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In summer 2014 I trekked from Ljubljana to Nice, the length of the Alps from East to West, through 8 countries…

( → Info Deutsch)




To explore the entire Alps has long been a dream of mine. Travelling three months with a tent and crossing numerous political borders as well as whole mountain ranges was both a challenge and a pleasure. This project was close to my heart.

But there is also a political background. I wanted to raise awareness of the discrimination and threats faced by refugees and transnational migrants living in Europe or trying to get to Europe, thanks to nationalistic and narrow-minded politics in Europe. In this connection I donated half of my prize money from the German Thesis Award 2013 to organisations dedicated to improving the situation of refugees and (im)migrant people in Europe. →


Really, why?

No long essay or pamphlet here, just a brief explanation. Consider two simple figures: the gross domestic product per capita in the European Union is about $33,000; this is the wealth every person would have at their disposal, each year, if it were evenly shared. The equivalent figure for Africa is $2,320. Separating the one continent from the other is only the Mediterranean Sea. Every year, with various measures to keep them out of “Fortress Europe”, European governments effectively sentence hundreds if not thousands of people to death at sea or in various other attempts to reach Europe. Perhaps even worse, those who reach Europe often must die from preventable causes because they are denied medical care. Sure, Europe is no paradise. But anyone who takes the huge effort, risks, time (and often debt) to come here deserves better than to die? Who can be blamed for migrating to support their family, escape tyranny, discrimination or hunger, or simply to seek a better life? Europe’s assorted nationalisms stand in the way of the fulfilment of these fundamentally human needs.

No matter how high Europe builds its fences, the “others” are still trying. Europe’s only success so far has been to increase the death toll. Of course this isn’t just about Africa; many Eastern Europeans, Asians and Americans have any number of good reasons to want to live, work, perhaps settle, in Europe – or leave again, if and whenever they feel like it. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 13&14) clearly says: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” But Europe and its member states actively deny these rights and freedoms: few people are welcomed, some are temporarily tolerated and detained, many are declared illegal. If they succeed in reaching Europe, they are often placed in in prison camps, have to go through years of uncertainty and waiting, face huge hardships, and are expelled again. The illegalisation of people forces them to do abusively low-paid work, and be excluded from social protection. Clearly, these are not the professed “Christian values” or “European values” at their finest.

The continent of the Enlightenment needs a radically changed migration regime. But this does not seem to be coming in the near future. Due to ever-tightening criteria and higher bureaucratic hurdles, applications for political asylum have massively declined over the past decades – even despite the Syrian civil war. Fascist attacks on immigrants are on the rise in many places. I don’t want to live in such a Europe whose private wealth is protected with body bags, barbed wire, brutality and prison camps. To try to help, out of compassion and solidarity, I am donating:

  • €5,000 to the Medinetz/Mediburo movement to support access to healthcare (for example, for safe childbirth) for illegalised people in Germany;
  • €5,000 to the Pro Asyl foundation to support its fight for refugee rights and reasonable asylum laws;
  • €5,000 to Medico International (an emancipatory German NGO) to support projects aiding those who have been expelled from Europe.

I hope to raise awareness and catalyse support for the activities of these organisations, despite the problems of charity. Moreover, I want to demonstrate solidarity with the various protests and initiatives of the refugees themselves which have sprung up in many places recently. Not least due to my academic research on problems of “development”, I don’t believe in charity as a good way to address social problems (inalienable rights secured by emancipative democratic means would be far better), but if trying to help, one may as well clean up at one’s own doorstep first. I would like to be able to check the results. Instead of meddling somewhere else in the world, I would rather try to help address the problems directly caused by the institutions and politicians which claim to represent me. →

(For more and better-put arguments for open borders, go here.)




The route (click for interactive map)

I hiked from the capital of Slovenia (Ljubljana) at the South-Eastern end of the Alps to Nice (in France) at the South-Western end; north-west to Germany, and then south, visiting all 8 countries which share the Alps: Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia and Switzerland. There was no regular, planned trail to follow for this route; I found my own way over and around mountains and snowfields, through valleys and forests, across plateaus and rivers, using many different paths. On the way, I crossed many European borders (because, due to the luck of birth, I can) and met very many interesting people. The trek ultimately came to almost 1,600 km and 67,000m of altitude gain.

(See the summary figures here) →



I travelled on foot (alone) with a rucksack and a tent, from mid-June to September. I posted my progress on the blog and recorded the route by GPS. Travelling so far with very few things was an interesting, challenging and fun experience. However, unlike the illegalised migrants I had the privilege of being able to quit any time, or not succeed, but still go on with my life. →



smallI (Philip Mader) am a 30 year old university teacher and sociology PhD, hailing from New York (USA), living in Frankfurt (D) and working in Basel (CH)… a transnational migrant (1st class) and passionate mountain enthusiast. (more information here) →


Support this

Please, support this cause by sharing this! Just send an e-mail to a few friends. Or post it in your social network.

More importantly, please support (if you can) the organisations who are working to help change the system, one small piece at at time. If you are planning on making a donation, feel free to share your intention (in the comments) below! THANK YOU.

You can contact or donate to the three organisations in these ways:

♥ Medibüros


There are Medibüros in different parts of Germany. If you would like to donate or support them, please choose one or several. Berlin and Hamburg have web sites in English.

