Arrival in Moscow

After we got tickets with Thorston and Bianas‘ help on a short-term notice to the soccer game, Chile against Cameroon, we wanted, of course, to be in Moscow on time. So we split the team up a bit. After Christian was sitting in the wheelchair and safely buckeled into the bus, we set out on our journey. While Alexander, Christian and Tomas were on the way to Moscow with the blue bus, Svetlana, Conny and Harro arranged the hotel rooms, ordered the material and checked out. To keep things simple, Christian left Swetlana with his credit card to pay the bill. A procedure which had already proven itself several times on this trip. Although there was occasionally a question due to the missing signature, Svetlana generally talked her way out of any serious inconvenience. The first time the problem occured she simply responded to the question about the missing signature, „… this is a black credit card that must not be signed, don‘t you know that?“ Paired with her facial expression, that was the end of any additonal discussion.

This time, however, it did not work in our Moscow hotel. Despite the much later departure time, the white bus overtook the blue blus shortly after half of the route, presumably due to the hp of the engine. As agreed, the three went directly to the hotel. When Christian asked for the address of the hotel, he immediately replied himself, „stupid question: of course, a hotel where we stayed before was is still in the navi“. He unfortunately did not consider that there was more than one Holiday Inn in Moscow. After much to and fro, we finally arrived at our hotel. Only annoying that this time the prepayment did not work, so there was not even a key for us… „find your road“ – some hours later this problem was solved and as always: all‘s well that ends well!

At the same time our comrades in the football-interested blue bus reached the stadium. True to our motto: „act self-assured even without having a clue“, we passed all controls without a problem due to Christian‘s disabled ID card, ‚smuggling‘ the car right up to the VIP and press entrance. However, from there we couldn‘t get any further without maps and the corresponding „Fan ID“. With Alexander on the roof of the car, Bianca piloted us in by phone. Now quickly getting the fan ID we continued on. Since noone really knew where we should park, they simply let us pass. Of course not without first looking through the bus (felt a little like the reports of the German-German border crossing). The global fear of terrorist attacks is now part of all such major sporting events. We went straight to the stadium.

Now the fun could start. The nice thing about Russia is that there is almost always a solution to every problem, this time as well. While Tomas and Alexander parked the car, Bianca and I were brought to our seats. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the very dedicated crew of FIFA. Normally, transports with wheelchairs get information on where to park days before their arrival. Without having such information, we simply parked right next to the buses of the players … (find your road or in this case parking).

The game itself was very interesting and exciting. For Christian, however, it was even more exciting to talk with the Russian fans around him. Due to so much talking, they missed the goals, but there was in the end beautiful photos and a friend more in this world. But for everyone, it was an unforgettable experience to see the football game live in the stadium.

Dear Bianca and Torsten, thank you very much for making this possible!

In the end we all met again and even Christian our Kameramann could watch the second half of the game. Quite relaxed, we went to the hotel and the problem with the rooms had been solved. Christian and Christian finished the evening quite comfortably at the hotel bar.

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The Return March to Moscow

After seeing a completely different side of Russia in Sochi, our travels were slowly coming to an end. In front of us were about 1700 km return, for which three days have been planned. This sounds quite relaxed, especially because the motorway had just been completed to Moscow. But if you take into account that the „morning routine“ takes 4 hours and then the cars have to be loaded, packed and checked – which can mean an additional 1 and half hours, it quickly becomes clear that 600 km per day will push us to the limit. Ok, nobody said that it will be easy. :-)

The thought of a 3 hour serpentine road facing us at the start of today’s journey didn’t really put any smile in our faces. 3 hours rodeo non-stop; I’d like to see a cowboy do that. Luckily this time everything was a bit more relaxed than our trip getting here. In addition, we have organized fixed breaks and a maximum driving speed. How quickly are you allowed to drive on Russia’s roads? Well, the speedometer always shows that we’re going to fast, doesn’t it? In addition, you should always adapt your speed to the flow of traffic.

