Denis Katzer, born in Nuremberg on January 25, 1960, has made traveling his life’s work. After training as an office machine technician, he completed his time in the German army with a special unit and was trained as a lone fighter. With parachuting, close combat, combat shooting, tactical radio, weaponry and survival training, he developed skills that were fundamental for his later expeditions.
His pacifist attitude to life, his constant search for peace and meaning in life finally prompted Denis to leave the military institution “Bundeswehr”. He then worked as a sales manager for Olympia and, from 1983 onwards, undertook expeditions to remote indigenous peoples during his vacations.
In 1991, he gave up his job and began a 30-year expedition entitled “The Great Journey”: during the stopovers of this life project, the author, photographer and filmmaker published his experiences in journals and magazines, gave slide shows, wrote books and worked on film documentaries for television.
Biography of a thoroughbred adventurer
1960 – First experience
For the first few years of my life, I lived with my parents in a small wooden hut on the edge of the forest in Nuremberg. There was no running water, no central heating and no electricity. In winter, my mother put the diapers in front of the hut. As soon as they were frozen stiff, she could beat them against the apple tree and roughly clean them. My parents were forced to work full-time due to their limited financial resources. That’s why I spent the weekdays in a Catholic kindergarten when I was two and a half years old. In order to avoid being forced to stay there, I soon took every opportunity to escape in the morning. I climbed the apple tree, hid in the garden or in our dog’s hut. Perhaps it was during these early years of my life that my aversion to constraints, heteronomy and lack of freedom was shaped and the adventurer in me was awakened. After kindergarten, there was the next unpleasant surprise: school and after-school care. An absolute nightmare for a young, untainted and free adventurer’s heart. Once again, I was condemned to spend another nine years of my life being molded in a corporate forge.
1967 – Compulsion
I failed all the entrance exams for secondary schools because I was so scared of exams. My friends were not plagued by this fear, made the leap to grammar school and left me at secondary school. At the age of 16, I graduated as the second-best student at school. I now had the right certificate to go to a secondary school without any further exams, but I was advised against it for the time being. “You have to do an apprenticeship. Then you have something in your hand. If you still want to do your A-levels, you can do them later and maybe even go to university.” “They must know,” I thought to myself and went to the job center to get advice on which job would be suitable for me. “Office machine mechanic is a great job. It suits you. You are good with your hands and get to work with people in the field. You are a communicative person, this job is ideal for you,” said the consultant. So I applied for a job as an office machine mechanic. During the entrance examination at Fa. One of my tasks at Olympia was to bend wire with pliers in a given time. Despite my talent as a craftsman, I bent the thing out of sheer excitement. Dejected, I revealed my exam anxiety to the training supervisor. He, in turn, was so impressed by my honesty that I got the apprenticeship out of 130 applicants.
1979 – Lone fighter
3 ½ years later, after completing my journeyman’s examination, I was faced with the choice of refusing to do military service or joining up. As a young man who was very committed to sport, I was tempted to join a special unit of the German Armed Forces and earn money at the same time. As I passed the examination with top marks in all areas, I had the choice of how I wanted to serve the state. I decided to join a special unit of the paratroopers. At last, adventure, action and freedom lay ahead of me. In the following 15 months, I passed all the training courses with flying colors and was promoted to non-commissioned officer and trainer of young soldiers. I finally thought I had arrived where I always wanted to be, because as a lone fighter, elite soldier and extreme athlete, I was in my element and felt confident for the first time in my life. It was the time of the Falklands War in 1982 when, driven by an inner feeling, I asked my soldiers who of them would volunteer for the Falklands War to support the British. Since the Bundeswehr was a purely defensive army, a question with no real background. When about 80 percent of the young men with a high level of education raised their hands, I was stunned and horrified. “Why?” I asked. “Because you trained us to kill. We don’t want to shoot at cardboard cutouts anymore, Mr. Sergeant. That bores us. We want reality!” In those minutes I realized that I myself was a trained killer with the task of training young men to become professional killers as well. Obviously I had succeeded. For me, it was the first dramatic turning point in my life. I realized that I was a pacifist at heart, and although my superiors promised me a fantastic career, I didn’t renew my contract.
1982 – Change
As a trained elite soldier, I was now back in the workshop repairing typewriters. What a shock. Thanks to my high level of fitness, I got the chance to play American football for a first division team. Within six weeks I was an official team member of the Nürnberg Rams. Nine months later, shortly before my ski instructor exam, my sporting career came to an abrupt end due to a serious sports accident – double torn ligaments and a torn meniscus in my knee. “If you don’t change your life, you’ll be in a wheelchair by the time you’re 30,” the surgeon warned me.