Pro Asyl


Postfach 16 06 24
D-60069 Frankfurt/M.
e-mail: proasyl(at)proasyl.de
Tel.: +49 (0)69 – 24 23 14 20
IBAN: DE62 3702 0500 0008 0473 00

Medico International


Burgstr. 106
D-60389 Frankfurt am Main
Tel.: +49 (0)69 – 94438-0
e-mail: info@medico.de
IBAN: DE21 5005 0201 0000 0018 00

31 thoughts on “

  1. Borut says:

    Hi Phil,
    You will never forget this trip and I belive it will stay in your mind as one of your best choises in your life.
    Hopefully todays crossing of river Sora did not exhaust you too much and your boots will be dry tomorow morning, when you will leave Ratitovec.
    I wish you all the best.


    • philmader says:

      Hey thank you Borut! Was great meeting you, and hope perhaps again.

      Borut is an aerospace engineer I met in the second evening who kindly helped me figure things out with the non-anglophone wardens of the refuge on Ratitovec. Cheers!


  2. milford bateman says:

    Hi Phil, glad you got out of Ljubljana OK and are progressing well it seems. Milford


  3. baykal says:

    lol Phil, you crazy ! :)


  4. Phil! I might meet you somewhere in France towards the end. You are also welcome to stay with my family near Toulouse for some rest and a debrief afterwards if you are free. Looking forward to hearing about some of the epic situations you find yourself in!


  5. And happy birthday! Just realized through Skype it’s today!


  6. Rick says:

    happy birthday Phil!


  7. s.nur says:

    Hi Phil, out in the conquest of the Alps!! How is it going on? And a happy birthday in the wilderness! I guess you are celebrating it in a pretty unconventional way and setting this year. All the best with the trek.


  8. S.nur says:

    Hey Phil, what’s up? Where’re you?


  9. Ernst Braun says:

    Lieber Phil,
    Du hast meine Hochachtung für das was Du da machst, es ist einfach nur Toll.
    Liebe Grüße


  10. Anoop says:

    Hi Phil,
    How are you? Where are you now?
    Hope you are doing well. Good luck! Hope you have an amazing time…and hope you make millions of amazing memories, I am looking forward to hearing the stories of your wonderful journey, have a fun!
    I wish that million of lamps illuminate ur life with endless joy, love, prosperity, health, wealth and happiness forever.May god bless you…!
    With love


    • philmader says:

      Hey Anoop, thank you for thinking of me and my trek in the faraway Emirates! Check out the blog for my location and reports from the field. Apart from the weather everything is fine, and my spirits remain buoyant… Look forward to spreading when I’m back. Phil


    • philmader says:

      Err, correction: *speaking*, not “spreading”


  11. Mark Julius Jacob Mao Robert Finchette says:

    Dear Phil

    How awesome and I hope you will indeed find joy and at very least some elevated memories. Looking forward to seeing you again. When the dots connect to Cape Town at some stage – we would love to host you



  12. Simon Steenson says:


    Hope it’s all going well and you are enjoying the experience. It’s a great cause that you are highlighting! When are you finished, because I’ve forgotten and don’t seem to be able to find it on this page?

    Keep trekkin!!



    • philmader says:

      Hey Simon, thanks for the message! Hope you’re doing well too. I hope to be finished in early September. You’ve seen the blog, right? It’s one of the links at the too of the page. Right now I’m actually in Val cenis, where if I remember correctly, you learned to ski!


      • Simon Steenson says:

        That’s great, I remember Val Cenis of course. Remember to pay homage to the Holy Strawberry. Hope it’s all going well mate. What exact date are you looking to finish?


      • philmader says:

        Hard to say at this stage. Maybe around 1 sep, but hope to spend a few days in southern France after the end. If there is any very specific reason for a specific date, best to call or send a text…


    • philmader says:

      Hey Simon, thanks for the message! Hope you’re doing well too. I hope to be finished in early September. You’ve seen the blog, right? It’s one of the links at the too of the page. Right now I’m actually in Val cenis, where if I remember correctly, you learned to ski! Peace, Phil


  13. I saw a sticker for your trek on a sign in Velo Polje (near Vodnikov Dom, in Slovenia) and suddenly came out of my isolated botanical reverie and was very moved. I will send some money to one of the places you suggest. Thankyou.


    • philmader says:

      Dear Jonathan, I can hardly say how happy this makes me. Thank you very much for your message and your support. I hope you’re having/had a great time in Slovenia! Phil


  14. Phil, old fellow! This is a really interesting way to raise awareness for the mentioned problems and to combine pleasure and commitment – what a beautiful yet challenging trip it must be! There are indeed some general concerns regarding the whole “donation-and-charity-industry” but reading your account, I would clearly distinguish this effort from the way other people, mostly celebs, do it. I just say “ice bucket challenge” – hell, what an industry it is now?! I mean, in principle, every society that even needs individuals to donate is failing to provide the necessary resources by other means. In part this is just the same “tragedy of the commons” problem you know oh-so well from the literature and. Then again, no current conflict like the huge migration/border conflict Europe has to face can be solved by hoping for the states to do reasonable things (because really, they are as much a cause as a potential problem-solver). So yeah, in the short and medium run, unconventional actions are serving a really good purpose. One at best would hope for a really open, “borderless” political discourse to emerge. Carry on! All the best for your journey, Thorsten


  15. Salut Phil!

    Chose promise, chose dû. Je t’ai fait un peu de pub sur le blog de mes vacances. J’espère que tout va bien pour toi. Bonne route.

    Si tu es en manque de mer, n’hesite pas à venir dans notre pays breton. Nous te ferons visiter sans soucis. Le GR 34 est magnifique!

    A une prochaine et bon courage pour ta cause.


  16. Jorge says:

    saw one of your stickers on my hitch in some village in the Alps, you great man


  17. LECOMTE says:

    Hello, i saw many of yours stickers in france during my travel, all the things you do are very nice, strong, and i really want to have, if possible, stickers to show everywhere this message of peace and nature. THANKS A LOT.


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