It was a summer day with the best weather conditions. The sun was shining and so the Black Sea once again showed itself at its best. Then we got to the highway. For this day, Rostov-on-Don was our intermediate destination. Unfortunately, we arrived kind of late, so we had to fall back on a Mac Donald’s for our dinner. Tomas, Alexander and Harro were sent out for food. After Svitlana and Christian had finished eating the Macfood, Tomas voiced a „small“ request. While talking about our plans to arrive at 20:00 in Moscow in two days, he casually mentioned the Confederations Cup. Christian’s face was a single question mark. What is it and above all what does it have to do with us? The first question was quickly answered, an international football tournament, and that evening Cameroon would play against Chile. The game would start at 9:00 pm local time. The answer to the second part of the question was almost funny: „we could watch it live in the stadium“! – Really great idea, Friday evening, two days before the game and without tickets for the game …

Well, it was a pretty cool idea, thanks for the suggestion, it would have been great. The whole trip the team had done everything to make the impossible, possible and Tomas and Alexander had always taken the initiative to make things happen. But Friday at 11pm and 1000 km away – only Torsten could help. When he had read Christian’s SMS the next morning, Torsten and his wife Bianca set heaven and hell in motion. In the end it worked out but Bianca -a declared football muffle- had to go with us to the stadium. But more on this later.
Parallel to this organizational masterpiece, we left the car and walked once again into the city. Christian wanted to have his breakfast under the Pushkin monument so he could at least see something of the city. A small shop, including German speaking service, had several types of cake to offer. If one is allowed to believe Alexander, not only the cake was fantastic … but also the Cappuccino (a rascal who thinks differently). Well strengthened, we got back to the highway … but not without extensive e-mail and SMS communication with Torsten and Bianca.
We arrived in Voronezh and found the hotel rooms. In the evening at the hotel bar we could hardly believe that it had been only 15 days ago, that we were here, sat in the same place and drank our beers. At that time everything was still in front of us, we were curious about what was coming and what the trip would demand of us. We discussed daily routines, service schedules and assignments for such a project allowed no goofing off.
Today the faces look tired and the conversations are brief but in everyone’s eyes, you could see the pride of their achievements.

 

You Can Always Find a Way

Christian Tiffert of Germany drove his wheelchair through Russia

 

Since a fall with his mountain bike five years ago, the naval officer Christian Tiffert is a quadriplegic. This does not prevent the 40-year-old Rostocker from being active in a chin-controlled wheelchair. Some time ago he wondered if he would be able to travel to Russia in such a wheelchair. The answers he received in Germany were clear: never in your life! Today Tiffert knows better.

 

Mr. Tiffert, you have recently completed a three-week round trip through Russia in your wheelchair. Could you give a short summary?

 

This has been a mile stone in my life. We’ve had great experiences here. I cannot think of anything that might have gone badly. And if there had really been a problem, then there would have always been someone to help. In Germany they have the equipment, in Russia they have friendly people everywhere.

 

How did you ever come up with this idea?

 

My friend Torsten Ites is a Naval attaché at the German Embassy in Moscow. We spent two and a half years working together on the frigate Brandenburg. I was the propulsion officer, and he was the commander. After my accident, he visited me in the hospital, and we developed a friendship. Later he was at my house in Rostock, and I began playing with the idea of returning the gesture and visiting him in Moscow. I’ve always been curious about Russia. I knew that from my school lessons in the GDR, where I learned Russian. I wanted to find out for myself: What is it like there?

 

 

In the end, you saw not only Moscow with your own eyes, but eleven cities in the European part of Russia, from Volgograd to Sochi and from Astrachan to Elista, traveled a total of 4,500 kilometers. Alone the travel preparations must have been very complex.

 

It all began with friends who had friends in Russia, and who felt they had a right to express their opinion because of this; they advised against such an endeavor. The general tenor, which was proposed to us in Germany, was: You are crazy! Apart from being told that Russia’s infrastructure is not prepared for disabled, we were informed about the bad roads, which later often proved to be top quality. We were also warned that we would be ripped off from the police. Throughout Germany, ghosts influence such perspective in relationship to Russia and resulted simply in horror stories. You cannot express it any other way.

 

At the ITB in Berlin I came to a travel agency for Russian travel. There they just laughed at me. With a wheelchair to Russia – that would not work. „Travel instead to Mallorca,“ they recommended.

 

We also had difficulties finding a rental car. We had dozens of telephone calls, but we could only find an offer for a ‘handicapped-friendly’ minibus for a deposit of 40,000 Euros. Ultimately, we – my companions on whom I depend and I – drove with my old Citroen Jumper and another minibus.

 

 

 

 

 

So you ignored the good advice to look for a different destination?

 

Oh, you know, I was 18 years in the Navy and saw half the world. One of my companions trekked through Nepal, another through India and Canada. Such warnings don’t easily unsettle me and my team. If you want everything to be perfect, you have to go to America. Our approach was:   Everything is probably not perfect, but that does not frighten us, we’ll adjust ourselves to it. This meant, among other things, that two travel agencies in St. Petersburg and Hamburg supported us at every planning stage.

