Dieter Langer,

a life full of adventures


Postwar Time

          Bombs fall all around me, as my mother pushes the stroller through the ruins of Berlin. Mother covers my eyes and ears with a rack from an old potato sack to stop me from crying. She dampens the noise of the explosions all around me, but she can’t stop the vibrations of the ground that shake my body with fear.
          I don’t really comprehend what’s going on, I am only a couple of month old, but somehow I must sense and learn what it takes to stay alive.
          Three years later we have settled in Wildau, in the outskirts of Berlin. I see my father for the first time. My mother didn’t even know he was still alive. He survived three years in a Russian Prisoner of War camp and is pretty beat up. Mom is in heaven and the new beginning after WW II looks bright.
          It takes me a while to get used to my father being part of the family. My mother and my two sisters, the ‘little’ one being 18 month and the ‘big’ one 5 years older, try their best to spoil me as the ‘man of the house’, but now they have their daddy.
          Luckily there is no television yet and the evenings are spent together, playing games and telling stories. Father tells us mostly his soldier stories from all the countries he ‘visited’. Mother tells us her father’s stories who traveled all over Europe as apprentice when he enjoyed his ‘Wanderjahre’ (wandering-years) as shoemaker.
          I hear her dreams about all the places she tells us about. I am glued to her lips and never get tired of her stories. Again and again I ask her about Italy, Hungry, Poland, Tschechoslovakia, Russia, France, on and on. Birthdays were exceptional beautiful for me, since all my uncles came and told more stories about the far away countries.

The promise of the East

           The family keeps calling me ‘Goldjunge’ (the golden boy), for the fun and laughter I give them through my wittiness that’s a part of every ‘Berliner’ (remember J.F.Kennedy?).  
          Soon I am more shouting than singing “Auferstanden aus Ruinen, und der Zukunft zugewandt….”, the national anthem of East Germany (Raised out of ruins, the mind set for the future…). But the promise of the East German government for a ‘golden future’ turns into ‘no future’ at all.
          My longing to travel rises with every year, only to realize that the government restricts even the travel of my mind. Travel is limited to the confinements of the barbed wire that the ‘System’ has built around its ‘workers and farmers’ paradise.           My mother loves to travel, and so we are off in trains from the Baltic Sea to the mountains of the Saxonian Swiss in the south. Any area within 60 miles I cover with my bike.           I read Alexander Puschkin in school as I learn Russian, and I am intrigued by other cultures. I have to see these; I want to be touched by different cultures.
          For me it is excitement, as I see Russian tanks speeding down our main street on their way to the center of Berlin. The Russian’s task is to crush the workers uprising at the Alexanderplatz, in the center of East Berlin. The year is 1953. My father too is picking up speed as he runs across the Alexanderplatz. He is running for his life on his way to West Berlin, to escape a second imprisonment by the Russians.
          Again, I become the ‘man of the house’, and the bond of the family, fighting the East German System, becomes stronger and stronger. My father meanwhile builds a future for us in the West, while my mother, my sisters and me, endure the brain washing promises of the East.
          The penalty of my father being a ‘traitor’ to the East German regime, so called ‘Workers and Farmers State’ is our deportation to ‘little Siberia’, as we called it. Here, expelled from our two and a half room apartment, we have to live in a brittle little guardhouse of an old farm. The village is called Hoher Lehme and is situated on the outskirts of East Berlin. It’s way, I mean way out in the boon docks, where the farm dogs bark you into sleep every night.
          One room for a family of four is all we get. The daily water has to be pumped and carried from a well in the back of the house. The heating and cooking has to be done with wood and coal, and the house never gets warm in the winter. The one and only window is permanently iced over and we have to melt the ice with our hands to have a ‘look’ out the window.
          The outhouse for daily use is way back in the vegetable garden. No problem with the smell of the outhouse in the summer since the village is stinking of cow dunk anyway. But in winter, at minus 10 degrees Celsius, your bladder grows to the size of a beer barrel before you decide to go to the toilet.
          In the middle of the night you have to dress up for winter and walk through one foot of snow to do your ‘business’. Don’t mind reading a newspaper or look at a nice picture. In the middle of the night, you were the fastest wiper in the world. Oh boy, this kind of Socialism didn’t fit our spirits.
          The more secluded we became, the stronger my longing grew for far away countries and cultures. Spiritual travel is limited to the government’s approved literature, mostly East Block travels. I read about Darwin’s scientific travel and I got a hold of Amundsen and Scott’s story of their fight for the South Pole.
Adventures get a grip on my life. Above all, I smuggle home a book from West Berlin one Christmas, which fascinated me for the years to come. ‘Ich radle um die Welt’ (I bicycle around the world), written by Heinz Helfgen. With almost no money in his pockets, he lived through adventures around the world that every boy dreams about. I dream his adventures for years to come.

