The story of Alma Karlin as a traveller's inspiration

If the world traveller and all-rounder Alma Maximiliana Karlin were alive today, she would surely be considered one of the most popular travel influencers. Although her life's path was not always strewn with flowers, her adventures remain an inspiration for generations of travellers today. In her lifetime, she travelled to more than 60 countries. She put all her experiences on paper and assembled a rich collection of objects from all over the world. Her extraordinary energy has inspired our virtual traveller Alma, who will be happy to help you explore Slovenia. But first, let's find out more about who Alma M. Karlin was.

alma z blackyjem in waldijem
Source: National and University Library

This is Alma

Like her life story, Alma M. Karlin's "statistics" are remarkable. Here are some of the most interesting figures from her life.

Countries she travelled to
61
Home places travelled
255
Foreign language knowledge
compiled her own handwritten dictionary of 10 languages and acquired diplomas in 8 foreign languages, Esperanto, basic Chinese
Number of items collected from all over the world
840 objects and 510 postcards
Number of books published
27 books, dozens of manuscripts from the NUK and the Berlin State Library still awaiting publication

Now I'm just a citizen of the world. All my actions and inactions must serve humanity.

Alma M. Karlin

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Who is Alma?
Image was created using artificial intelligence
Almina pot okoli sveta
Source: Celje Regional Museum

A fearless citizen of the world

A legend of world travel and a consummate master of travel literature. A pioneer of the work and travel model, who made a living from intellectual work on her journey around the world at the beginning of the 20th century, although she was not afraid of physical work either. A polyglot who spoke ten languages to people all over the world. An influencer of her time, she enthralled the masses with her travel achievements and travelogues. Some even said that she deserved the Nobel Prize for her courage and indomitable will.

She was a citizen of the world in her outlook. A nomad not only of geographical latitudes but also of spiritual depths, fed by the theosophical conviction that all roads lead to the top of the same mountain. An amateur painter with a specially trained eye for plants, an anthropologist who avidly collected preserved myths and legends, superstitions and stories about spells from all corners of the world. And a woman with an indomitable backbone, who was never afraid to say no to wars, violence, and totalitarian regimes, in word or deed. This is Alma M. Karlin and her story, more adventurous than any film.

The world belongs to the bold, that's what I've always stuck to. Whoever does not try to go beyond the narrow limits of the horizon originally given to him, whoever never descends into the depths of life and never leaves the earth to dwell in the spirit in higher and purer spheres, has indeed lived, but only as a silkworm in its cocoon. Life is the exploration of the unknown.

Alma M. Karlin

The Adventures of Miss Alma M. Karlin

When she was born in 1889, during the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was predicted that she would not live long or that she would be mentally impaired. But she survived due to the rebellious spirit that she showed throughout her life. In multicultural London, she passed exams in eight foreign languages, demonstrating an early thirst for knowledge, independence and freedom.

potni list Alme M. Karlin
Source: Celje Regional Museum

 

At a time when a woman could be deprived of her civil rights if she read, wrote or travelled, at the end of 1919, with modest means, Alma M. Karlin set off on her eight-year journey around the world. She wanted to know everything, to understand everything, to experience everything. She boldly believed that the path she had chosen for herself would offer her much more than the typical life of a woman in narrow-minded and provincial Celje. Her only companions on her journey around the world were her suitcase, in which she packed her handwritten dictionary of ten languages, and her portable typewriter, Erika, who became her best friend.

Alma ambitiously pursued her dream of becoming the second Columbus of world travellers and explorers and the second Robert Louis Stevenson of adventure fiction writers. During her voyage around the world, she visited more than 60 countries, supporting herself throughout the time with intellectual or physical work, writing travel sketches for numerous European and international newspapers, designing literary works, painting plants, collecting ethnological objects, superstitions and spells. Hardly anyone could match her in her travelling and creative restlessness, even today.

The extraordinary life of the intrepid Alma

In her time, some might have said she was not from this planet, because her unusual personality, all-encompassing knowledge and radical actions made her something quite different from what was typical at the time. But she was only following her dream. She did not allow herself to be hamstrung by strict etiquette and established norms, but sought freedom and the satisfaction of her inquisitive spirit. She dared to take a step forward and therefore wrote her incredible story, even though she was often ignored because of her defiance of societal norms.

