5.523 kilometers, at least six pairs of shoes walked through: Stefan Spangenberg has managed a pilgrimage of superlatives. In nine months he wandered through nine countries and at the end reached Jerusalem.
The low point comes at the beginning of February, when he is almost there. It is night. Stefan Spangenberg lies on a bench in the waiting area at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. Not because it was the day of his flight home, but because he simply couldn't find another place to spend the night. With his monowalker, the walking luggage cart next to him, he stands out. Suspicious guards constantly pass by. Sleep is not to be thought of.
'Why all this stress?', the pilgrim wonders wearily. The two nights before, he had to camp in front of gas stations. During the day, the roads were bad, along highways, over muddy dirt roads – where the monowalker once got stuck in the mud. Maybe, Spangenberg muses, he should take a bus to Jerusalem for the last kilometers after all?
But in the early morning the ambition seizes him again. Taking the bus is out of the question! Two days later Stefan Spangenberg is really there. "Welcome to Jerusalem!"a passerby cheerfully calls out to him. On this 12. February ends an unusual journey that began in the spring of 2018. "At 11.45 o'clock I reach the town sign of Jerusalem," the 60-year-old will later write in his blog. "I don't think I can really believe yet that I have arrived at my pilgrimage destination."
A wall around his world
What kind of man went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem?? A look back. Traveling and pilgrimage was not at all foreseen in the world into which he was born in 1958. Erfurt, then East Germany. When Spangenberg was three years old, a wall was built around his world. He grew up in a Christian home, became a teacher, married. Did not live badly in the land from which he could not have left. "The bird doesn't know it was trapped until it comes out of the cage," he says today. Then came the fall of the Wall. Stefan Spangenberg will never forget his first trip to the West. Freedom.
It took him to Mainz. There he retrained and worked in the IT field. In the meantime he is in semi-retirement. He has lived in Ingelheim for several years, converting to the Catholic faith in 2013. In the same year, he visited Israel with a group from his parish – and was fascinated. 'I will make a pilgrimage here on foot one day', he decided. He had the necessary stamina: for years he ran marathons, even ultra-marathons over 74 kilometers.
He had already been on a pilgrimage, a few years earlier on the Way of St. James. His pastor at the time, Tobias Schafer, who is now the provost of the cathedral in Worms, supported him: "If you really do this, I will stand at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem when you arrive and greet you." The trip was still no more than a fixed idea.
Pilgrimage also for sick son
End of 2013, a shock: son Martin falls ill with multiple sclerosis at the age of 32. "Stefan Spangenberg says he has received a lot of support from the German Multiple Sclerosis Society (DMSG). Martin learned from the staff how to cope with everyday life despite his illness. Out of gratitude, Stefan Spangenberg is not only making a pilgrimage for himself and his faith. The trip is also connected with an appeal for donations for the work of the DMSG. For his donation goal are later 8.000 euros collected.
At the beginning of May 2018, it starts: with 29 kilograms of luggage in the monowalker Spangenberg starts his pilgrimage tour, about 35 kilometers per day. For months he worked out the route. Wherever seas or political imponderables like in Syria prevent his progress, he wants to use ships and planes.
Two weeks later, Stefan Spangenberg is in France. "Beautiful landscapes, nice people and fortunately no mishaps," he sums up cheerfully on the phone. He reduced the luggage again and sent superfluous things home by parcel. "When you go on pilgrimage, you feel how little you can get by with."
It was worth it
In spite of good shoes, his feet were blistered for a few days, but fortunately they are now healed. If someone had told him back then, in GDR times: 'You'll just take the monowalker one day and just start hiking!I would never have believed it!", he says.
The pilgrim's stamp from the 21. July recalls his arrival in Rome. In Italy, Spangenberg is visited by his partner Iris, who accompanies him for four weeks of the route to Florence. He crosses over to Albania by ferry and continues on to Macedonia. In October: Greece; by ferry it goes to Cyprus, then on foot to Turkey. There the pilgrim celebrates his 60th birthday at the beginning of November. Birthday, later the Christmas feast in the German-speaking community of Antalya, St. Nikolaus.
End of February 2019: A few days ago, Spangenberg landed back in his "old" life, euphorically welcomed by friends and family at Frankfurt Airport. Everything went well. It was worth it to keep running after the hiatus just before Jerusalem. Stefan Spangenberg is a doer, he pulls his thing through. Anything else would make him dissatisfied.
Actually standing at the Jerusalem town sign made him proud. One of the most memorable experiences was certainly the 290. Pilgrimage day: There Tobias Schafer actually receives him at the Damascus Gate. "There I felt already very honored that he really came. He flew there specially."
A feeling that Stefan Spangenberg was happy to leave behind with the end of the pilgrimage: "Not knowing in the morning where I will spend the night in the evening." Until Italy, there is a "good pilgrim infrastructure". After that, not only the search for accommodation, but also the journey itself often became a challenge – as he had to experience particularly drastically in Israel.
"Open and helpful people everywhere"
Nevertheless, he felt safe at every moment of his trip: "I didn't get robbed, met open and helpful people everywhere."For example, the Israeli couple he met in June at the Great Saint Bernard in Switzerland, and who hosted him for a few days in February at his kibbutz in Jerusalem.
Only twice he had to patch a flat tire on the monowalker. The vehicle was an eye-catcher everywhere else. "Many passersby wanted to take a selfie with it," reports Spangenberg.
He won't be resting long: in May, he plans to run a half-marathon, perhaps write a book about the journey, finish his 29.Sort 000 photos. And at some point he also laces up his walking shoes again. For there are still many a pilgrimage route that appeals to Stefan Spangenberg.