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I'm Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 16. Juni 2009

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Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Hape Kerkeling is a comedian and writer living in Berlin. This is his first book.

Leseprobe. Abdruck erfolgt mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Rechteinhaber. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.

I’m Off Then

June 9, 2001


I’m off then!” I didn’t tell my friends much more than that before I started out—just that I was going to hike through Spain. My friend Isabel had only this to say: “Have you lost your mind?”

I’d decided to go on a pilgrimage.


My grandma Bertha always knew something like this would happen: “If we don’t watch out, our Hans Peter is going to fly the coop someday!”

I guess that’s why she always fed me so well.

I could be lying on my favorite red couch right now, comfortably sipping a hot chocolate and savoring a luscious piece of cheesecake, but instead I’m shivering in some café at the foot of the Pyrenees in a tiny medieval town called Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. An enchanting postcard idyll, minus the sun.

Unable to make a complete break with civilization, I sit down right by the main road. Although I’ve never even heard of this place before, there seems to be an unbelievable amount of traffic whizzing down the road.

On the rickety bistro table lies my nearly blank diary, which seems to have as hearty an appetite as I. I’ve never felt the need to capture my life in words before—but since this morning I’ve had the urge to record every detail of my unfolding adventure in my little orange notebook.

So here begins my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

The journey will take me along the Camino Francés, one of the official European Cultural Routes. I’ll be trekking over the Pyrenees, across the Basque country, the Navarre and Rioja regions, Castile and León, and Galicia, and after about five hundred miles I will stand right in front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. According to legend, this is the location of the grave of Saint James, the great missionary for the Iberian people.

Just thinking about the long trek makes me want to take a long nap.

And here’s the amazing part: I’ll hike it! The entire length. I will hike. I have to read that again to believe it. I won’t be alone, of course: I’ll be toting my twenty-four-and-a-quarter-pound, fire-engine red backpack. That way, if I keel over along the route—and there is a real chance of that happening—at least they can see me from the sky.

At home I don’t even take the stairs to the second floor, yet sstarting tomorrow I’ll have to cover between 12 and 18 miles a day to reach my destination in about 35 days. The couch potato takes to the road! It’s a good thing none of my friends knows exactly what I’m up to. If I have to call the whole thing off by tomorrow afternoon it won’t be too embarrassing.

This morning I took my first wary peek at the start of the official Camino de Santiago. Uphill from the city gate, on the other side of the turrets and walls of Saint-Jean, is the entrance to the Spanish Pyrenees, and the first segment of the Camino Francés is marked by a steep cobblestone path.


My route begins in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

I see a gentleman of around seventy who has difficulty walking, yet is evidently quite determined to undertake this pilgrim’s marathon. I watch him in disbelief for a good five minutes until he slowly disappears into the morning fog.

My guidebook—I chose a wafer-thin one, since I’ll have to lug it with me over the snowcapped peaks of the Pyrenees—says that for centuries, people have undertaken the journey to Saint James when they have no other way of going on with their lives—figuratively or literally.

Since I have just dealt with sudden hearing loss and surgery to remove my gallbladder—two ailments that I think are perfectly suited to a comedian—it’s high time for me to readjust my own thinking. It’s time for a pilgrimage.

I paid the price for ignoring the inner voice that had been hollering “TAKE A BREAK!” for months. When I forged ahead with my work, my body took revenge and shut down my hearing. An eerie experience! I was so furious at my own folly that my gallbladder exploded, and the next thing I knew, I was back in the emergency room with the symptoms of a heart attack.

I finally paid attention and drifted into the travel section of a well-stocked bookstore in Düsseldorf, looking for a suitable destination with one thought in mind: I’ve got to get away! It was high time for a time-out.

The first book I happened upon was Bert Teklenborg’s The Joy of the Camino de Santiago.

What an outrageous title! Eating chocolate can be a joyful experience—or maybe drinking whiskey—but can a route bring you joy? Even so, I bought this presumptuously titled book. And devoured it in a single night.

The way to Santiago de Compostela is one of the three great Christian pilgrims’ trails—the others are the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem from anywhere.

According to legend, the Santiago trail was used by the Celts in pre-Christian times as a path of initiation. Veins of electromagnetic power in the earth and lines of energy (called ley lines) are said to be aligned with the Milky Way along the entire trail, all the way to Santiago de Compostela (which may mean “field of stars”), and even beyond that to Finisterre at the Atlantic coast in Spain (then considered “the end of the world”). The Catholic Church kindheartedly forgives the sins of people who complete a pilgrimage to Santiago. But that’s not my primary incentive; I’m drawn to the idea that the pilgrimage will help me find my way to God and thus to myself. That’s certainly worth a try.

