**Key data: Holger Birnbräuer is 48 years old and a former teacher. Today, he is Director of the Seminar for Teacher Training and Continuing Education in Freudenstadt (Germany).
I meet my former math teacher Holger Birnbräuer at the main station in Freudenstadt at 1:45pm sharp. After getting off the train, I walked directly to the agreed meeting point – and there he stood, the man with whom I unfortunately wrote so many bad grades in those math-clasess- and as an information, he was a good math teacher, the blame was on me, because numbers were just not my thing. A reason why I also chose a course of study that has nothing to do with numbers – namely Social and Cultural Anthropology (Master Student at the University of Tuebingen in southern Germany).
He was kind enough to pick me up at the main train station and drive me to his office. On the way there we had a little small talk. I think it has been more than 10 years since the last time we saw each other. Arriving at his office, he asked me something to drink and Oreos to eat – of course I appreciated his hospitality and agreed. And after I explained to him how the interview would go, it started. < I finally I want to share this interview with you, and I hope you like it. I am aware that I promised my followers on Instagram that this Interview would be released in December 2021, but unfortunately, I did not make it. I am sorry for that, even though I hope that you still enjoy it.
Q: Tell me how you got into climbing/ mountaineering and what exactly do you like about it?
*You can literally feel his enthusiasm when he starts talking about his beginnings. You can tell that he loves what he does.
HB: I have been in love with the mountains since I was a child. When I was nine years old, I was in the Alps for the first time and took part in a hiking holiday camp of a church congregation in Baden-Baden. For two weeks we stayed in a beautiful house and did a lot of hiking among other things. That is how I gained my first summit experience, even if they were mostly below 3000 meters at the time. After that, the mountains have not let me go and in 2002 I started with my first 4000m mountaineering. What I like about mountaineering is that you are out of the everyday life. You must be concentrated all the time and do not have time to think about work or other things. And then when you suddenly have the time to and do not have to be 100% focused, you lift your gaze and you are in the middle of a breath-taking landscape. Mountaineering is also a wonderful community experience: being together in a mountain hut the night before a difficult tour or in a tent during an expedition is something special. Furthermore, there is the added joy of successfully completing a tour or an expedition: The thought of ”I have set myself a challenging goal and achieved it.” When you realize during a difficult tour that you are up to the high difficulties, then you almost burst with happiness, and you are really in the flow. Accordingly, you just go home happy and, despite the exhaustion, have recharged your batteries for everyday life and the family.
Q: You have been to several countries – What have you learned (as a person) during your travels?
HB: Above all, I have experienced what unites people during my mountain journeys on five of the seven continents. Many of the wishes and desires are the same, despite the most diverse living conditions. That is what I always try to do: I try to find out something about the living conditions of the people in conversations and a part of my travel preparation is always to learn at least a few words of the language spoken there. Especially for my trips to the Himalayas I took a lot of time for this, and my Nepalese was not that bad. Now, unfortunately, most of it has already been forgotten. But one of the great needs is certainly to be treated respectfully.
Q: Besides mountaineering, what are your other hobbies?
HB: I still like to make music, even if the time to play the guitar is hardly there due to family obligations. I also like to pass the time with a good book or a good computer game from time to time.
Q: What does mountaineering give you that, for example, jogging would not?
HB: Well, jogging is preparation for mountain climbing. It is a bit like making music: The session with the band in the rehearsal room is not as much fun as a performance in front of an audience. Jogging is the work, and the mountaineering becomes more of a pleasure the better you are physically and mentally prepared.
Q: During your travels, you have also faced setbacks – What were such setbacks? What did you learn from them?
