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The Tree

500 Years Brazil! A reason to celebrate. For politicians and the majority of the population. People want to celebrate as a democracy. People want to have fun. Memorials to remember the murdered native population or the destroyed rainforest? Negative!

An unmissable opportunity thus to disrupt the celebrations, to remind of deficits. I am determined to use the opportunity. To ensure media interest, it is also to be spectacular. Why not cross the Atlantic on a massive tree trunk with the appeal on the large sail? The text the same on both sides, so that even the most pro-government media will have it in the photograph if they want to show the tree.

Clearly the trunk must be strong. It has to carry a lot; it must not be destroyed by storms; it must not sink. It is a symbol, as it is also fighting for its brothers, the trees in the rainforest. Its advantage: it is massive, cannot become waterlogged and sink. I am lazy and do not want to bale out continually.

I built a model to scale 1:20, tested it on my torrent. The model survived. Construction begins. It is very simple. Everything just needs to be twenty times bigger. A colossus.

Greenpeace are testing it on the River Elbe. If it survives the Elbe, it can go. Name of the vessel: THE TREE (=DER BAUM). I have nailed the name plate to both sides. The appeal is on the sail:

500 Years Brazil!
Thousands of years of indigenous cultures!
Millions of years of Amazonian rainforest!
Time to act:
Protect the indigenous peoples
Respect their land rights
Save the rainforest
Only diversity is a guarantee for a liveable future.

Start in Mauritania, Winter 2000

The twenty-metre long trunk proves itself. After three days, the first strong winds. I make rapid progress. "Running long," says the navigator. Gusts of gale force 8. Often I cannot shorten the sails properly, because I do not have a continuous deck to stand on securely. I only have the upper edge of the tree trunk and the net between the trunk and the outriggers. When it scuds, I trim the sails to take pressure from the cloth. Then the sails whip about my ears.

I am always tied on so that the waves cannot wash me overboard. That is my biggest fear.

The problems expected are loneliness, duration, darkness, salt, sun, storms, mast breaks, collisions and pirates. I am forearmed against everything. I have a satellite telephone and speak with Annette every five days.

If ships seem to be a collision course with me, then it is because they are curious about my "wreck". Everyone wants to rescue me. I have to disappoint them. I am a high-tech boat and find my way alone. However, the helpfulness always moves me anew. Camaraderie on the sea. I exchange puddings for a splendid tuna fish with a fisherman. Everything is exhilarating, never a real cause for concern.

I use a week's calm on the equator to write the 30 most ludicrous stories of my life. They are being published later under the title "Truly Mad". Time used well. I cannot sit still.

After just 43 days I am in Fortalezza, Brazil. 4,000 kilometres lie behind me. A lorry brings the vehicle to Brasilia. I hoist my sail in front of the palace of the state president. Slowly passing the building, more was not allowed. I travel up and down four times. Always at a snail's pace. The many journalists need pictures for newspaper reports. The mission is over.

A freighter belonging to the shipping company Hamburg Süd brings the trusty tree back to Germany free of charge. A great piece of support for the undertaking. THE TREE is given a place of honour at the EXPO in Hanover, right next to the Brazil pavilion. There are a lot of information boards. Thus, the TREE continues to have an effect, for longer than I had actually planned. Now it has put down its anchor for the last time: it can be seen at the Speyer Museum of Technology.