The escape to the West

           The infamous ‘Berlin Wall’ is not built yet and I take a secret tram ride to West Berlin after school. With Peter Bischof, a friend of mine, I see the movie ‘The Magnificent Seven”. A great movie, but a bad choice in a political system that doesn’t give you the freedom of choice. A system, which sees every Western product as a political thread.
          The next day I have to report to the principle of our school and my friend and I are expelled from the school. Why? Well, “You are a traitor to our System by watching a Western movie”. Boy, oh boy, these guys never have fun.
          A secret service agent of the ‘System’ had followed us. I am thirteen years of age, and he reported my ‘bad behavior’ to the Principle of my school. I am banned from my school and have to ride my bicycle to a new school that is 5 miles away in Koenigswusterhausen. Great daily exercise as I feel like the adventurer Heinz Helfgen on my bicycle. Soon I am so excellent trained that I compete in bicycle racing.
          But this time, the ‘System’ made the wrong choice for our family. We prepare our escape from East Germany. When the day comes, everybody is on his own to make the escape to West Berlin. I didn’t want to leave my bicycle behind and choose to cross the border at Treptow. With nothing but the cloth on our bodies we all will meet at an aunt’s place in Tempelhof.
          The escape isn’t without incident and we almost lost my little sister. With tears in our eyes we reunite after fearful hours in West Berlin. I get my first airplane ride a couple of days later as we get flown out of West Berlin to West Germany.
          My ‘big’ sister’s decision to stay in East Berlin with her boyfriend, till they finish University, is a bad one. She has no idea that the Berlin Wall will be build a year after our escape. 

The ‚Golden West’

