Travel along the Amber Route with Chris Schuler
Author Chris Schuler takes us on a guided tour Along the Amber Route
Today there’s an author at The BookTrail who has travelled the length and breadth of his own book. It’s a journey he went on for very special reasons and it’s a fascinating journey at that! A history lesson too for the Amber Route has a very important story of its own….
Why did you want to write this book?
I visited Wroclaw in Poland more than ten years ago, to see the city where father was born and where his forebears lived. Before the Second World War it was Breslau, one of the largest cities in Germany. There was a lot of amber jewellery on sale in the shops, and I was curious to know why, since the city is a long way from the sea. Then I discovered that it was an important staging post on the ancient Amber Route. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to combine a travelogue with a family history.
My writing is driven by curiosity at first, and then by the desire to share what I’ve discovered. If readers can get not just the appearance of a place but its atmosphere from what I’ve written, then I’ve succeeded. I am an internationalist to the core – I want people to appreciate both what makes each country and people special, and also how much we have in common.
Tell us more about the famous Amber Road
Most of the world’s amber comes from the shores of the Baltic, and it was in great demand in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome for jewellery and objets d’art, so a long-distance trade route developed. It’s mentioned by ancient writers such as Pliny, and in the 1920s a young archaeologist called J M de Navarro plotted the physical evidence – a trail of amber itself, and the Roman coins and luxury items for which is was exchanged, running through Poland, Austria, Hungary and Slovenia into Italy. As with most trade routes, few people would have travelled its entire length; more often a trader would take a consignment to the next stop and sell it on to another dealer, who would then carry it to the next trading post, and so on…
What were the high points of the journey?
There were many, but staying in the Baroque splendour of Burg Bernstein in Austria was certainly one of them, and the kindness of my hosts, Alex and Andrea Berger-Almasy.
Leaving my notebook in a taxi in Vienna. I’d been travelling non-stop for five or six weeks, and tiredness made me careless. It contained all the notes I’d made since setting out from Gdansk, so I was in despair. Fortunately the hotel staff were able to contact the driver, who kindly returned it, to my enormous relief.
Advice you would give yourself for next time/next journey?
In the light of the above incident, photograph my notes as I make them and upload them to the cloud.
I loved the Curonian Spit, a narrow, 100km sandbar dividing the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic. Half is in Lithuania, the other half in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Its dunes are spectacular, and in winter, when I was there, it is a truly wild and desolate place.
In the little resort of Nida, on the Curonian Spit, I was stranded by a snowstorm. The car I’d hired was completely buried in the stuff, and when I asked if I’d be able to continue my journey that day, the hotel staff fell about laughing.
The outbreak of Coronavirus has forcefully brought home the fact that every part of the globe is connected – we are all, as John Donne put it, “a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. But globalisation is nothing new. The existence of the Amber Route demonstrates that people have been trading across vast distances since the Neolithic.