I spend the next few days in a near trance, scoping out my itinerary and buying a backpack, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, and a pilgrim’s passport, but once I’m on the flight to Bordeaux, I emerge from my daze and hear myself say out loud: “Am I nuts?”


It’s been two decades since I first visited Bordeaux. Perhaps I’ve been in a bad mood ever since? I arrived there for the second time, only to discover that it is just as ugly and gray as it was when I visited at sixteen. I decided to spend the night at the Atlantic Hotel, a stately neoclassical building across the street from the train station. This is meant to be a consolation for the coming five weeks of dilapidated dormitories filled with snoring Americans and belching Frenchmen and no decent sanitary facilities.

It turns out I would have been better off in a dormitory. I was greeted with a friendly smile, shown to a drab little hole-in-the-wall, and quoted an exorbitant price. Instead of a window, the room offered harsh blue fluorescent lighting. I didn’t complain, but I could feel my nonexistent gallbladder acting up!

If Bordeaux had been nicer, I might not have continued on.

But there is nothing to keep me in the room, since the last guy to sleep here had the good sense to empty out the minibar. So, out I go, back to the train station.

In the gigantic main hall, I marshal my high school French to issue this halfway decent sentence: “Mademoiselle, one ticket from Bordeaux to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, one way, second class, please.” The charming lady behind the counter beams at me.

“À quelle heure, monsieur?”—Ah, yes; at what time do I want to travel? That’s a good question.

“At about seven A.M.” I decide on the spot, which is how I do things.


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Format: Kindle Edition Verifizierter Kauf
I first read ‘Ich bin dan mal Weg’ in its original German version. That was some time ago and enjoyed it very much. A few weeks ago I went to see the film, with Stressow as HPK!!
I thought the film good but very superficial!! Thus my interest was rekindled in ‘The Jakobsweg’.
In Amazon I found an English version (this subject). As I read the first chapters I was a little disappointed. The suddenly the writing became very good English, with an American slant, I thought.
Now, as I near the end of book, I am absolutely fascinated with the story and realised how much I had missed in the original.
I would certainly recommend it to all. ‘A Jolly Good Read’. I would love to do it as well, but at my age that would only be possible by bus!!

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I bought the book of Hape Kerkeling for my friend. She is a brit and I am german and we both live in Spain. We just love to explore the surroundings and we do a lot of walks together. Once I mentioned the book I had read in German and she was excited to hear about the pilgrimage to Santiago. A shame that tere is not much to read about it in English! Now she is reading it and she just loves it! A great idea, and a good price too, for so much fun and entertainement! We might take the opportunity to start to walk in Hape_s steps... Thank you, Hape! Thank you Amazon!
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Auf Deutsch begeistert dieses Buch die meisten Leser. Leider verliert Hape Kerkelings Erzählung aber im Englischen durch die mäßige Übersetzung viel an ihrer Originalität und Wärme.
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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.0 von 5 Sternen 156 Rezensionen
58 von 60 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen I'm Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago 24. Juni 2009
Von S. Brown - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch Verifizierter Kauf
I LOVED this book. As a Santiago pilgrim myself (2008, from St Jean), I've been awaiting the English translation of this famous German's camino book. Nearly every German I met on the Camino had read the book. For some, it was the reason they were walking the 800 km journey. I'd heard from some that they'd read it and were unimpressed, too.

So I was very pleasantly surprised when I couldn't put it down. It's a page turner - mostly due to the humble, self-effacing style of Hape Kerkeling, but also due to his unfailing ability to describe with truth and pathos what his eyes see.

A refreshing aspect of the book is that Kerkeling does include details about the camino itself. He clearly walked most of it (unlike our dear Paulo C) and endured the hardships (though he skipped all but a few albergues). His Camino starts in solitude, but as he walks he opens himself to the scenery and the people and you can feel his soul expand.

I've recommended the book to all my Camino friends and would recommend it to anyone who's considering walking the Way of St. James. A thanks to the translator (though I'm still not sure what she means by a "Spanish biscuit." Hopefully she's not referring to the omnipresent Spanish tortilla - hardly a biscuit).

For good measure I'm off to read this great book a second time. Thank you, Hape, and buen camino.
35 von 39 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen A Memorable Journey for Armchair Travelers 9. Juli 2009
Von Lynne Christen - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
I just returned from a most memorable 500+ mile long journey across the French Alps to Camino de Santiago and I never left my chair except to refill my wine glass. German comedian and author Hape Kerkeling took me along on his pilgrimage through the pages of I'm Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago. Right from the start Kerkeling confesses to being an unlikely pilgrim...more of a couch potato than an adventurer. I too must admit that when I began this literary trek with Hape, I had serious doubts about whether or not I would stick to the journey. For me, a walk means circling the mall three times or a sunset stroll on the beach. I do not relish the thoughts of "roughing it." I was not at all certain that this was "my kind of travel book."