           The West isn’t paradise either and I have a hard time to adjust to the new life in Duesseldorf. If you are a refugee with no money, anywhere in the world, you are on the bottom of the social ladder.
          But young people adjust quickly to a new environment and so do I. Not even two year in the West, the parents of a friend of mine offer me to take me along for their family vacation in Italy. We drive across the Alps through Switzerland and on to Venice. I fall in love with this unique and beautiful city as we walk the little cobblestone streets and along the canals. I hear the first time about Marco Polo’s journeys and, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, Venice becomes my door to the world. A year later I am back in Italy on a hitchhiking trip through Europe.
          In France I come in contact with North Africans for the first time in my life and I am fascinated by their so different Muslim culture. Trips to Spain and Greece follow and the lifestyle and culture of the Orient take me in, more and more.
          The building of the infamous Berlin Wall in August of 1961 rips our family apart. For years to come we cannot visit our ‘big’ sister. My sister’s life under strict government obedience isn’t much comfort and laughter. The Cold War between the East and the West reaches a state of constant thread of war. Life in Germany on both sides of the Wall becomes very political, a nightmare.
          Meanwhile I get my foundation for life by making an apprenticeship as machinist for three and a half years. I try to convince my parents of a shorter route to the University, as every young boy does, but they insisted on a ‘solid foundation’ before releasing me into the world of theories.
          For the rest of my life, and especially during my different travels around the world, I am thankful for my parent’s foresight and persistence.
          Three years after the apprenticeship, the year is 1967; I earn my Bachelor degree from the Engineering College in Düsseldorf. Now I am, and now I feel, ready for life.
          I love engineering, especially machine tool designing, and am rewarded for my inventions with two international patents. Don’t get me wrong; I am not a workaholic by any means. But when I work, I do my work right; I work intensely.
          Soon I discover that most engineers are very small-minded. Caught up in their tiny world of special technology. Consequently, I save my money and go back to the University to study marketing and economics. I choose the University of Munich and have the time of my life, as I enjoy the Bavarian beer and the girls in the famous beer gardens. No worry, I still got my degree.
          Opportunity knocks as I see an advertisement for a sales and marketing position. The job brings the applicant to the United States of America for a 3-month training. That’s for me!
          I apply immediately; I get the job, move back to Duesseldorf and am off to America.
          Life is beautiful and I get married. I make good money and travel all over Europe on business. In the beginning even the business trips are an adventure, but soon they become hard work. Meanwhile the real adventure side of my spirit keeps knocking, it wants more than the tight scheduled business trips.
          The movie ‘Traumstrasse der Welt’ and a slide presentation by friends, who just returned from a camper trip around the world, waken me up. Within hours, my wife and I make the decision to quit our jobs and start a camper trip around the world. Preparation takes us more than a year and in June of 1973 we are off in a camper towards the Orient.

Exploring the globe

             My first trip Around-The-World lasts for two years as we drive our camper through Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North America, Central America and South America. Returning home via a short stop in Africa.
          An adventurous trip, like driving around the world, changes every human’s life. It definitely changed our perception of life and living forever. We both feel we have only touched the surface of this beautiful world. Suddenly we knew, how little we knew.
          We want to explore the center of Afghanistan, which still lives close to the times of Alexander the Great; we want to understand the hardship yet content living of the Buddhists in the Himalayas Mountains.
          We want to understand why the Balinese live so peacefully on their beautiful island. Why is Central and South America so violent, while Brazil never had a war? We touched the surface of knowledge, now we wanted to know.
          Our unanimous decision: to spend the rest of our life traveling.

Back to work

           Back to work we go and I start my own engineering office in Duesseldorf. Life is easy in our civilized Germany and we put money aside for our next big trip.
          Meanwhile, for a period of three month per year, we revisit the places that excited us on our extended trip around the world. Afghanistan, Burma, Nepal, Tibet, India and Bali. Places where with a backpack you can trek to the remotest corners of the country.
          Sure, I had to learn Farsi during the years, but it was worth every effort the further away we went from the ‘beaten trek’. The northern route through Afghanistan is an example for remote places, where a hazardous journey through the desert is rewarded with a lifetime adventure.
          Our next ‘big trip’ starts in 1979 and takes us two and a half years.
          We buy a camper in New York and drive ‘The Beast’ all over America, visiting 48 states. America’s National and State Parks are of astounding beauty and we visit almost each of them. Skydiving becomes my hobby and I make 250 jumps all over the States within this journey. The winter we spend at the University in Guanajuato, Mexico, where we continued our Spanish language education. We also learn a lot about Siesta and Fiesta time and this makes our life much more pleasant.
          Following the warm spring weather north, we explore Canada, drive north to Alaska where we try our luck and dig for gold.
          The big nugget, we never find. Thus, we sell our camper, fly back to Germany and join the ‘working’ society again.

Starting all over again

           From scratch we start a travel agency, which is managed by my wife, and my engineering office is back on its feet within 3 month.
          On a business flight from Duesseldorf to Chicago I have an outstanding view of Greenland from 36,000 feet. I look down at this fascinating island of permanent ice and start ‘dreaming’.
          One year later we are down at this very same spot on dog sleds and skies. We cross glaciers and snowfields, and we experience a climate condition so harsh that we wonder how the natives can survive.