HB: The biggest setback was certainly the abandonment of the expedition on Mount Everest after the earthquake in 2015. Above all, however, I learned from my expedition to Aconcagua in 2010: the highest mountain in South America, there, at an altitude of 4400 m, I got altitude sick at base camp and began to develop high-altitude pulmonary edema. So, my lungs started slowly to fill with water. That means the expedition ended with a helicopter ride down to the valley. This was the first setback I experienced, and it mainly led me to approach my goals with even more respect and to professionalize my training significantly. After a period in which you are naturally depressed, you must see what you can do better next time. Excitingly, this is a process from which I always draw a lot of motivation.
Q: How do you prepare for an expedition?
HB: My preparation for an expedition has many levels, and I resolve to get one step closer to my goal every day on at least two of the levels. In everyday life, I can sometimes get a little stingy, because going without a chocolate bar at the gas station brings you one euro closer to your goal. The second level is the physical level: I always try to be at a good level of fitness by jogging and cycling. It is not so much the speed that matters to me, but the duration of the training. Thus, I create a very good basic endurance for myself. The closer the expedition gets, the more I increase the duration and number of my training sessions. A never-ending jogging round then helps the mind to be able to climb a never-ending steep snow slope on the mountain. I put a lot of thought into the key difficulties of a mountain and think of strategies to master them. If I do not find any solutions here, I would rather leave a tour alone. Intuition also plays a big role: sometimes you just feel that it is not yet the right time for a particular mountain. And finally, this level also includes dealing with the country where the mountain is located and its culture and language.
Q: In 2015, you had your first attempt to climb Mount Everest – unfortunately, that did not work out due to the earthquake. How disappointed were you? Was it clear to you that you would try again?
HB: The disappointment was huge. If you then realize that many people lost much more, even their lives, because of the earthquake, there is also a guilty conscience that you are now whining because you could not climb Everest. I had to wait several days in Tibet until I could get a flight home. Suddenly there was also a lot of homesickness that I do not really have on a normal expedition. That I would get a second chance to climb Mount Everest was also not foreseeable at that time: In addition to the financing, there was a big question mark behind the question of whether I would be able to take so much time off from work again. But my wife was the first to say: ’You have to try this again, otherwise something is missing in your life’. Fortunately, the opportunity to fly to Everest arose again in 2017.
Q: Your highlight was certainly climbing Mount Everest – try to describe the feeling you had when you stood on the highest point of the earth…
HB: First of all: Mount Everest was not the highlight of my mountaineering career. But of course, I also expected that climbing the highest mountain on earth would be the greatest thing. When I finally realized that this was not the case, it was first difficult to classify: Why was not I as happy as on other summits? I had to admit to myself that, looking back, the highlights were actually during the tours and expeditions I did to prepare for Everest. For example, climbing Denali in Alaska (the highest mountain in North America) or climbing Cho Oyu (8201 m). Two of the many reasons are certainly the extensive support I had on Everest from the Sherpa team accompanying us and the use of bottled oxygen on the way to the summit. On Cho Oyu and Denali, my mountaineering performance was much higher: On Denali, I carried up to 43 kg of equipment myself in a backpack and on a sled. On Cho Oyu, I reached the summit without artificial oxygen and really had to fight for every little step at the end. The Everest was much easier to climb and therefore it is not on one of the first places in my mountain experience charts. But I have no regrets and I am proud and happy to have stood at the highest point on earth. I was there for about 15 minutes. It was very cloudy and snowing lightly. You could not see 30 meters away and the hoped-for moment when the world is literally at your feet, and you can look into the distance did not exist. Also, you know that the difficult and far more dangerous descent still lies ahead. That fact reduces the summit joy already a little. I felt the greatest summit happiness on Everest about 20 meters below the summit: Here it was clear to me that I will actually reach this all but self-evident goal and that no one will take it away from me. Then I took a few photos and a short video, before I went again extremely concentrated on the descent.
Q: What event would you equate climbing Mount Everest with if you could…?
HB: To be honest, nothing comes to mind at this very moment, but I can say that the experience of Everest, for example, was clearly surpassed by the experience of the birth of my three children.
