on June 16th 2009
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From one of Germany’s most beloved celebrities, a cross between Bill Bryson and Paulo Coelho. It has sold over 3 million copies and been translated into eleven different languages. Pilgrims have increased along the Camino by 20 percent since the book was published. Hape Kerkeling’s spiritual epiphany has struck a nerve. Overweight, overworked, and physically unfit, Kerkeling was an unlikely candidate to make the arduous pilgrimage across the French Alps to the Spanish Shrine of St. James, a 1,200-year-old journey undertaken by nearly 100,000 people every year. But that didn’t stop him from getting off the couch and walking. Along the way, lonely and searching for meaning, he began the journal that turned into this utterly frank, engaging book. Simply by struggling with his physical limitations and the rigors of long-distance walking, he discovered a deep sense of peace that transformed his life and allowed him to forgive himself, and others, more readily. He learned something every day, and he took to finishing each entry with his daily lessons. Filled with quirky fellow pilgrims, historic landscapes, and Kerkeling’s self-deprecating sense of humor, I’m Off Then is an inspiring travelogue, a publishing phenomenon, and a spiritual journey unlike any other.
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage across northern Spain to the cathedral in Santiago.
In 2001 German comedian Hape Kerkeling decided almost on a whim to make the trip. He was out of shape and recovering from gall bladder surgery. He wasn’t looking for spiritual enlightenment. He just needed to get away. He started in St. Jean Pied de Port in France near the Spanish border.
I liked this book because he does the pilgrimage like I would. He doesn’t stay in the refugios set up for travelers. He stays in whatever hotels he can find. He takes lots of rest days, especially if he drank too much the night before. At the beginning, he cheats a lot by taking public transportation to skip hard sections. He also gets really mad at people treating dogs poorly along the way. He finds a lot of his fellow pilgrims insufferable if not downright crazy but makes a few good friends along the way.
As the walk goes on he gets in a bit better shape and is able to complete the official part of the pilgrimage. In order to get a certificate of completion, you have to prove that you have walked the last 100 km by getting stamps in each of the towns.
I loved the fact that he didn’t let his new friends, who were from England and New Zealand, know that he was famous in Germany so they were puzzled by how excited German people seemed to get when they saw another German hiker. He’d hide giving autographs by saying that people just wanted directions.
I was bit hesitant to pick this book up because I was afraid of comparing it to Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods about the Appalachian trail, which is a book I love. This is a very different book but it didn’t suffer from the comparison. It made me want to go out and walk for days.