 

You spoke of „great experiences“ in Russia. Give us a few examples?

 

We were in Volgograd. This is a city in where Germans wreaked the indescribable. If anyone has the right to speak badly about the Germans, then it is the people from this city. And yet they met us with kindness, openness, with respect. This impressed me. In Volgograd we made the acquaintance of an old man who took care of our cameras so that nothing happens to them. You always hear: In Russia, many things are stolen. But this man, on the contrary, was anxious to protect our possessions.

 

In Moscow, we were in a Confed Cup game. Chile against Cameroon. The tickets were obtained from one day to the next. That is Russia! If you want something, then it can happen.

In the Caucasus somebody showed us where the front line ran in the war and there was a water station where the two sides had taken turns getting water. Every year, war veterans meet there to exchange stories. In the winter sports resort of Krasnaja Poljana, where the Paralympic Games took place in 2014, we arrived exactly five years after my sports accident. I found this a very worthwhile destination to celebrate this date.

 

What do you mean „worth“? Shouldn’t this be a day when the memories hurt and which you would rather suppress every thought?

 

I had to decide on the first anniversary: ​​either you push it away, consider it as a day of mourning, or you can celebrate. I invited everyone who helped me get along in a wheelchair. How can you ever thank them? The question I have often asked myself. I think it best to take advantage of the opportunity one is given, and live each moment as normal as possible.

 

At the hospital many people told me: „You’re going to go to a home for disabled. I sat with the psychologist. He: „How do you feel about suicide?“ – Me: „For me no topic.“ – He: „And if you were put in a disabled home?“ – I: „That would be a reason.“

 

I want to show myself and force people to deal with the fact that there are also people who sit in a wheelchair. And that they can do crazy things. I do not see my accident as a disaster. For me, a new life has begun. Today I can do things that would not have been possible before. Three weeks in Russia is a good example.

 

How do you feel about accessibility here?

I went with the wheelchair almost everywhere I wanted to go. Many sidewalks are so low or broken that they are not an obstacle. Often driveways are very steep and obviously not intended for wheelchairs, but for prams and bicycles. Sochi is definitely very accessible for the physically disabled. The hotels in which we stayed, were all very accessible, although they were very good hotels.

 

 

Have you seen other wheelchair users on the way?

During the whole trip only two. And neither of them had an E-wheelchair. No one can seem to afford anything like this.

 

 

Are you sharing your experiences in any way?

We’re making a documentary about it. And there will be lectures. The motto of this trip „Find Your Road“, should definitely live on. This is also the title of the blog that we have led: findyourroadblog.wordpress.com. I assume that this was not our last trip to Russia.

 

The interview was conducted by Tino Künzel.

Two Days Sochi – Another World

Stressed by the hardships of the previous day, a good night’s sleep was at the top of our agenda. In the morning, everyone quietly started the day for themselves. Harro, Thomas and Christian went off together to take some photos together, write a blog, record an interview and most importantly, just sit at the Black Sea and sip a cocktail. The latter proved to be not very simple. The ‘entrusted’ cocktail bar turned out to be more of a snack bar rather than a well equipped bar. After a short back and forth, we agreed upon a Mochito – of Russian design. Whatever it was, it tasted good and alcohol was in it. The first article for the blog started somehow easy, but later, it had to be edited

quite a bit for some odd reason.

 

Unfortunately, our idea to sit with a deck chair at the beach and simply enjoy the weather could not be realized. Where there was beach, there was a fence. The walk along the promenade was a contrast to what we had seen in recent weeks. In the port were modern large yachts, in the parking lot were almost only Mercedes or BMW and in the shops there was Versace, Gucci or what else the noble needs. (Note from the author: somehow it all felt very foreign.) Later we looked for a café. After a picturesque sunset we went back to the city and hotel.

 

June 15, exactly five years after the accident, the whole journey built up to this date, the drum beat was successful – we celebrated Christian’s birthday on the at Black Sea, in the city where the Para Olympics took place in 2014. Our big goal was achieved. Even in the team, hardly anyone really had believed that we could do it and now that we were there, the day felt quite normal. It may also take some time to realize what we had achieved. Be that as it may, an excursion to the Olympic Park was planned for this day. After breakfast we started. The trip went over modern streets with a street design and layout that would have honored any city. Christian’s only comment: „can someone film this, so that Alexander knows how to convert the slot car track upon our return.“ (Note: Slot Car Racing is Christian’s new hobby and Alexander „may“ be a builder). Otherwise the place was rather unspectacular. That is why we continued on.