Follow the life journey of Alma M. Karlin

A body of letters

Even though Alma was aware that the life of a writer was strewn with thorns and anything but easy, she persevered in this vocation and developed her own distinctive style. In the 1930s, her travelogues "The Lonely Journey", "The Spell of the South Sea" and "The Experienced World" propelled her to the very top of the world's travel literature. Hundreds of newspapers around the world reported on them, and according to the Wilhelm Köhler publishing house, these pieces by themselves would have been enough to make a thick book. Alma's travel works bear great value as they consist of unique and comprehensive descriptions of the countries she visited.

The most adventurous travel diary of our time. Alma M. Karlin did not discover new worlds, but the adventures of everyday life she experienced on her round-the-world journey are more thrilling and exciting than the accounts of many an exploratory expedition.

Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft

Compared to what Alma M. Karlin experienced, the journeys of our great explorers were comfortable strolls.

Das Echo, Berlin

Alma's work also impressed individuals, and there were even proposals that she should receive a Nobel Prize.

You deserve a Nobel Prize for your literary achievements. I have read many travelogues, but none, not even one, as beautifully written, with as much heart-blood, as yours.

Colonel-General M. from E.

Almin kabinet cudes
Source: Celje Regional Museum

From the Cabinet of Wonders

Alma M. Karlin collected, bought or was given as a gift many ethnological and artistic objects during her journey around the world. Today, her collection, which is kept in the Celje Regional Museum, is a kind of cabinet of wonders. It contains a mysterious statue of Li Tieguai, which is said to have special magical powers. There is Chinese ceremonial money to be burnt at funerals, numerous fans and a kimono (yukata), Alma's favourite garment.

Source: Celje Regional Museum

They are accompanied by lovely shells, beetles of enormous size and huge seeds from many Pacific islands, wedding and funeral dresses and spears from Papua New Guinea, a silver embroidered handbag from Pakistan and other valuables. A wonderful opportunity to relive Alma's unique journey around the world with a visit to the incredible Cabinet of Wonders!

Take a walk through Alma's Cabinet of Wonders

Source: National and University Library

On foot through home places

The surprising discovery of the 1934-36 "Travel Diaries" revealed that Alma had not only travelled all over the world, but that as an enthusiastic hiker and a great lover of nature, she had also walked almost the whole of Slovenia. For her, a five-hour hike was a short walk, a seven-hour walk was a real hike, and a ten-hour hike was a great hiking achievement. And this with modest food, clothing and footwear, even in impossible weather conditions. The reward was always unspoilt nature, in the midst of which many a creative thought would occur to her.

On foot, she discovered her home town of Celje and its surroundings, Laško, Braslovče and Žovnek Castle, all the important places of the Upper Savinja Valley, including the Logar Valley, Jurklošter, the mysterious Gračnice Valley, and everywhere from Celje to Rogaška Slatina, Krško and Trška Gora, Kozjansko, Gorenjska Region and other parts of Slovenia.

Lasko

Laško – Alma's favourite hiking destination

Where did Alma's favourite trails in Slovenia lead her? To Laško! Hikers can climb from Laško Castle to Hum, a destination to which Alma loved to walk. At the botanical board, you can see the plants she sketched on her way to the top of the seven-peaked ridge. Today, Alma's popular hike still follows the Three Churches Trail to St. Christoph, St. Michael and St. Catherine in Kuretno. The trail can be concluded at the Hotel Špica, where Alma once enjoyed delicious goulash and beer from a first-class local brewery, a place that in the past and still today is famous all over the world.

