When I returned ‘back home’ after my student years in Athens, I was questioning myself on whether I should put on my wings again and become a full-time traveller, or try and have the ‘normal’ life and grow stronger roots in my homeland, Cyprus—a small, but nevertheless beautiful, island in the middle of, well, nowhere. My nowhere’s name is actually: The Mediterranean. Which means: ‘in the middle of the Earth’ or ‘between lands’. Quite comforting, when you think about it.
What makes some of us, more than other people, restless and passionate about exploring and understanding the world, I don’t really know for sure. For me, it matched my immense curiosity, but more than that, it matches my tendency to look at the bigger picture, the forest; the collectiveness, and the unexplainable need (or feeling of purpose) to care about this ‘forest’ in a creative way, through my work. So, I had decided, early on, to do both! I’ve opened my wings and spread my roots as far as I could—it wasn’t easy, as you may presume, but every decision comes with its whites and blacks. Fair enough. So I used my homeland as my ‘headquarters’ and made a point to accept every possible opportunity and challenge to travel, and explore in order to understand, enjoy or grow from its challenges, get inspired and, finally, write about the ‘forest’ and its ‘trees’. An honourable journey, up until now, if I may say so.
Every traveller takes what he or she needs from the journey. What we give back to the world is, probably, the only ‘destination’.
FABIAN SIXTUS KORNER
Where are you, as you write this, Fabian? What do you see around you? I am at my shared apartment in Berlin and I am surrounded by lots of carton boxes. I will be going to the Dominican Republic soon and thought it might be a good time, once again, to reduce my possession.
How do you feel these days? Which are the thoughts that prevail in your mind? I have been touring through Germany the past weeks, reading from my book in front of great audiences. Prior to that, I was traveling through Sri Lanka for two months to shoot a documentary about the local surfers. These days my thoughts are mostly about the new projects to come in 2015.
Where did you grow up and how has ‘home’ formed your personality and your own ‘hero's journey’? I grew up in the countryside close to Frankfurt. I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 17, which is quite early for german standards. I didn’t feel comfortable in that small world a village can offer - where everybody knows everything about everyone. My travels definitely helped me change my mind about that. I enjoy coming back every once in a while, but moving back there is still not an option.
What made you start this long journey around the world? After university I wanted to go on a trip around the world, but at the same time I didn’t want to neglect my career. I had to come up with an idea on how to combine my lust for adventure and the will to improve as a designer and an artist. That’s when I stumbled upon the german tradition of the journeyman…
What is the Tradition of the Journeyman and why is crossing borders necessary in order to define our own borders? Originated back in the medieval Germany, craftsmen, such as carpenters, had to go travel and work for masters of their craft. Instead of money, they received board and lodging. It was meant to be a time of learning new skills and learning to master life, and when the journeyman returned home, he was allowed to become a Master himself. I think the reasons for doing such a journey haven’t lost any of their importance, and I believe that you must find out which of the rules of those that the society provides us with make sense for you. How can you be happy otherwise?
What kind of stories are you concentrating on and why? I don’t concentrate on stories and I guess that is why so many things happen that evolve into stories. I want to soak up life as it is, wherever I go.
Which were the most inspirational personalities you’ve met along the way and what have they taught you? I will always remember this old Dutch man I met in the Himalayas. Back then he said something that I would understand only years later. He said: ‘People are afraid that the flowers next to the road could have a sweeter smell than the ones in their own front garden.’ It takes courage to pack all your belongings in carton boxes, leave everything behind and start from zero. I guess it is just normal to be afraid to admit that a life without all the things you may have worked years to achieve, could be the one that makes you happier.
I'm sure you never seize to be surprised by how things really are in developing countries, in comparison of the western world's perceptions... Please share a vivid example. Although I consider myself as an open minded person who visited many places, I will never be free from prejudice. Whenever I go to places for the first time I only know what I heard from the media or other travellers. And it is always completely different than I expect it to be. Whether it is a so called third-, second- or first-world-country. I guess the most surprised I have been was when I arrived in Colombia. What you heard about it during the past decades was affected by danger, terror and robberies. But Colombia is huge and you can’t even compare the people living on the coast to the ones living inland or in the mountains. I guess the variety of one country will always make it impossible to generalise. Even in Germany the North and South are completely different.
What makes a man and his journey honourable? Back in the days, only men were allowed to become ‘journeymen’. But today I’d rather ask: ‘What makes a person and his or her journey honourable?’ I guess it is to constantly reflect yourself and other peoples decisions before condemning, to stay open minded and be a part, as a traveller and as a person, of overcoming borders. When a Cypriot travels to a rural area in, let’s say, Zimbabwe, I believe there lies a great chance in it to connect between cultures in a good manner. To be able to do so makes a person and his or her journey honourable.
Please share some of the projects you’ve brought forth. One of my favourite projects was a protest video that I shot in Bangalore, India, in which I danced against the dancing ban that still makes the city a place which is mostly deserted at night. But also the vertical garden I built there was a great project. I was the judge in a model contest in Malaysia; climbed 30 meter high bamboo structures as an architect in Shanghai; shook hands of many politicians as the International Ambassador of the Kuala Lumpur Design Week; helped a 12-year-old street musician in San Francisco to reach fame, and worked with the team of the biggest festival promoting photography in Africa, the Addis Foto Fest. Each of them, and many more, were unique and I experienced things that I haven’t done before or ever afterwards.
Which is your favourite quote from your book, ‘The Journeyman’? I only used one quote in the whole book, so instead of giving you one of my own, I give you my favourite one. There exists a photograph of a random wall, somewhere in Germany, and someone (unknown) has written something on it in a very scrawly handwriting. It reads –in translation: ‘From inside, a hamster wheel looks like a career ladder.’
Have you ever done the conventional 9-5 office thing? Yes, when I was 18 I took a break and left school. I remember a job where I had to stack bills/checks by numbers. Eight hours per day, for three months, stacking papers on different piles. I came out as a mental wreck and decided to go back to school, so that I don’t have to do that for the rest of my life.
Are you mostly a traveller, a designer or a story-teller, at heart? It changes, constantly. When I feel the need to travel but instead I tell a story, the story cannot be good. When I am eager to start a design project then I can’t enjoy traveling as much as I want to, because my thoughts are wrapped around that project. So, in the end, I try to do what I feel like doing, for I believe that the outcome is better when you are in it with all of your heart.
What do you miss the most when things get lonely or difficult? The bad thing about loneliness is that you can’t share it with others. But intense and special moments, whether they are good or bad, can only evolve into personal legends, when you can go through it with others. So it is quite easy to say: When I am lonely, I miss being surrounded by good people.
Do you see yourself ‘settling down’ at any point and how do you define settling down? If settling down would be the opposite of being nomadic, I would call myself a part-time nomad or a part-time settler. I came to the conclusion that none of both states is something that would make me happy long-term. The mix of both does make me happy though.
The hardest goodbyes? The ones that really are for good.
If you had the chance to convey one single message in a bottle to the world, on behalf of the people you met and collaborated with during your journey so far, what would that be? Tear down your walls and use the debris to build bridges.
*You can follow Fabian's travel updates at: http://fabsn.com