          Infected by the ‘can do’ spirit of the Americans I start a sales office for European paper converting machinery in Long Beach, California. It's quite a challenge to start a new business half way around the world and the reward is a great feeling of accomplishment. Two years later I drive the Jaguar I always wanted, buy a business condominium and have three employees in the office. Life is ‘goood’. 
          Running my own business is very demanding at times but it also gives me the time and money to race Formula cars and go skydiving over the weekends.
          A backpack trip through North Yemen in 1987, a country that reminds us of Afghanistan, is the last time I travel together with my wife. My wife returns to Germany and I continue my life in the States.
          Flying turns into my new hobby, and no place better to learn flying than Long Beach in Southern California. In excellent weather condition I learn flying in heavy air traffic. Over the weekends I enjoy mountain and desert flying.
          The year 1989 throws the ups and downs of life right into my face. My mother, who nourished my philosophy of life in freedom with all her strength, dies just nine days before the Berlin Wall comes down.           Not knowing that my ‘big’ sister, being separated from us for over 28 years, drops her tears on mother’s grave in freedom, only nine days later. Father, having been married to my mother for over 50 years, he has never been real sick, follows my mother with a broken heart half year later.
          Life is tough!
          Business becomes tough too, as the world economy races towards a recession. In the capital investment machinery business you feel the coming of an economic slow down a year earlier than the consumer goods industry. Thus I have to make a decision how to handle the coming crisis.
          I get the idea on a solo flight from Long Beach to Fresno, as I watch the ‘world’ from above and start ‘dreaming’. What about a flight around the world?
          Just months before the recession really hits, I cash in on my business condominium, sell the machine dealership and buy a 5-year-old, single engine, fabric covered, Maule taildragger airplane.

Flying around the globe

           With only 240 flying hours as pilot in command, I take off from Long Beach, CA in June of 1992 for a yearlong flying odyssey Around-The-World. The route: across North America, the Atlantic, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and back to Long Beach via the South Pacific.
          On this trip I really learned flying and I experience the adventures of a lifetime. To see the earth from a ‘birds eye’ view, from Greenland’s ice to Egypt’s desert, from America’s farmland to the South Pacific islands, is breathtaking.
          Having kept a detailed diary, I spent the next half-year to write my book ‘The Adventure Trip’. The book gives details about my flight around the world and adventures I remembered as I overfly the hot spots of my life.
          I get back in physical shape, which suffered heavily during the flying due to the cramped cockpit position, by tough daily exercise. I finish my first Half Ironman Triathlon, a 1.2- mile swim followed by as 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run, in 5 hours and six minutes.
          A reality check with my bank gets me back down to earth. I have to make some money again. An opportunity opens up in the compact disc industry and I start selling European CD manufacturing equipment in North America. Sixteen working hours per day are the average. After three years of hard work, I decide to take a short and crazy adventurous break.
          In the year of the Olympic games in Atlanta I will fly the ‘Olympic Bird’ around the world. The Olympic Bird is again a single engine, fabric covered Maule tail dragger. The plane is colorful painted as a bird.           In the spirit of the Olympic games from Athens to Atlanta, I fly westbound around the world to all major cities which ever hosted the Olympic games.
          From the charm of Paris to the salza of Mexico, from the elegance of Melbourne to the games in Atlanta, 1996.
          Lot’s of newspaper articles are written about my ‘Olympic Flight’, TV and radio interviews followed, but the money I spent was my own.

