

In terms of pure mass of people India made the largest impact on me. I have never seen so many people, vehicles and animals on the streets day and night with so much noise, action and also dirt in my whole life. Especially if you live in a country like Germany this results in a kind of cultural shock persisting for the first days until you get used to it.

Another interesting experience was spending a couple of days with a German friend of mine who became a Bedouin living with the local tourist guides and souvenir shop owners in the beautiful rock-cut architecture city of Petra in Jordan. He and the guides took me to unknown parts of Petra even outside the official visiting hours, told me funny stories about the behaviour of different nationalities of tourists and took me out to the dessert close to the Israeli border for an unforgettable night outside below the stars around a fireplace.

One more incredible experience was staying in my favourite city St. Petersburg (at least in the warmer half of the year) during the White Nights around mid of June for a total of three times. This feels like magic and there is light literally all of the time which makes this beautiful city even more admirable. On top you can make several interesting excursions to nearby places such as Pushkin where you can find a replica of the famous Amber Room.                
 

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You have your own website... what are your aims with it?
To be honest I just wanted to travel the world and not talk about it outside of my family and friend circles. But as people got aware of the sheer amount of my travel and of my languages they usually asked me these two questions: How can you travel so much? How did you learn all these languages? Thus I decided to create a website and a Facebook page dedicated to answer these questions and share my knowledge and travel hints with the world. In the meantime I am already going on the (rail-) road in Germany with a show called "Nebenjob Weltreisen / Part-time world journey" in German as well as English language between September and December 2017 in all major German cities. More information and tour dates can be found at this link.
You have travelled to about 100 UN countries. Do you plan to eventually finish them all?
Yes of course! To be honest I would like to complete all destinations reachable and I think that because I am still rather „young" within the community of globetrotters and have not even travelled more than 4 months in a row this should be feasible. At the moment I am thinking about a really crazy project for next year which would bring me much closer to my goal. Furthermore having such great role models as the higher ranked on NomadMania, I think your dream can only be to follow their footsteps!
Which countries surprised you, positively or negatively, compared to what you had expected before you went there?
Positive surprises are hard to be attached to countries. For me it is rather the people who make the difference and I have met so many nice local people as well as fellow travellers along the way. One big disappointment were The Bahamas some years back and then I only not so positive memories of very few more places which include Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain as these are just too young to grasp my interest in terms of history and culture.

You are from Germany. It seems Germans really love to travel, more than any other nation. Why do you think this is?

One reason might be our geographic location in the centre of Europe having 9 neighbours all around us. Another reason is the above-average income compared to many European countries due to our solid economy allowing people to travel. Furthermore we lack warm seas. On the other hand, many of us love individual travel and far countries such as me, I do not have a concrete reason at hand for that to be honest.
So what are your travel plans in the future?
I just travelled to my last missing country in Europe which was Belarus. I am also planning to walk the Camino de Santiago towards the end of the year. My idea for next year is still in the planning phase and thus I would not like to disclose anything about it at this early stage. I will surely share it with our Nomadmania community as soon as it's official!   
Finally the question we always ask - if you could invite four people to dinner from any time in human history, who would you invite any why?
Hans-Peter Scholl-Latour (German journalist who completed all countries as well), Nikola Tesla, Mahatma Gandhi and Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (polyglot with most languages spoken ever). 
The photos in this interview are from Stephan's personal collection and show him in Vietnam, Iguassu Falls, Funchal in Madeira, Easter Island, Quito, Caracas and Shanghai.
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