© Tim Möller-Kaya

In case you don’t believe that soccer rules the world …


Baluchistan, 1970. Home to the Pashtuns whose territory lies in ­Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Very wild men with long beards, all armed and all addicted to tea, or chai. Extremely strong, overly sugared – basically a liquid dessert. The chai maker sat cross-legged behind his kettle, firelight flickering over his leathery face. He eyed me as though I were a creature of fable; he had never seen a European in the flesh before. “American?,” he asked. “No, German.” His eyes lit up. “Beckenbauer,” he yelled ecstatically. “Bec-ken-bau-er!” I got my tea for free.

Southern India, 1982. A sacred mountain. A tiny temple near the top run by a young Brahman woman, Sushila, who had a nine-year-old son, a transistor radio and a good dozen chickens for occasional sacrifice to the goddess Kali. She wore rings in her nose, chalked intricate white mandalas onto the clay every day, and spoke little English. Still, I learned that she was 29 fingers old and that the three villages in her valley were the only world she knew. My announcement that I was German had no effect on her, but her son went crazy, shouting “Rum-me-nig-ge.”

Amazonia, 1992. After two weeks traveling in the rain forest with some gold seekers, I had grown accustomed to the darkness, the jaguars, crocodiles and snakes – but not to the Yanomani, who still hunted with poisonous darts, and insisted on calling me Lothar, once they knew where I was from. “Lo-thar Mat-thä-us!”

Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.