Dominika Maria, 35 has been dreaming of travelling the world since she was 20. But every plan she made fell apart, or never got off the ground in the first place.
Then Dominika met Uwe, a fellow artist, and they fell in love. After they married, Dominika’s dreams came back to her, and four years ago the couple left their home in Bavaria and started what they called their “world tour with love”.
Now, the pair are 5,000km (3,100 miles) from Germany, their travel plans halted by the coronavirus pandemic. They are living on the streets of Lahore in Pakistan. They have been accused of being spies, speculated about on social media, and become a curiosity to locals.
Travelling through Pakistan has been risky in recent years – a number of travellers have been kidnapped in the past decade.
And it wasn’t long before the couple aroused the interest of the police, who came and towed their car one day while they were away from it. Later, after four hours of talks with the assistant commissioner of Lahore, they agreed to shift to a new location in the city.
The Lahore City Assistant Commissioner, Faizan Ahmad, told the BBC the couple had been “living in Pakistan illegally”.
“The immigration authorities, the Federal Investigations Agency, the customs department and the concerned embassies have been consulted,” he said. At issue was whether to deport the couple to Germany or allow them to proceed to their next destination.
To Dominika, their tour is an art project. They began in Germany and travelled through Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and now Pakistan. Their destination was supposed to be India.
Dominika said she did not really worry about the risk of travelling through countries like Iraq and Iran. “If we don’t do what’s in our hearts, we will only sit in our bed and miss everything,” she said. “We met wonderful people in Iraq, Iran and Pakistan and they created unforgettable stories for us.”
It was a friend they made in Turkey that brought them to Pakistan. He invited them to his home in Islamabad and helped them obtain their first temporary visa.
They arrived in Quetta, Pakistan through the Taftan border from Iran in late April 2020, intending to visit their new friend, but without the necessary documentation to drive within Pakistan, they were stuck.
They couple spent 10 days with customs in Quetta and were later escorted to Islamabad.
A wait of more than a year followed. Dominika and Uwe applied for Indian visas and they were granted, but when they went to collect the paperwork they were told it was “not possible”, they said.
Another long wait ensued – while they tried to sort out their visas.
Finally in July last year, they couple got their paperwork in order and travelled from Lahore to the border to cross into India. But there was another obstacle awaiting them: the global pandemic.
“As we arrived at the Wagah Border, India had just closed to foreigners,” Dominika said. “There was no way to cross.”
Free soup on Sundays
The couple returned to Lahore, staying first in a warehouse and then sleeping in the car park of the Tourist Inn hotel. With nowhere to go, they needed something to do.
Keen to give something back to the city that was their new temporary home, Dominika and Uwe began gathering ingredients and making soup for anyone who needed it.
For recipes, they turned to dishes they had learned during their travels across 11 countries. “We love to eat hot soup during wintertime and we thought others might feel the same,” Dominika said.
The couple began cooking every Sunday and handing out soup to the needy. Anyone is welcome to eat, Dominika said, and if people want to make a donation towards the art the couple makes, or the soup fund, they can.
Dominika and Uwe still dream of crossing the Wagah border into India one day. “We are so close,” Dominika said. “We have travelled all this long way and waited for such a long time.”
The devastating second wave of coronavirus sweeping through India will delay their onward journey even longer, and make the possibility of deportation back to Germany more likely. For now they are stuck in Lahore, waiting to see which country is next on their world tour.