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Author of the story and sources used

The author of the story "Alma M. Karlin – world traveller and "influencer" of her time":

Jerneja Jezernik, a long-time researcher of Alma M. Karlin's life and work, winner of the Slovenian PEN Centre's PEN 2023 Mira Prize for Alma M. Karlin's research, journalistic and literary work. Professor of Slovenian and German. Author of the first monograph on the life and work of Alma M. Karlin "Alma M. Karlin, državljanka sveta" (Alma M. Karlin Citizen of the World) (Mladinska knjiga 2009), the monograph "Nisem le napol človek: Alma M. Karlin in njeni moški" (I'm Not Only Half a Human: Alma M. Karlin and Her Men) (Sanje, 2016), and the author of the first German-language biography of Alma "Alma M. Karlin: Mit Bubikopf und Schreibmaschine um die Welt" (Drava, 2020), which is one of the 30 best books of the Hotlist 2020 of independent German, Austrian and Swiss publishers. She is the translator of 17 of Alma's books into Slovenian and the author of their accompanying texts. Editor and publisher of 7 of Alma’s books for the German-speaking area (publishing houses Aviva in Berlin and Drava in Klagenfurt). Translator, editor and author of the accompanying texts of 8 books in the "Z Almo v svet" (With Alma into the World) series. Co-author of the exhibition "Peš po domačih krajih" (On Foot around Local Places) (2023), which toured from Celje to the area in front of the Cankarjev dom centre, and as a travelling exhibition in more than ten places in Slovenia. Expert contributor to the exhibition "Alma Maximiliana Karlin - Schriftstellerin" (2023) at the Frankfurt Haus am Dom, and expert guide to the exhibition. Assistant for the arrangement of Alma M. Karlin's legacy at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

The story is based on the above-mentioned publications in Slovenian and German, on unpublished material held in the Manuscript Collection of the National and University Library under no. Ms 1872 and in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, and on testimonies of persons who were connected to Alma M. Karlin through their relatives which are kept in the author's personal archive.

Additional sources used (in alphabetical order of authors):

  • Alma M. Karlin: Die Wanderbücher : zu Fuß durch das Slowenien der 1930er Jahre (Klagenfurt : Drava, cop. 2023)
  • Alma M. Karlin: Peš po domačih krajih: popotni dnevniki 1934-1936 (On Foot around Local Places: travel diaries 1934-1936) (Celje : Celje Society of St Hermagoras: Society of St Hermagoras, 2023)
  • Alma M. Karlin: Ein Mensch wird: auf dem Weg zur Weltreisenden (Berlin: Aviva, 2018)
  • Alma M. Karlin: Einsame Weltreise (Berlin : Aviva, 2022)
  • Alma M. Karlin: Dann geh ich in den grünen Wald : Meine Reise zu den Partisanen (Klagenfurt : Drava, cop. 2021)
  • Alma M. Karlin: Dediči luči (Heirs of the Light) : the first collection of poems by Alma M. Karlin (Ljubljana : J. Jezernik Publishing, 2019)
  • Alma M. Karlin: Ženskam, ki sem jih srečala (To the Women I Met) (Ljubljana : J. Jezernik Publishing, 2019)
  • Alma M. Karlin: Sama: iz otroštva in mladosti (Celje: In lingua, 2010)
  • Alma M. Karlin: Samotno potovanje v daljne dežele: tragedija ženske (A Solitary Journey to Distant Lands: the tragedy of a woman (Celje : Society of St Hermagoras : Celje Society of St Hermagoras, 2006)
  • Thea Schreiber Gamelin: Dvoje življenj – en cilj (Two Lives - One Goal) (Celje : Celje Society of St Hermagoras : Society of St Hermagoras, 2016)
  • Barbara Trnovec: Kolumbova hči, življenje in delo Alme M. Karlin (Columbus's Daughter, the Life and Work of Alma M. Karlin) (Celje : Regional Museum, 2015)

More about Alma M. Karlin's published and unpublished works also on the pages of the Celje Central Library.

Travel and explore Slovenia like Alma

Alma travelled her homeland in a boutique, green and sustainable way. While enjoying local cuisine. Once it was Green Sylvaner and homemade sausage, today it's delicious local specialities prepared according to traditional Slovenian recipes. Not to mention the delicious wines! Follow her footsteps and discover Slovenia like Alma.

In the company of exceptional Slovenian women

Alma M. Karlin's exceptional and insightful nature has earned her a place among Slovenia's outstanding women. There’s plenty of them. They can be found in various fields, i.e. in art, culture, sport, science, politics, economics and humanitarian work. Discover some of the names that keep Alma company and have inspired interesting experiences.

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Feel Slovenia the Podcast: Remarkable Slovenian Women on International Women's Day

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