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German house builder in Bolivia: "I'll only draw the building plans when everything is ready"


Martin Strätker built his dream kingdom high above Lake Titicaca, a hotel like something out of a fairy tale. Here the carpenter and sculptor from Bochum tells what he has learned in Bolivia in 26 years and what heating is good for.

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"Las Olas", the waves, is what Martin Strätker called his second construction project in Bolivia

Photo: Martin Strätker

"My new neighbors thought I was crazy. No tourists come up here, they said. We live above Lake Titicaca in a town called Copacabana. Unlike Rio de Janeiro, however, it rarely gets warmer than 20 degrees Celsius here - after all, we live at an altitude of more than 3800 meters.

You can recognize my bungalows from afar, with their towers and snail-shaped roofs they almost look like sculptures.

I made the design myself.

I am a trained carpenter and sculptor and love the freedom I have here.

Everything is possible.

Build first, then get approved is a perfectly acceptable approach.

I only draw the blueprints when everything is finished and then have them legalized for me.

And my craftsmen never say no to an idea, they just try it out with me.

Of course, not everything works right away, but in the 26 years that I've been living here, I've learned that the best ideas come out of necessity anyway.

I had planned a roof made of straw for my first house, but then it turned out: The roof was too pointed for that, the straw would have blown away.

In the end there were domes with vertebrae, which I liked even better.

I fell in love with the village of Copacabana as a backpacker on a trip.

At the end of the 1990s there were only a few, very simple houses here, but the people were very, very nice and the landscape was impressive - I felt at home straight away.

Looking for a plot of land here was a gut decision.

And the first person I asked had one on offer - on a hill with a beautiful view of the lake.

In retrospect, it would have been smarter to first ask the notary or mayor about building land and then buy a large piece of land instead of having to haggle for additional square meters later.

But then I didn't think so far.

My plan was to create a cultural center with overnight accommodation for backpackers.

I put around 50,000 euros into the project, which was all my savings at the time.

"Where do you get the courage from?" Friends from Germany asked me, but it would have taken more courage for me to stay in Germany.

I always wanted to get away.

The more unusual the better.

Immediately after graduating from high school, I worked in a youth home in Scotland for two years.

And after studying art in Germany, I applied to a Waldorf school in Santiago de Chile to teach art and German.

It got off to a bumpy start: my German class was a disaster, and at first I couldn't cope with the strong Chilean dialect.

I found the Spanish of the Bolivians, on the other hand, really relaxing.

I just had to work off the swear words I had learned in Chile, because they don't go down well in Bolivia.

My hair fell out from worry

I was welcomed very nicely in Copacabana and within a very short time I was godparent of a dozen children.

But the construction of the house dragged on.

It took a year and a half to open.

All my money was gone and I owed $ 5,000 to friends and relatives.

It was only then that I realized the risk I had taken.

My hair even fell out because I was worried that the neighbors might be right and that no tourists would really find their way here.

After just two weeks, I fired two employees - I was afraid that at the end of the month I would not be able to pay them their wages.

Fortunately, a friend from Germany was there at the time.

"I'm going down to the village now and look for guests," he said - and he actually came back with some tourists.

From that moment on it went great.

Bolivia experienced a real travel boom in the mid-1990s, and more and more backpackers from Europe, Australia and North America came to me via word-of-mouth.

Even the couch in the living room was occupied most evenings.

In just a month, I'd made $ 300 in profit and hired my employees.

And a year later I paid back the money I had borrowed.

Everyone wanted rooms, but hardly anyone wanted art classes.

So the planned cultural center became a hotel, first with three rooms, and finally with 24. And then I built a second one.

I worked almost around the clock, but the success released a tremendous amount of energy.

However, I still don't like to call myself a hotelier, that sounds so conservative to me.

I still see myself more as an artist.

Experimenting and improvising is my thing.

And now I finally have more time for creative work - five months ago I sold the first hotel.

It now belongs to a good friend to whom I also like to send guests over.

So far, we have both come through the corona crisis quite well.

We hardly have any foreign guests, but now more and more Bolivians come on vacation in their own country.

Exchanging ideas with them is a lot of fun right now, and I'm glad that I now have more time for my visitors again.

I used to know everyone by name, and I sat down with many of them in the evenings and played the guitar.

But above a certain size this is simply no longer possible.

Sometimes it took me two hours to get to reception because someone constantly wanted to know something about me, a shower was broken or the wifi was gone.

Water, electricity, gas, internet, these are the four most important needs of guests - and in Bolivia some of these are often not possible.

Tips for restarting in Bolivia

Ask for the notary Up arrow Down arrow

Check with the mayor or local notary about building plots and houses that are for sale before you decide on a property.

If you want to open a guest house: prepare for a lot of workarrow uparrow down

You have to be your best co-worker yourself.

Running a hotel means a lot of work, in case of doubt around the clock.

When I took a short break for the first time and stayed in a hotel in the neighboring village myself, I met travelers there who had wanted to eat in my restaurant and reported total chaos.

The store was full and the employees were completely overwhelmed, they reported.

At some point they were told: "There is nothing left of the menu, but eggs are still there. If you want them, you have to fry them yourself in the kitchen."

I can well imagine the scene, but I don't hold it against anyone.

If the hut is on fire, the boss has to deal with it.

Get involved on-siteArrow upArrow down

"As one calls into the forest, it resounds", there is a lot of truth in this expression.

I sponsor many projects in the neighborhood, I am committed to public toilets and better street lighting and, with the help of the German Embassy, ​​have improved the water supply in the village.

For this I was named "Hijo del sol", a kind of honorary citizen of the city.

Be funny Up arrow Down arrow

At first glance, Bolivians are more cautious, but love jokes.

I'm actually a shy person, but I've come to appreciate this way of life.

Drink plenty of water Up arrow Down arrow

Some people don't mind the altitude at all, but many Bolivia visitors struggle with altitude sickness.

It is difficult to predict who it will hit - I have already seen that athletes have the greatest problems and couch potatoes do not feel anything.

But what helps in any case: drink plenty of water!

My son is now helping in the company so that I and my wife can enjoy city life in La Paz for two weeks a month.

Katty is Bolivian and has been my wife for 18 years. In her I have found a wonderful partner who shares my love for art and culture.

We have an apartment on the 18th floor of a high-rise building in La Paz.

The bus ride from Copacabana takes around four hours.

But I don't mind, I appreciate this time to switch off.

My two grown daughters from my first marriage went to school in La Paz, but now live in Berlin.

For me, moving back to Germany is out of the question.

I love my life here too much for that and I still have too many plans.

My next project is now to install central heating that runs on solar energy and gas.

I feel very close when guests are dissatisfied - and although I light up the fireplace in every room in the evening, the cold morning gives many problems.

I don't mind myself, I don't need any heating. "

Icon: The mirror

Source: spiegel

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