Rausdorf.He was the most famous adventurer in Germany – and a “Sir Vival” with meaning: Rudiger Nehberg crossed the Atlantic on a tree trunk, a pedal boat and a raft, fought for months alone and without equipment through rainforest and desert, survived attacks by animals and humans . Since the beginning of the 1970s, Nehberg, who died on Wednesday at the age of 84, has been traveling the world in a spectacular and effective manner. He did incredible things and believed in the impossible. “At first it was curiosity and a thirst for adventure, the sense came when I became an eyewitness,” he once described his path from marzipan baker to human rights activist. He fought to the end for his greatest dream, to put an end to the custom of female genital mutilation.
First a mere adventurer, then an activist – and first a life in two worlds: the skilled baker and confectioner had set up his own business in Hamburg in the 1960s and operated several shops. “The world of cakes and tortures, the life between marzipan and mosquito”, he described the time that began with his first trip on the Blue Nile in 1970. Around twenty years later, he finally exchanged shortcrust pastry for mealworms – by then he had already completed various expeditions. “It used to be the desire to prove something to yourself, and the curiosity about the world,” said the Bielefeld-born man about what drove him. For example, to walk through Germany without money and provisions and to feed on earthworms. The image as a “worm-eater” would cling to him until the end of his life, he also meant when he was over 80.
It had started with bike tours halfway around the world. The son of two bank employees, who was fond of being a boy when he was a little boy, went to Morocco by bike when he was 17. In Marrakesh he wanted to learn snake summoning while his parents thought he was in Paris. “If you go on like this, you won’t grow old,” warned his father – unsuspecting that decades of adventure awaited his son. Even at an age when others have long since retired, Nehberg preferred to take a seat on a tree trunk in 2000 and sail from Africa to Brazil. Three years later, he roped off the helicopter at a height of 50 meters above the Brazilian rainforest and once again struggled through the jungle alone and without equipment. “Today there are extreme athletes or base jumpers, they don’t go on adventures, they advertise Red Bull,” wrote the “Spiegel”. “Nehberg, on the other hand, has spent his life fulfilling dreams.”
Nehberg had heard of the term “survival” for the first time in the 1960s – later he became the German “Sir Vival” par excellence. Also thanks to his books with tips for survival training such as “Die Kunst uberleben – Survival”, readings and lectures, as well as special camps in the spacious garden of a converted mill in tranquil Rausdorf near Hamburg. It was an earlier encounter with the indigenous Yanomami people in the Brazilian rainforest that were threatened by gold miners and that changed their lives forever. From then on, Nehberg wanted to make sense of his actions and was also involved in the Gottingen Society for Threatened Peoples. Even as a 61-year-old, he took part in a race through the Australian wasteland with a 75-year-old aboriginal.
Nehberg kept talking about more plans than the remaining lifespan because he had a big goal. He had Target (English “Ziel”) – that’s the name of the club with which he fought against circumcision of female genitals. Together with his wife Annette, he launched Target. She, the second wife at his side, held the position in Rausdorf when he went on a great adventure alone. “He wouldn’t be” Sir Vival “if I didn’t let him,” she said once. The couple worked with key organizations to target genital mutilation among young girls and women in Africa and Asia. Both received the Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class in 2008, Nehberg was already the recipient of the Federal Cross of Merit on a ribbon (2002).
The largest and longest civil war of humanity, Nehberg called the custom of female circumcision. He organized conferences with Target and traveled through the desert with a “caravan of hope”. In 2006, for example, Target initiated a conference of high-ranking Islamic scholars in Cairo that declared genital mutilation in the form of a fatwa to be prohibited by Islamic law. Most recently, the association announced, among other things, another campaign to end genital mutilation of girls and women in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa last year.
Nehberg did not want to retire – even if he noticed “that the strength is waning”. In any case, he only called himself the “Reste-Rudi” because he collected pretty much everything that was operated on in an “always full” alcohol glass. But his goals drove him. “I wouldn’t be retired even at 100,” he said once. Also for his wife “it can not be too many ideas”. He knew that she would continue his struggle after his death. “We are an indestructible duo.”