I was wrong. As we traveled the pages across the snowcapped Pyrenees, through Basque country, Navarra, Rioja and all the way to Galicia, I discovered that this journey was really about self-reflection and self-discovery. The more I read, the more it reinforced my strong belief that when we travel with an open mind and an open heart, we quickly learn that different cultures, beliefs and traditions are not wrong...simply different...and we embrace the differences. We also discover that as human beings we are much more like our fellow pilgrims than we are different. And, as Hape point out: "Sometimes even the most annoying people mean well."

I particularly enjoyed Hape's self-deprecating humor, his keen perceptions about the people he met and traveled with along the way and his pithy insights (some profound, some playful) the end of each chapter. My personal favorite; "Open your heart and canoodle with the day." (Looking up the definition, I quickly figured out that canoodle is a hip way to say "Make love to the day.")

First released in German, I'm Off Then quickly became a best seller. No doubt, the English version will also reap awards and significantly increase Hape Kerkeling's fan club.

Review by Lynne R. Christen
Author: Travel Wisdom
10 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen perfect reading for the path to yourself 30. November 2014
Von H. Koegler - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
The bestseller, "I Am Off Then" describes the impressive and entertaining journey of Hape Kerkelling on the Road to Santiago. At the beginning of his travels, the simple question “who am I?” could unbalance him. But the more miles he walks, the more he finds the way to himself. As we know the comedian from TV, the book impressed me with his easy and fun writing style combined with profound contents.

In that context, I also recommend the book from Ariel and Shya Kane: "Working on Yourself Doesn’t Work." They describe how to access the Here and Now, by being and not doing. The ability to approach your life and actions like an anthropologist, thru observation and without judgment help to access wellbeing and to live in the moment! The Kanes way of writing is entertaining and humerous. Both books are great reads for all people who would like to discover who they really are.
20 von 23 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Compelling and engaging 27. Juli 2009
Von I. Sondel - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
I first read about this book a few months ago in Out Magazine [they named it, along with Terry Galloway's "Mean Little deaf Queer", as a book to look forward to] and promptly forgot about it until my friend Austin brought a copy to book group thinking I'd enjoy it. What can I say? Austin knows me pretty well; I loved it!

Each year tens of thousands of people make the pilgrimage from St Jean Pied de Port to the Santiago de Compestela (or The Way of St James) in Northern Spain; this is one mans story. Never preachy or sanctimonious, "I'm off Then" is immediately engaging and compelling throughout. Hape Kerkeling is an internationally known German comedian, and he relates the experiences of his spiritual trek in a brisk and congenial manner. The whole is nothing more than a series of vignettes, each relating the day's events, the places and people encountered along the road. The author communicates no great epiphany, and yet the reader is moved to accept that the journey did have a profound and lasting effect on him.

I suppose the highest praise I could give this volume is to say I enjoyed travelling along vicariously with Hape and his friends; I felt a part of, and would have been more than content to continue along with them a while longer.
12 von 14 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen "I'm Off Then"....... and so am I Hape!! 2. September 2009
Von Wendy J. Carrel - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch Verifizierter Kauf
This is my favorite book so far this year. Perhaps because I wish I could have written it, perhaps because I've always wanted to be one of those pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela after experiencing the long walk from the French Alps through Spain. This often arduous journey to the Shrine of St. James in Galicia, on a route that is 1,200 years old, is followed by over 100,000 people per year. And it is popular German TV comedian Hape (Hans Peter) who has paved our way. His road trip diary is engaging and hilarious - sore feet, sore knees, big angry dogs (or dogs that just look dangerous), blazing sun, filthy hostels, unusual encounters, breathtaking landscapes, and all. You get a feeling for what you might or might not do. Maybe you'll do what he did, treat yourself to special hotels on occasion, stay more than one night in one place, and every now and then take the train instead of walking. What matters, as he shares, is what you experience, what you learn about yourself, what you may or may not learn from meeting other pilgrims, how you bring yourself to the events, the feelings, your thoughts, your soul. He braved much to bring us his charming story. (Thanks Hape, I feel happy reading about you and your friends). You'll understand why this book is a bestseller in Germany (kudos by the way for the stellar translation by Shelley Frisch), how it won the Bruce Chatwin Prize for Best Travel Book of the Year, and how it has sold over 3 million copies. Highly recommended.
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