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Tales of Discovery

Gazing over the wide expanse of the African savannah to the horizon shimmering in the heat; no human settlement in sight, but in the distance two hippopotamuses roam through the sparse vegetation of this grandiose landscape. It is a truly uplifting view, and it probably had the same effect on Dr. Oscar Baumann when he became the first European to discover the Serengeti in 1892.

Explorers like Dr. Baumann used to travel the world in order to fill in the blanks on the map. They were looking for new trading routes, the source of the Nile, snow-capped mountains in the middle of Africa, or simply wanted to prove that the earth wasn’t flat. They brought countless exotic trophies back to fill their homes – objects that told stories of adventure and danger, and that fired the imaginations of the friends and relatives who had stayed at home. We can still see these objects today in natural history and anthropological museums, and we are still enchanted by these witnesses to a far away world. Indeed they often still stimulate the desire to get out and travel ourselves.
And if we visit some of the most innovative travel agencies of our time, we can encounter similarly fascinating collections of objects. Angry- looking masks stare down at us as we admire the fantastical ornamentation on an Asian chest. Perhaps one of the old pith helmets scattered around the shelves was once worn by one of the great explorers. Just where did all these wonderful things come from? In fact it turns out that they were all bought very deliberately by a collector who got up early in the morning and took a torch to explore flea markets from Paris to Tongeren, to Berlin and Zurich. Someone who got to know antique dealers in Asia and South America. Someone who loves precious originals, but who has nothing against cheap copies. They were gathered together from all over the planet, not as mementos of a particular journey, but so they could tell their own stories and inspire people to travel out into the wide world. And they do make you want to trace their origins and become an explorer yourself. What does it matter that there might not actually be a real story behind some of them? We just love to be seduced by the possibilities. And what does it matter, as we drink in the sublime view of the Serengeti plains, that behind us stands our luxurious tent with its whirlpool tub and butler? At such moments we suspend our disbelief, give ourselves over to the happiness of the moment and become adventurers and explorers, edging ever closer to the object of our longing.