Once a year, the city hosts the ‘Horizontale – Rund um Jena’ event, a 100-kilometre walk in 24 hours. This long-distance hike is definitely quite a challenge. Many participants don’t even manage the full distance. But despite the physical effort involved, it is hugely popular. Every year, the event sells out within just a few hours. Some people take part because of the challenge and others because of the scenery. But on a strenuous hike like this, it’s about more than just the sporting aspect. It’s a chance to escape the daily grind. All too often, we forget that there is more to life than statistics, performance and success. So why not view a 100-kilometre walk as an intensive therapy for your health and wellbeing?
Social acceleration as a permanent state
A ringing phone here, a work deadline there – and getting to the bottom of your email inbox seems like an impossible dream. Everyday scenes that are familiar to us all. So are we doing something wrong? A question that Professor Hartmut Rosa has been asking himself as well. The sociologist has written a number of books on the subject of social acceleration: “At some point, it struck me that if we all have this problem, perhaps it’s not down to us, but down to the reality we’ve created.” And this reality is that we live in a society that can only sustain itself through growth. “For instance, the economy has to grow every year to safeguard existing jobs,” the professor explains. “This translates into competitive pressures in our individual lives. Every year, we have to run that bit faster to keep our place in this world. This creates time pressure, which is reflected in the fact that our to-do list keeps getting longer rather than shorter.”
Is deceleration the solution?
We might naively think that the solution for our constant stress is to simply switch down a gear. But according to Hartmut Rosa, this is the wrong approach: “We need growth and innovation. If we simply slow down, we fall behind.” Slowness, in itself, is not a quality we should aspire to – we need only think of a slow internet connection or an emergency doctor who keeps patients waiting.
When people talk about slowing down, they actually mean that they want to interact with people and nature in a different way.
The problem is not the fast pace of modern life, but our inability to interact with the world: “We might have many friends, a good job and earn a lot of money – but none of these things really move us.”
Take a really deep breath
If slowing down is not the answer, then what? “For as long as we fail to address this problem of continually pressuring ourselves to do more on a collective and political level, the only thing we can do is to try to escape the daily grind and reconnect with the world,” says Hartmut Rosa. He describes these connections as relationships of resonance: “There is a sense that a certain axis exists between something out there and your inner being.” In our everyday lives, we often function in a ‘mode of objectification’ that is geared towards optimisation and rationalisation. To achieve a more resonant sort of contact with the world, some people go to the desert and others immerse themselves in nature or listen to music.
But there are no guarantees. And every person has different axes of resonance – some people will find that a walk in the forest resonates with them and others not. If someone finds this axis of resonance in nature, you can see and feel the changes in them: “We open ourselves up and breathe differently. You can see that just from someone’s posture. People try to feel the wind, appreciate scents, listen to sounds and take in the colours of plants and flowers. Being moved by something and changing because of it is what I call a relationship of resonance.” In an ideal world, we would bring this sense of resonance into our everyday lives. Sometimes we have to force ourselves a little to do this and take away a bit of our ‘world reach’: “We normally try to make as much of the world available to us as possible, mainly through modern technology.” Just making the conscious decision to go for walk and leave your car, laptop and mobile phone behind considerably reduces your reach over the world.
100 kilometres’ worth of time to yourself
Strenuous hikes, like the one offered by the SaaleHorizontale trail, are so demanding that all other things seem to pale into insignificance while you are doing them. You can’t work through your email list while tackling that sort of challenge. “It centres and focuses our attention, because we are entirely taken over by the task in hand, it occupies us completely. The remarkable thing is that time and space seem to expand. I get the feeling that the 100 kilometres to the finish line are an infinite distance. That is the exact opposite of our normal experience,” explains Rosa.
When tackling the 24-hour walk in Jena, people obviously want to put in a good performance, as they would if they were running a marathon. You ultimately want to reach the finish line ‒ and preferably not be the last to cross it. The very process of focusing the mind on a very challenging task can, in fact, reduce stress.
Trying to cover a large distance or go at a particular speed can make you feel as if the weight of the world has been lifted from your shoulders,
as Rosa explains. “It is somewhat paradoxical but you can also slow things down and even achieve a sense of resonance with the world by pushing yourself in this way.”
It is ultimately up to the individual to discover a meaningful way to connect with their environment. It doesn’t matter if this is achieved through walking, music or art – what’s important is that these axes of resonance are found. As Hartmut Rosa says: “People feel alive when they sense that they are being moved or touched by something.” And that, after all, is what we are all striving for.
Kernberghorizontale walking trail
The impressive limestone ridge of the Kernberge hills extends to the east of Jena.
SaaleHorizontale walking trail ‒ Olaf Schubert
The chirping of birds, the rustling of leaves and nothing but fresh, clean air. That’s what you can expect on the SaaleHorizontale walking trail around Jena. This is where you come to switch off, recharge your batteries and have a complete change of scene. Olaf Schubert knows this area better than anyone. He has worked as the municipal forester in Jena for more than 20 years. Among other things, he is responsible for maintaining the walking trails. Even after so many years, he is still captivated by the landscape of fields, forests and hills surrounding the trail. “Every section is special in its own right.”