Another life-changing experience, because I thought life would be pointless without my sport. A friend recommended that I travel to Asia to take my mind off things. “What am I supposed to do in Asia?” I said. “I want to go skydiving, windsurfing, scuba diving, meet girls and drive a nice car.” Having barely recovered, I flew to Asia anyway. When the door of the jumbo opened and the tropical, sultry air embraced me, when my palate discovered food that I didn’t know, when I met nice people whose charm and culture enchanted me, I knew that I had passed through the gateway to another world that would never let go of me and would become an essential part of my life.
Suddenly, the previous path of life and all the incisions made sense. From then on, I traveled to Asia for three months every year to explore the Far Eastern countries with my backpack. However, I was still an office machine mechanic and had to arrange my life so that I was present at the company during the summer months while my technician colleagues went on vacation with their children to work emergency shifts. In gratitude, my boss gave me a further six weeks’ unpaid leave in addition to the six weeks’ vacation. An ideal solution for a young man who wanted to discover the world.
My extensive travels turned into expeditions and because of my predisposition for extreme sports, the navigation and survival training of the German Armed Forces and the useful training as a mechanic and technician, I had everything an expedition traveler and explorer needed apart from money.
1986 – Career
The management of my company offered to finance my sales training and, if I was successful, held out the prospect of an area sales manager position. Wow, what a promotion opportunity, because you could earn 100,000 DM or more in a single year in such a position. I seized the opportunity and drove a company car from Nuremberg to faraway Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea for the first time. There, 16 selected employees were trained for a month. I had just returned from a trip to Asia and was full of energy. However, some of my classmates intimidated me because of their high level of education. For example, the secretary of the then CEO of AEG, who also wanted to retrain, was sitting next to me. After a month, my director received a letter in which I was given great opportunities and talent. The training location was relocated to Berlin. Field training was the final hurdle. Highly motivated, I finished the field training with the best result in the history of Olympia and was immediately offered a sales manager position in northern Bavaria. Within the first year, I became the second-best salesperson in Germany and won an incentive trip to New York. From then on, I earned enough money to finance my own expeditions.
1987 – First expedition
I had been interested in indigenous peoples my whole life. By chance, I met a person on the Galapagos Islands whose best friend was half-Indian. I immediately left the Galapagos and took the bus to a remote jungle nest on the Amazon. That’s where I met Gallo Sevilla, the half-Indian. Although my friend and I didn’t have enough money in our pockets, Gallo took us to the endangered, warlike tribe of Auka Indians, who had killed four engineers with spears just a few weeks earlier. The encounter with the Aukas changed my life and opened my eyes. From then on, I campaigned for endangered peoples as much as my strength allowed and went on an extreme expedition to remote peoples around the world every year. My involvement opened up contacts to the media. The first TV appearances, the writing of articles, the first book, the first sponsors were the result.
I had to rethink my life because of the huge amount of work involved. I came to the conclusion to save money to leave my home country for a few years. I wanted to live with peoples, enter their world, understand them. I wanted to know what it means to be able to travel without time pressure, to make real friends from other nations, to understand their religions and beliefs and much more. From then on, I put every penny aside to get closer to my big dream of traveling bit by bit.
1988 – Tanja
During a ski trip, I met a young, very pretty, very likeable girl called Tanja. At the time, I was a 28-year-old successful, well-traveled salesman and she was a 17-year-old student. Because her mother had died just a few months earlier, Tanja grew up very quickly. So the big age difference was no obstacle and we became a couple. I wouldn’t be alive today without Tanja. She has risked her life to save mine in various cases through her selfless commitment during our joint expeditions.
1991 – cut
“Are you sitting down?” my boss asked me on the phone. “Yes, why?” I wanted to know and sank into the armchair. “I can no longer do my job alone and need a right hand. What do you think about becoming a top manager? Together with me, you’ll be responsible for a turnover of 30 million. I’m offering you a salary of 150,000 in the first year and a quarter of a million in the second year plus expenses, a share of the turnover and a Mercedes as a company car. What do you think?” I heard on the other end of the line. It took me a while to regain my speech. I was finally going to be where I had always wanted to be. At the top and their pockets full of money. “Wow,” I exclaimed. As Michael talked about the details, I ran my eyes over the equipment lying on the floor in front of me. Backpack, sleeping mat, water filter, tent, traveler’s checks, etc. All the equipment a person needs to get out and travel around the world for several years. I actually wanted to quit in a few weeks and be on the road for at least three years. Tanja and I had meticulously prepared and planned everything. My savings made me independent for at least five years and Tanja was to receive support from her father.
