Interview with Max Kroneck and Jochen Mesle

Biking and skiing from Greece through the Balkans to Munich. In 'Balkan Express', Max Kroneck and Jochen Mesle explore the wildest mountains of Europe. We spoke with them about their adventure.

Jochen Mesle (left) now has a steady job near Munich. He loves the routine - even if that may sound boring - but still manages to find time for the next adventure.
Max Kroneck (right) is a freelance photographer and author who mainly operates in the mountains. Currently, he is undergoing training to become a mountain guide.

What was your impression of the Balkans?

Max: We mainly knew about the Balkans from the news. Regarding all the crises there: we didn't really research the topic beforehand, but rather tried to understand the conflicts during the trip and approached the whole thing relatively neutrally. We knew little about the mountains. But a friend of ours had gone skiing in Albania before - and was then extremely enthusiastic.

Jochen: The Balkans fit well with our style of traveling. We could essentially drive continuously from Greece to home - through the different mountain regions and thus add a bit of color to a blank spot on the map.

Would you describe yourselves as low-budget travelers?

Max: The budget is not our top priority, but rather simplicity. It makes traveling much more enjoyable. We always start directly from home or drive back home. And if there is a need for transportation, we take public transport. Flying to Greece was also not an option for us.

Instead, you took the train. How long did that take?

Max: Three and a half days.

Jochen: The train only goes as far as Romania, so up to Sofia. For the last few hours, we even had to take the bus.

How were the road conditions?

Max: We were expecting pretty wild roads, so we rode with thicker tires to be able to compensate for the potholes. But then we were pleasantly surprised. We mainly stayed on major roads, but we also ended up on gravel roads from time to time.

Jochen: It was also interesting that there were actually no bike paths between Greece and Italy. Except in Montenegro, but it was only 50 meters long. Cars have a very high value on the Balkans. People either drive by car or walk.

As a cyclist, you were probably the absolute exception there?

Jochen: There were areas where people really couldn't understand what we were doing with the bikes and skis. They didn't even look at us strangely anymore. But as we headed towards Italy, we met people who were also bikepacking and had more interest in it.

How do you start conversations with people on the road?

Max: We often sit in front of the supermarket and eat what we just bought. That's already a starting point for people. If we arrived in a big car, it would be different. What we do is something that everyone can experience in a small way. When we ask for directions, interesting conversations often arise. But most of the time, we are simply approached.

In English or in German?

Max: We were often recognized as Germans and addressed directly in German. That surprised us too. But many people there were former guest workers in Germany.

In addition to all the cycling and talking, you also did a number of ski runs. How do you move safely in the unknown mountains?

Max: At home, you naturally know the area, have a great avalanche report, and know how the snow develops over the year. We didn't have any of that there. You're only in a region for one or two days and have to make decisions directly. Slowly approaching things doesn't work there, so you gather as much information as possible and keep an eye on the snow. But then you can only make very small-scale decisions.

Jochen: We have always been ambitious and want to ride beautiful and exciting things. But with this project, pure ski action wasn't the focus. And so it was relatively easy for us to dial it back a bit and ride safely, especially in the most remote regions.

Thank you for this interview!


with Jochen Mesle & Philipp Becker

At the Banff Tour Premiere in Munich Jochen Mesle and Philipp Becker shared some additional stories from their film "Balkan Express" Sounds interesting?

Take a look and don't forget to switch on the English subtitles.

More about the film Balkan Express