 

Apart from a whole lot of hotels which looked as if they had been shut down, there were still two or three cable ways with gondola. Nobody knew who exactly had the idea in the end, but it was as always: Nobody does what he should but everyone joins in. „Find your road“ was the motto of this trip, wasn’t it ? – Christian’s path led directly into such a gondola and then upwards. The five steep stairs that had previously had to be overcome had already been completely forgotten in this moment. The dimensions of the wheelchair were compared with the load capacity of a gondola and a few Russian helpers were organized. Regarding the rest, we are preparing to drink from the river Lethe in order to forget everything at this point … (The photos / videos say it all). However, we would like to thank the guys from the cable car and the whole team of assistants!

 

For the evening, Thomas ordered us a table so we could end the day quite comfortably with food and drink. When the three Russian officers of the neighboring table realized that we were from Germany, they invited us for some vodka and to drink to friendship among nations. Later on, a group of gypsies played in Christian’s honor. A very successful day. At least until the batteries of Christians wheelchair ‘gave up their spirits’. The walk felt like 100 km and…right at the beginning of a large rain shower.

The Last Stretch to Sochi

After leaving Kislovodsk, we went to Sochi via an intermediate stop in Labinsk, the last destination of our trip. However, not without confirmation of the rooms in the sanatorium. Fortunately, the traces of the previous evening were already passing and the missing white plastic bowl quickly appeared again.

 

Because Christian liked the way through the pass at the lecture so much, we decided for this small detour. Unfortunately, we had almost the entire way thick fog. It was so bad that we could not see the white bus in front of us and we almost oversaw the lookout point. Thanks to Alexander we found it. You can really depend on Alexander’s appetite like clockwork… even though there was not even Shaschlik available. The filled rolls of crust were tasty to everyone and the hot tea warmed us against the cold. Just as we wanted to continue, Christian had the splendid idea to buy a LITTLE honey. However, he succumbed to a small buying spree. We won’t need to buy any more honey for the next three years…

 

Regrettably, the wonderful view we had yesterday in the mountains was engulfed in fog, what also did not simplify driving on the serpentine roads. (A small taste of what was to come for the last approx. 150 km to Sochi.) We reached Labinsk early in the evening. There we had a very nice small hotel, which was still run privately. Outside in the courtyard we built a long table and enjoyed the evening meal together. I think it was the first time that we were all able to sit together at one table for supper.

 

For the planning of the route the next day we deleted the check mark „no dirt roads“ in our navigational devices and so we traveled over totally lousy streets, but scenically beautiful routes to the Black Sea. At some point we had a truck with gas cylinders in front of us. The gas tank simply lay loosely on the back wrapped with a thin tension belt and the sight of which could not soothe Christian’s nerves. Christian’s comment, „Alex, either keep your distance or overtake the truck,“ was of course taken as a challenge and Alex gladly stepped on the gas pedal.

 

In the early afternoon we took a break at a shisha stand. Suddenly a car stopped beside us, and an elderly gentleman got out and came towards us. He asks directly whether we are from Germany. He probably recognized it by our license plates. He briefly introduced himself and then told us about the region. His ensuing story moved every one of us. He was very well versed regarding the events of the Second World War, especially in this region. The man told us that exactly on this spot had been the front between Germans and Russians. Exactly here, however, was also the only water source in this area. Actually unimaginable but true: in spite of their bitter hostility to one another, both Germans and Russians shared the water. At least until one was shot. Since the end of the war the former ‘enemies’ meet here every year and exchange stories. A little down the road he showed us a Russian soldiers‘ cemetery, but we went to the German cemetery. (Author’s note: My former favorite author Erich Maria Remarque describes it in a short story from the First World War-at least I had a very big lump in my throat.)

 

Then at last we reached the Black Sea! After we had tormented ourselves fighting the traffic of Tuapse we were ready for a break. Also to get rid of the nasty smell of fuel on us that covered the whole city.

 

While we were waiting for food, Christian played with his wheelchair standing up and sitting down. Then our small ‘unit of therapy’ arrived and the meal was finished. Everyone is allowed to guess what it was. Relaxed and full again, we hit the road: 120 km of serpentines, 3 hours between life and death – and as always a Russian truck in our necks and the oncoming traffic like at a grand opening of a new Ikea store… For our troubles we were rewarded a beautiful sunset over the Black Sea. There was no time for a photo. Having arrived at the hotel in Sochi, we made our way to the hotel bar – our nerves were shot. But as always: All’s well that ends well.