31 years young and after 29 ½ years of civilization, constraints and heteronomy, I was on the verge of being truly free for the first time. And now I had my boss on the line, offering me the chance to climb to the top of the career ladder. I could be a rich man in just a few years. What was I supposed to do? “Michael. That’s a fantastic offer. Thank you so much for your trust. I’ll talk to Tanja about it and let you know tomorrow,” I said and put the phone down.
“I just have to hold out for two years. Then we’ll have enough money to travel for the rest of our lives. We’ll never have to work again,” I explained to Tanja. She looked at me, thought about it for a while and said: “If you really become a top manager and earn the big money, you may never realize your dream again. The danger is very real.”
The next morning I called Michael. “Are you sitting down?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “Thanks again for the best offer I’ve ever gotten in my life, but I can’t accept it. I’m sitting in front of my equipment that I need for a trip around the world. I’ve been preparing for this moment for years and will be leaving in a few months.” After a few seconds of speechlessness, my boss at the time congratulated me on this huge decision. “I’ll come by and bring a few Bocksbeutel. We’ll drink them when you get back,” he said.
1991 Summer – Departure into another world
In late summer, we cut the last connections to Germany and set off on our big trip. It lasted longer than three years, because almost two decades later we are still on the road. In the meantime, this journey has become a lifelong journey that will take a total of 30 years and is set to become the longest documented journey in the history of mankind. Since the beginning, we have covered 410,000 kilometers without flights by camel, horse, elephant, on foot, motorcycle, bicycle, e-bike and with conventional means of transport: (approx. 10 times around the earth / once to the moon)
“The Great Journey” – a world expedition to witnesses of the origins of mankind, which we carry out in stages exclusively by land and sea.
2005 – Accident! The end of my lifelong dream?
On the second stage of our current Trans-East expedition, I had an accident just 500 meters after the start with fatal consequences: an extreme slipped disc with signs of paralysis and subsequent emergency surgery in Bucharest. The continuation of our expedition and travel life was at risk. The operation was a success and after a year of rehabilitation we continued our journey successfully.
Since then, my life has changed once again. After the operation, I felt like I was completely burnt out inside. All that remains are ashes, fertile ashes into which a symbolic seed fell and from which another person grew. Today, I approach many things in life differently and more calmly. The weighting has changed. In hindsight, the injury was a gift. Just like my torn ligament at the time, which forced me to change my life completely and turned me into a traveler.
My life today stands on the pillars of various strokes of fate and decisions: A childhood that I felt was partly unfree, unhappy school days, training for a job that didn’t match my dreams, training as a lone fighter in a special forces unit, ending my career in the Bundeswehr as a reformed pacifist, the end of my sports career due to an extreme knee injury, my first trip to Asia, promotion to sales manager, Success and earning money, the decision to take Tanja on her life’s journey around the world, rejection of a top management career, start of a lifelong journey to document Mother Earth and her inhabitants, the gift of having escaped the wheelchair and being able to continue our shared lifelong dream.
Daring to do the most difficult thing has always been a tremendous and great challenge for me. Of course, this is not just about testing the mental and physical limits of human performance. As a long-term and expedition traveler, this has never been a reason for me to put my life at risk. This extraordinary project is about something completely different and much more at the same time: on all our trips and expeditions, we are on the trail of nature and the people who live in it. It is the greatest thing for us to once again become a part of this original life that has become so alien to us civilized people. It is exhilarating to travel into the past of mankind, to be able to experience and feel it. This makes our experience of the present comparable with times long past.
When we visit people for whom electricity and hot water are absolute luxuries, it feels like we are traveling in a time machine. The only difference is that our means of transportation is not magic, but consists of simple, local means of transport.
Moving around on the backs of elephants, horses or camels is often exhausting and dangerous. But for us, this is precisely the key to the gateway to another world. It is a world of spirituality and wisdom. A world in which extreme experiences are also about finding your own roots. We want to convey these experiences vividly and credibly and in this way help to bring people who are so lost in meaning a little closer to the presence of Mother Earth.
- 1984 Thailand
On the road as a traveler. First contact with another culture.
First contacts with jungle and remote peoples.
- 1985/86 Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra, Bali, Singapore & Philippines
On the road as a traveler. Longer trips to remote regions. Marches through the primeval forests of Sumatra.
- 1986 Thailand, Burma, Philippines and Hong Kong
On the road as a traveler. Month-long stay in Asia.
Decision to learn more about peoples, indigenous peoples and culture.
Setting the course for traveling without time limits in the future.
- 1987 Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Peru
First professional expedition to the Amazon source region to visit the Auca Indians.
In search of the Auca Indians 400 kilometers in a dugout canoe through the jungle of Ecuador.
Contact with the endangered Aucas people (Waorani Indians).
Further itinerary after the expedition: Galapagos Islands, Peru.