*His facial expression tells you that most of all things he has achieved – he is happy to be a proud father.
Q: Mount Everest was a long-awaited dream of yours – What are some other mountaineering dreams of yours?
HB: My two big goals are to climb all 82 (4000m) peaks in the Alps and to climb the „Seven Summits“, i.e., the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. Both goals are realistic, because five of the Seven Summits – Everest (Asia), Denali (North America), Aconcagua (South America), Kilimanjaro (Africa) and Elbrus (Europe) – are already completed, and especially the most difficult ones. The expeditions to the two remaining mountains, the Carstensz Pyramid (Australia/Oceania) and Mount Vinson (Antarctica) are therefore two of my big mountain dreams. Out of the 82 (4000m) peaks in the Alps, I am still missing 26, which I hope to be able to climb gradually over the next few years. And then there is the big dream to climb one more of the 14 eight-thousanders of our earth without artificial oxygen: The Gasherbrum II in Pakistan.
Q: How do you deal with critics who classify mountaineering as a kind of pollution (in terms of flight)? Can you understand such people? If so, to what degree? Do you deal with yourself critically in this respect?
* serious look*
HB: Yes, I am very concerned about the environmental impact of flying. My way of dealing with it, is O2 offsets. I also try to behave more sustainably in other areas of everyday life: My electric car and soon our own photovoltaic system will hopefully contribute to this. In addition, I take responsibility for my actions on site at the mountains and make sure that I leave as few traces as possible. For example, on the way back from the advanced base camp to the base camp of Mount Everest, I collected 200 empty beverage cans that were lying around.
Q: After all, mountaineering involves certain risks – how does your family deal with them?
HB: I am actually amazed at how surprisingly relaxed everyone is about it. I do not know how I would feel about it myself if my children were to be on this level later on. But I think everyone knows that I assess risks and dangers correctly and that, if the worst comes to the worst, I can do without a summit and prefer to turn around if things get too dangerous. But my family also puts up with a lot simply because they know how important the mountains are to me and what strength they give me for everyday life and thus also for family life.
Q: What do you enjoy more – your work as a teacher/director of education or mountaineering? And why?
HB: I enjoy both enormously. Family, work and hobby form a triangle that is and must be in a good balance. One gives me strength for the other and so it is actually not true when I sometimes say in jest that it would be nice if I did not have to work anymore and could always go mountain climbing.
Q: Which trip have you enjoyed the most so far and why (Mount Everest excluded)?
HB: That is almost the most difficult question. I have to mention the trip to Africa to Kilimanjaro, if only because it was the first big mountain trip. I still remember the feeling of happiness when I booked the tour, and of course the incredible landscape around Denali in Alaska. But actually, all mountain trips were wonderful experiences in their own way, with the exception of the earthquake on Everest and the altitude sickness on Aconcagua.
Q: If you had the opportunity to change something in the world, what would it be?
HB: I would give every person the ability to pause before they take actions and to ask themselves what effects their own actions have for other people. I believe that many people lack this and that it leads to many bad things that we are currently experiencing in our society.
Q: Imagine you could wish for three things – What would they be ?
HB: I have already described the first wish in the question before. I hope that there was more peace, silence and sustainability on our planet. Then, of course, health for me and my family. The third wish would be a little less work and more time for family and hobbies.
After thirty minutes the interview is already over. It is clear that after all these years you want to know what the other has done. So we talk about changes in our lives or the time when I was his student and he was my teacher. After a great interview, he offers me a ride to the station, which I accept.
what a joy I had when I saw you in November 2021. Thank you so much for responding to my interview request. It was nice to see you after all these years and to do this interview with you. I thank you especially for your time and openness. Most of all, I wish you and your family all the best for the future and hope to see you again at a later time.
**For all my followers: If you would like to get in contact with Holger, you can find him on Facebook or contact him via his main website: http://holgerbirnbraeuer.de/