Back to work

         A project management job in the semiconductor industry in Switzerland offers real good money and I enjoy living half a year in the Alps.
          Back in California I revitalize my office operation representing German companies in the United States. But sailing is on my mind and I start the preparation for my final trip around-the-world, a circumnavigation in a 31-foot clipper. 
          I sell my condominium in Long Beach and move down the coast to Newport Beach where sailing action is part of the cities life. My weekends are spent in the waves of the Pacific Ocean. As foredeck man I race on three different boats, a Catalina 38’, a Kirby 30’ and a 30-foot Shields.
          The Shields are raced at the Orange Coast College in Newport Beach where I take class after class of sailing instructions. OCC offers all the classes you ever need to circumnavigate the globe. I take all of them.
          Together with my Brazilian friend Paulo Neto, we take out the Shields at OCC and cruise the coastline of Southern California, and every corner of the Newport Beach harbor. Since the 30 feet Shields has no engine, it’s the perfect sailboat to learn ‘real sailing’.
          As the last days of the millennium are counted down, one of the two German companies that I represent in the United States goes belly up, goes broke. Now I have to make a very crucial decision.
          Do I invest my money and time to build up a new dealership, or do I take off for my sailing trip and worry about the money when I come back?
          Living in Southern California, the ‘Angels’ are singing in Spanish: think ‘manana’ about manana. Hasta manana!
          If I want to make a single-handed circumnavigation, I better leave now. I am still in excellent physical condition and who knows for how long.     

On the road again: circumnavigation!

         A Sunday cruise with Tom Cooper on his 36’ Angleman ‘Sea Witch’ turns out to be a perfect day. Tom is a member of the WHYC (wooden hull yacht club) and tells me that one of their members has an immaculate maintained 31’ Angleman ‘Sea Spirit’ for sale. Next morning I get a call from Gordon Hilaski, the owner of ‘Sea Duchess’, a 31’ Angleman. A week later Sea Duchess is mine.
        By years end I am ready to leave for my circumnavigation. I celebrate the New Millennium and my good buy from California on ‘Ala di Sabah’ with my Brazilian friends Paulo & Belo. We celebrate my departure under the fireworks of the retired ocean liner Queen Mary. All the water around us turns colorful, as colorful as the world I am going to see.

        At the beginning of the year 2000 I leave California; south bound for Mexico. I get knocked down with ‘Ala di Sabah’ in a storm off the coast of Baja California, but make it savely to Puerto Vallarta. Along the Mecican coast I get to know what cruising is all about. Enjoying life!    
          Central America  gives me my first ‘earthquake’ at sea and a pirate attack in Ecuador almost ends my journey. With a bullet in my chest, I have to fight for my life. I survive the attack, but have to fly to Germany to get the bullet removed from my heart.
          Nine month later I have the adventure I dreamed about; crossing the South Pacific. Weeks of perceverence at sea bring me to the desolated Marquesas islands and on to beautiful Tahiti. My mizzen mast breaks and the repair gives me an other season in beautiful French Polynesia.
          The South Pacific, all the way to Papua New Guinea, is the highlight of my sailing turn. The world of these islands is full of beauty and different cultures. But sailing in this beautiful waters is not without danger. In Aitutaki, in the Cooks Islands, I ran on a reef and was very lucky to get pulled off it by other sailors.
          Luck is on my side again, as I leave the marina just half an hour before the Tsunami 2004 hit. For the next days I see all the devastation of life and property and realise how brutal the ocean can be. But the ‘Land of Smiles’ lets me soon forget the pain.
          The crossing of the Indian Ocean is my biggest challenge yet. The weather is lousy and the ocean rough. Around Sri Lanka I have to watch for pirrates and in the Maldives I fight for my life to get my boat off a corral reef. Rounding the Cape of Good Hope is a weather challenge that you can loose by the hour.
          The crossing of the South Atlantic, from South Africa to Brazil, shows me the limitations of single handed sailing. Physically and mentally exhausted I reach Salvador do Bahia, and I feel that ten years on the ocean are coming to an end.
          A nice Brazilian couple buys ‘Ala di Sabah’ and I am on my way back to old Germany, where my new adventure begins: Germany after 25 years!


"To travel is to live, as life is a journey"
Jean Paul