- 1988 Venezuela, Colombia, Caribbean
Expedition to the Orinoco headwaters to visit the Yanomami Indians.
In search of the Yanomami Indians 300 kilometers on foot through the largest contiguous primeval forest on earth.
First contact with a Yanomami village. Further itinerary after the expedition: Colombia and the Caribbean.
- 1989 West New Guinea, Bali, Flores Komodo
Expedition to the central highlands of Irian Jaya to the Yali tribe.
In search of the ritually cannibalistic Yali tribe, 500 kilometers on foot through the mountain jungle of western New Guinea.
First contact with a Yali village. Further itinerary after the expedition: Bali, Flores and Komodo.
- 1990 Guyana (former British Guiana), Venezuela
Expedition to the border region between Guyana and Brazil to visit the endangered Wai-Wai Indians.
Further itinerary after the expedition: Venezuela and the Venezuelan Caribbean.
- 1991 Jamaica
Before the “Great Journey”, we experience the island of Jamaica.
- 1991 Start of the 30-year expedition project “The Great Journey”
Tanja and I start our joint life project “The Great Journey”.
From Germany to South America by land and sea, using conventional means of transportation.
- 1991, 1992, 1993
Germany, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Sinai, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Eastern Anatolia, Iran.
By train, boat, bus and hitchhiking from Germany to Pakistan.
Years later, second trip to India.
- 1991, 1992, 1993 Pakistan
On the backs of our camels, we are the first Europeans to cross the whole of Pakistan.
Years later, second overland journey from Europe to India.
Distance covered: 1,500 kilometers.
- 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 India
With an old Indian motorcycle through South India.
Distance covered: 15,000 kilometers.
- 1992, 1993 India / Andaman Islands
Expedition to the endangered Jarawas.
Unique contact with an indigenous people still living as they did in the Stone Age on the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.
The Jarawas still killed intruders with bows and arrows back then. Two of the few western visitors,
who had contact with the Jarawas were Heinrich Harrer and the King of Belgium in 1976.
- 1992 Sri Lanka
Contact with the small, endangered ethnic group of the Veddas.
- 1994 Madagascar
7,000 kilometers through Madagascar in a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Contacts with remote ethnic groups.
- 1995 Taklamakan / China
Expedition through the Taklamakan Desert of Death.
Crossing the largest continuous sand desert on earth, the Taklamakan in western China.
We walk about 1,000 kilometers with seven camels through a sea of sand.
The desert of death was thus conquered by the smallest expedition in its history and without external supplies.
- 1995, 1996 Tibet
With a four-wheel drive vehicle over the roof of the world to Nepal.
- 1996/Summer Mongolia
Horse expedition through the central highlands.
With twelve horses and a horse-drawn carriage, we are the first Europeans of the last century to ride through
the central highlands and the Gobi desert. Distance covered 1,600 kilometers.
- 1996/Autumn Nepal
We are the first Europeans to ride through the Kingdom of Nepal on the back of an elephant.
- 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 Australia
Longest camel expedition in Australian history.
With seven camels, we cross the Australian continent from south to north and from the west coast to the east coast. A daring undertaking, the outcome of which is uncertain from the outset. An adventure of superlatives, a journey into the still unknown interior of a mystical and mysterious country. This expedition takes us to unattainable heights, but also plunges us to unimagined depths. We overcome our mental and physical limits in pain and in return experience an intense, unforgettable contact with nature.
- 2004 Egypt
Photo trip to the Sinai.
- 2004 Caribbean
- 2005 Australia
We pass through an isolated part of the Gibson Desert for the first time
a camel expedition with guests from Hauser-exkursionen.
- 2005 Trans-East Expedition Stage 1
Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania.
3,000 kilometers by bike.
- 2007 Trans-East Expedition Stage 2
Romania, Moldova, Transnistria, Ukraine, Crimea, Western Russia.
4,000 kilometers by bike.
- 2008 Trans-East Expedition Stage 3
Russia, Kazakhstan, Siberia
4,000 kilometers by bike.
- 2009 Trans-East Expedition Stage 4
Siberia, Lake Baikal, Mongolia
3,500 kilometers by bike.
- 2011/2012 Mongolia
Horse expedition to the last reindeer nomads.
We were the first Europeans to spend the Arctic winter at temperatures as low as minus 50 °C with the Tuwa tribe.
15 months between ancient shamanism and customs. Between minus 50 and plus 40 °C.
- 2015, 2017 Siberia, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand
Current journey – Longest unsupported e-bike EXPEDITION in the world.
The first stage of our e-bike expedition will take us around 15,000 kilometers through 7 countries in two years.
Since 1991, we have covered around 410,000 kilometers on the “Great Journey”.
(10 x around the earth – 1 x to the moon) by land and sea
(not including flights).