In the final review of my story, we notice that, with the intention of telling one story, I was telling two. My advisors, Sylvia and Lydia, thought, I should decide. I did. I left it as it is. Now there are two of them. I hope both of them can forgive me and you are just as indulgent.
In the year 2000 I made a longer journey with a friend into the country of my longing, Peru. She had convinced me, contrary to my nature, to get to know the country and its people without any advance booking of hotels and travel possibilities. Only the rough route was agreed upon: Lima - Pisco - Nazca - Arequipa - Lake Titicaca - Cuzco - Machu Picchu. Six weeks. To anticipate, it was wonderful.
But this is not the story. My story begins in Chemnitz, 6 weeks earlier.
A conference of the construction industry, business friends among themselves. In the breaks small talk. I mentioned what I was going to do.
"A dangerous country, a lot of crime. Take good care. Hopefully you'll come back unharmed. Are you sure you want to go?" They gave me this remarks and prejudices. I wanted to know if they spoke from their own experience. None of them has ever been to the country.
On the way back home I took a young hitchhiker with me. Student, long hair, torn jeans, wrinkled T-shirt, unshaven. Enrico. At some point he wanted to know what I was doing on vacation. I told him.
"Very nice. Look forward to it. I tell you, it will be wonderful." I wanted to know why he meant that. "Because I just came from there. 3 months I was on the road in the country, with rucksack, buses and train, like you intend. We exchanged our telephone numbers in case of emergencies.
After Lima and Pisco our third stop was in Nazca. I wanted to see and fly over the lines and geoglyphs. We got off the bus and I didn't know what life had in store for me at that moment. No, it wasn't the pens and sweets we had for the waiting children. It wasn't their grateful smile either, it was the question that started it all. "Where do you come from?"
"Ah, Maria. From Germany. Maria Reiche." We looked at each other helplessly. I don't know. Never heard of her. And we didn't get any more out of the children. At that time we had no smartphones or tablets and Wlan everywhere. The notiz „Maria Reiche“ got a seat in my head. Topic for at home.
Onve wie arrived there, there after the wonderful journey, we knew who Maria was. In 1928 she passed the higher examination to become a teacher in mathematics, physics, philosophy, pedagogy and geography in Dresden. There, to Dresden, the research had led us at home. To the association "Dr. Maria Reiche - Linien und Figuren der Nazca-Kultur in Peru" at the university in Dresden. There we got to know Dietrich Schulze. Board of the association. Born in 1925, he was an engineer for electrical engineering and accompanied the construction of German chemical plants all over the world for many years. In 1979 he visited Nazca for the first time and met Maria Reiche. In the following years he came again and again and visited her. He became a close friend of Maria Reiche and took care of the estate of the researcher after she died in 1998.
This estate was located on the upper floor, in several rooms of his single-family house in Baden Württemberg. He invited us there. And we were immersed in the life of Maria. Deep. Very deep. I don't think you can dive deeper into the life of a stranger than we did. It was impressive, fascinating, moving and ended with infinite respect for this woman.
I held almost all of her about 1000 letters in my hands and was allowed to read them in the following months. Her primitive measuring instruments, her meticulous drawings, her handwritten notes.
Letters to her family in Germany, the exchange of ideas with her sister Renate. Her reports on the Spanish queen's visit to her in the desert and her assessment of Erich von Däniken's thoughts. Her requests to the Peruvian Air Force for support from a helicopter and other aircraft. I read about her joy about a sponsored camera for her work.
Maria told me about the preparations for her first aerial photos of the lines and geoglyphs. Yes, the woman actually had the idea of being tied to the runners of a helicopter and taking the first pictures from there.
For months she had to look for a ride every day anew as a hitchhiker in order to overcome the 20 kilometres from the village Nazca to the ground drawings in the desert. Later she moved to the desert and spent a total of 24 years in a modest mud tile hut with a palm leaf roof. She described her life like this: "It was an exciting time for me and the mice. One night I caught 18 mice in the trap. I felt sorry for them. I would have forgiven them for eating my bread, but I couldn't forgive them for eating my drawings. "
Maria Reiche. She is my story. My encounter with her. Three years after her death.
Maria Reiche. Who was she? Briefly.
In 1922 Maria Reiche enrolled at the Technische Hochschule Dresden.
In 1928 she passed the higher examination to become a teacher. But Maria only received temporary jobs again and again. In addition, the Nazi period began to enter Germany, which she suspected to be a bad omen. The job opening of the German consul in Cusco for a house teacher comes just in time. Maria Reiche stays there for two years.
Then she goes to the capital Lima, where she initially earns her living with German and English lessons, gymnastics and massages. Later Maria was also commissioned to translate scientific texts. In the Museo de Arqueología in Lima she prepares shrouds of mummies. She also helps out in the café of a friend, where many foreigners, professors, students and business people meet.
In 1941 she met the American Dr. Paul Kosok - a specialist for antique irrigation systems. In December 1941 Maria travels to Nazca for the first time. Dr. Kosok had asked her to look at the strange, dead straight, linear depressions in the desert. Kosok suspects it to be an astronomical calendar.
First the inhabitants of Nazca laughed about the "Gringa" that sweeps the desert. Because Maria gently cleans the drawings from the dust with a broom. But when the tourist boom comes, the Doctora Maria is soon venerated like a saint. In 1955 it was her merit that prevented the construction of an irrigation system in the Nazca desert. In 1970 she used the American Congress held in Lima to raise her concern for the protection of soil drawings. And research continues and continues and continues.
It was not until 1995 that the Nasca lines were finally placed under the protection of UNESCO.
At the end of her career Maria Reiche received five times the honorary doctorate and the highest awards of the Peruvian government as well as the Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class of the Federal Republic of Germany. Her Peruvian citizenship is awarded on an honorary basis, as she never gave up German citizenship.
After her death she receives a Peruvian state funeral.
In 2002 I had a business appointment with the then Mayor of Dresden. I asked him, if he knew the name Maria Reiche. He replied: "No. But the way you look at me, I have the feeling that it would be better for me to know the lady". I confirmed his feeling and told him about her. He had never heard of her and her story.
On 30 October 2005 we celebrated the inauguration of the "Maria Reiche Strasse" in Dresden-Klotzsche.
It has become a long story and yet I have the feeling, that I have not described this woman sufficiently. If you feel the same way, I can recommend the book "Bilderbuch der Wüste" by Viola Zetzsche and Dietrich Schulze. The book was written after our joint study of Maria Reiche’s correspondence. It should encourage you never to lose faith in your own strengths, even in difficult phases, and to keep awake for a self-determined life.
And finally: My business friends from Chemnitz, you remember? Conference of the construction industry. Talk about holidays during breaks. They are all past now. Uninformed ignorants.
What I still have today, is the student with the long hair, torn jeans, crumpled T-shirt. Unshaved.
Thank you, Enrico! My friend!