Monthly column Helge Timmerberg

A formative encounter


  Freddy Quinn was my first travel guru. He was a huge star of German pop in the 1960s, and my mother loved him beyond reason. So from a very young age, I listened to the troubadour of wanderlust crooning about a white ship sailing for Hong Kong, a sailor’s only friends being his guitar and the sea, and a mother begging her son to return home. I would stand on the sofa holding my hairbrush like a mic and – my mother really only had herself to blame – sing along with Freddy when he sang: “I stole away softly while my mother was asleep, and when she awoke, I had gone to sea.”

That more or less inspired me. Just like Freddy, I left home at 17 with my guitar and no money to my name – but not for the sailor’s life. Some 20 years later, I met Freddy in Hamburg for an interview. We got along like father and son, big brother and little brother or whatever it was. He drove me home afterwards, and sang a little bit of salsa and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, when I told him about my trip to Cuba. It was winter; it was snowing; time stood still.

Many years have since passed and I never saw Freddy again, although I heard that he had given up the traveling life. I haven’t, I just keep going. I was recently in Cape Town, before that, London and before that, Barcelona. Now I’m at the Alte Post hotel in Wörgl in Tyrol, feeling strangely elated. I’ve just given a reading during which, as I often do, I talked about Freddy Quinn and sang his “White Ship to Hong Kong” song even though I never liked the city – I just love the song. The organizer has just informed me that Freddy Quinn once performed in Wörgl and stayed at this very hotel. And so here I am now, clearly sensing his presence.

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