There has to be an important reason for a politician, a craftsman, a professor, two students and a sales rep to crowd into a Vito together. Especially because this is the beginning of a journey halfway across Europe. They are all immediately on a first name basis. There are no arguments about the choice of music or the air conditioning settings. The driver, Michael Köninger, is 32 years old, wears dark glasses and sports a seven-day beard. He drums his fingers energetically against the dashboard. The bright Mercedes-Benz Sprinter puts on its indicator and becomes part of the chain of lights winding southward along the A8 motorway. This unique group of travelers will soon arrive in the remote rural regions, among the sheep and donkeys. Something which does not seem to disturb anyone. To the contrary: As Stuttgart disappears into the distance, the passengers’ eyes light up.
“We drive to where the weather is good” describes the undetermined destination. This does not sound like an option from an online travel planner. But it truly sounds like freedom. And that is what paragliding is all about. Flying until day-to-day problems and cares become so small that they disappear from view. And suddenly, there it is: E…M…P…T…I…N…E…S…S – and that feeling of unlimited freedom. Italy, Slovenia, Sweden… Every year, the Luftikus flight school brings paragliding enthusiasts to the continent’s best slopes with the Around Europe tour. There are many important factors: whether the conditions for flying are good and whether the paragliders can even take off. A quick break. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and a Vito in convoy pull into a rest stop. “And? How does it look?” is the most common question. Everyone huddles together. Michael Köninger calls up the latest weather information on his smartphone: “It looks good! At the moment.” The forecasts promise the best conditions for their intended destination. Off to Slovenia! “A stable high-pressure system is best for paragliding”, says Michael Köninger, the paragliding instructor. “The wind should not be too strong, ideally up to 15 km an hour up the incline.” Under these conditions a “flight” can last hours. Because foehn weather and wind speeds of 30 to 40 km/h can result in dangerous drainage winds, caution is always essential when assessing the weather conditions. “That is why a good paraglider always needs to be calm, patient and aware of the risks.” And always has to keep an eye on the local weather situation. The journey continues on a positive note.
Michael Köninger’s journey to paragliding began in 1997. He inherited the flying gene from his father, although not from birth. “My father is one of the hang gliding pioneers in this country. But in the beginning I was more fascinated with snowboarding and skateboarding. Until I went paragliding for the first time.” That was the deciding moment. “Flying is far better”, he discovered. Training as a paragliding instructor and sky performance trainer followed. Michael Köninger took part in competitions and joined Eugen’s Flugschule, his father’s flight training school. Today the 32-year-old is the owner and co-owner of three companies. The Luftikus flighttraining school in Stuttgart and the Freiraum flight training school in Ruhpolding provide top-class training for paragliding pilots. During the trial lesson some participants spend more time running downhill with the large paraglider than actually flying. It is like watching a group of penguins trying to learn to fly. But those who decide to take the following basic course learn the fundamentals that allow them to conquer the skies. And those who want to buy their own equipment? Michael Köninger can also help them: The newly opened Gleitschirm-Shop at the Greifenburg flying camp offers everything that paragliders desire; including a testing center, of course.
Michael Köninger has not made his hobby into his job, but rather his dream. Flying is his calling: “I could never have an office job”, says the high-flier. His down-to-earth common sense is part of the highly responsible job, despite his relaxed manner: “Safety is the absolute top priority for paragliding.” In addition to professional pilot training, the safety measures include tested and certified flying equipment, an emergency parachute, a helmet and an airbag to compensate for hard landings. Today, paragliding has become a very safe sport. Perhaps it is precisely this combination of thrill and the drive for greater safety which inspired Michael Köninger to purchase a fleet consisting of the Sprinter, Vito and Viano from Mercedes-Benz? “Every small Swabian workshop likes to drive a Daimler”, he says with a broad grin. This also seems to apply to aviation schools, even if they are no longer quite that small. The Stuttgarter now has 20 employees.
Arrived at last. The paragliding pilots on the Around Europe Tour have reached the slopes in Stol in Slovenia. The sheep continue to graze peacefully and only look up as the first pilots rise into the heights on the light rising wind. Seen from below, it almost looks as though penguins have grown wings.