 

From The Steppe to the Caucasus

On the basis of our experience with the heat of the last days it was decided in the evening, that the air-conditioned VW bus would leave as early as possible in the morning. The goal was to get the hotel rooms in Kislovodsk in the early evening. The blue non air-conditioned bus would depart with Christian in the late afternoon, after the hottest part of the day had past. A quick look out the window and into the weather app gave us the go-ahead – overcast and rain at our destination. After a visit to the temple, we went together to our next destination – off to the of a driver’s license and 4000 € or 4000 rubles in cash. Best wishes for our continued journey from our ‘friend and helper’ were free of charge. Svitlana cussed like an old sailor – Christian’s comment: if it were only always so simple …

A short time later we met at a motorway resting place, where, of course, there was shashlik and then…Victor, one of the most impressive acquaintances of this trip. Victor was stationed as a soldier in Germany and spoke some German. In particular he could say „Wustrow“ and to Conny: „marry me“ …

After the annoying police check, the honest joy of meeting Victor in the „desert“ Rostock was so pleasant that Tomas gave away his Hansaschal. For the children of Victor’s friends, Tomas had some small handmade cloth bags from Nepal. The joy of the two Buddhists was indescribable. Sometimes, intercultural understanding can be so simple.

Well strengthened, we continued our journey. After three border checks, which pushed Alexander’s luck to its limit, we finally arrived late in the evening. At some point we also found the entrance to the hotel, or rather the sanatorium. What the guard from our name in the guest list unfortunately couldn’t tell us. Something apparently went wrong with the booking. After a lot of back and forth – at this point again necessary to give special thanks to Svitlana – we all got rooms as well as beer and vodka from Christian. A long, but beautiful day!

An Expedition to the Caucasus

A few weeks ago, Alexander and Christian sat quite comfortably with a beer in front of the computer and planned the trip. That meant: clicking on Google Maps a times a few times and clicking on a few places. It quickly became clear that the Caucasus would be a goal on the trip. While Christian, however, was looking at the travel warnings from the foreign office and still googling a little on the Internet, he realized that the path listed for a Russian beginner was very small. Really mountainous area as Christian knew it from his holidays with his parents is hard to find. One of the few routes went to Dombai, a resort for winter sports. Originally the plan was to stay a night,  but there were unfortunately no squirrels you could feed … (a small gift to Conny)

But since the two did not want to let the experience pass them by, it was decided to take a day trip. Tomas (due to his many trips to Nepal, he was known in specialist circles as „Nepal Tomas“) wanted to be there, but he had to rest up a little, and so Harro joined with the video camera. We quickly gathered a few tips,  programmed the ‘navi’ we were ready to go. Supposedly Christian had checked the road conditions in Google Earth which reported everything should be wonderful. Well ok, the last 30 km from the almost 300 km round trip was wonderful. Nevertheless a wonderful route. It led through villages and mountain gorges, past Caucasian riders who still drove their cattle in the traditional way through the region, and past small caravans where you could buy many varieties of honey. Alexander’s heart pounded and it seemed as if he captured every cow and goat  from all sides both on video and photo for a documentary.

The streets were a real highlight. In retrospect,  it is really not clear whether there were more potholes or more serpentines. In any case, Christian was shaken about roughly. Upon arriving at a pass, a wonderful panorama unfolded itself suddenly! In the middle of the mountains at an altitude of 2200m  – a clear view. What a landscape! Then we drove down to the actual road to Dombai. At a waterfall, there was a kind of market that was built up for tourists, where there was plenty of stuff to buy. Since Christian could not wait to get out of the car, he was suddenly surrounded by locals. A very competent sales woman gave away bread, milk and socks. For this, she got Christian to buy a glass bottle in a horse design with some kind of a brown liquid in it, as well as a new blanket. Afterwards  a few photos were taken and the trip could continue. In Dombai it was clear to everyone, that we had successfully reached our goal! The southernmost point of the trip had been reached, and Sochi was only two days‘ journey away.

Harro had a small interview with Christian against the background of one of the three, four thousand. While Harro and Christian were having their fun with the video camera, Alexander announced that he had been infected with „a little hunger“ … Since the Navi indicated the return journey over the highway was only 2 hours, we had sufficient time for Schaschlick and Co.  For the evening (remember: the accommodation was a sanatorium) we quickly bought vodka and local beer. On the way home there were two border controls, but they past without problems (it was raining). However, we all have learned something about navigational devices and intermediate targets. The total driving time back to the „hotel“ was 4 hours …

Photos