Info Shymkent - German tour guide and writer Dagmar Schreiber climbing up to Big Almaty Peak (Photo: Valeriy Izmailov)

Dagmar Schreiber: Kazakhstan is really half my life

Travel book writer & guide Dagmar Schreiber is celebrating 20 years of guiding tours through Central Asia. It was time to talk with her.

German travelers who want to visit Central Asia know this name: Dagmar Schreiber. The famous German tour guide and relevant travel guide author is celebrating 20 years of guiding tours through Central Asia. We had the opportunity to wish Dagmar Schreiber a Happy birthday and to talk to her about her extensive experiences and impressions about Kazakhstan collected over nearly 30 years of travelling through Central Asia.

Info Shymkent: Hello Dagmar, how are you? Where are you at the moment?

Dagmar Schreiber: I’m at Tashkent airport right now. I’m flying home in two hours after a 14-day tour through Uzbekistan. I’m feeling fine – I’ve seen a lot, including new things and places, I was guiding a nice group, I met old friends again after a too long break, I celebrated my birthday, I ate delicious meals at every places. So in short: I had a two-week break from Germany and Europe, in spite of the fact that big politics has caught up with me here too. The meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Samarkand took place right at the same time of our tour.

Info Shymkent: Would you so kind to introduce yourself to our readers of Info Shymkent?

Dagmar Schreiber: I’m Dagmar Schreiber, who has just turned 60, has been traveling in Central Asia for almost 30 years, so half of my life. My focus has shifted a lot, from sociology to writing guidebooks and traveling by my own – for research purposes or as well with small tourist groups.

Info Shymkent: You studied philosophy in the Soviet Union and then later you worked as a sociologist. But what made you to work as a professional tour guide?

Dagmar Schreiber: The fascination of Central Asia with its ancient history and the impressive natural and cultural landscapes, the abundance of impressions of all kinds, a certain thirst for adventure and the joy of showing other people something that I like myself.

Info Shymkent - Guide book writer and tour guide Dagmar Schreiber with a German travel group in Central Asia
Dagmar Schreiber (yellow jacket) with a German travel group in the Tian Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan. (Image: Amir Malek)

Info Shymkent: You often refer to Kazakhstan as your favorite country. How did you come to this decision and how does the country differ from other countries?

Dagmar Schreiber: Kazakhstan is by far the largest and most diverse of the Central Asian countries. Favorite country … It is probably primarily the fact that I know Kazakhstan the longest and best, I have been here regularly since 1994, have lived and worked here for six years, traveled to almost every corner. I had the love of my life here, learned a lot in a citizens’ movement – Kazakhstan is really half my life. But the other countries are also favorite countries, each in its own way. *Smiling*

Info Shymkent: You travel regularly – unless a pandemic intervenes – with German-speaking holidaymakers to Central Asia. What impresses your guests the most on your travels and what surprises them the most?

Dagmar Schreiber: The size, the scale of the landscape, the variety of faces and cultures including the cuisine, the warmth and serenity of the people. What surprises them most? That a lot of things are more modern here than in Europe. We often have a somewhat vain Eurocentric view, which you can easily get rid off in Central Asia.

Info Shymkent - German writer and tour Guide Dagmar Schreiber's travel guide books
Guide books written by German tour guide and writer Dagmar Schreiber. (Image: Dagmar Schreiber)

Info Shymkent: You have written two very thorough and detailed guide books about the huge country of Kazakhstan and Central Asia, which have been published by German publisher Trescher-Verlag. But which place in the largest country in Central Asia do you love the most?

Dagmar Schreiber: There are even now four guide books! *winking* Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan (with Stephan Flechtner), Tajikistan (with Sonja Bill) – and Central Asia.

But I won’t tell you which place I love the most. Otherwise everyone will end up there and it won’t be nice anymore. *laughing*

But seriously. I can not say it. There are a few. And these are really the quiet, deserted places. There are still many of this places here in Kazakhstan. Consider that vast country has a population density of seven people per square kilometer! It is especially bizarre in the chalk landscapes in the Mangystau region on the Caspian Sea, we can find lush flora and fauna in the Aksu-Zhabagly National Reserve, wonderful trekking tours would be possible in the Tianshan, Dzhungarian Alatau and Altai mountains, the hilly to mountainous steppe landscape in the middle of the country is surprising, and an unbelievable variety of landscapes can be experienced in the area around the old capital Almaty.

Info Shymkent: You are very involved in ecotourism in Central Asia. Which ecotourism project you have worked on gave you the most joy and was a matter close to your heart?

Dagmar Schreiber: The most joy gave me to save a piece of the Ile-Alatau National Park from being turned into winter sport area for a ski resort. Almost the die was cast, but we managed to prevent this area from being cut down, cut up and built over. It is now part of the national park again and is accessible to all citizens free of charge, without asphalt roads. This area is called Kok Zhailau and everyone in Kazakhstan knows it, at least from the media.

Info Shymkent - German travel guide Dagmar Schreiber supported "Kok Zhailjau SOS!" to stop Kok Zhailau to be transformed into a ski area
A matter close to Dagmar’s heart – the project “Kok Zhailjau SOS!” that stopped that the plateau Kok Zhailau near city Almaty will be transformed into a ski area.
(Image: Initiative Group “Protect Kok Zhailau”)

Info Shymkent: What do you wish for the future development of tourism in the Central Asian countries?

Dagmar Schreiber: I can say that straight away: that ordinary people can benefit from it and that as little as possible is skimmed off by large chains. That everything runs so harmoniously that the locals still feel at home and not feel like performers in an ethno park, that they and their guests can meet as equals. My wish is that tourism does not destroy nature and that people plan sensibly for the future. For example, I don’t think it’s a good idea at all to plan and build ski resorts at a time of dramatic global warming. If you consider that Central Asia is a hotspot of global warming and that temperatures there will rise by five to six degrees by the end of the century, then ski resorts should be not on the agenda, but categorical protection of water reservoirs in the mountains and intelligent and well planned water supply for the population and the agriculture.

Info Shymkent: You have been to Shymkent several times and you also show your guests the third largest city of Kazakhstan and its surrounding nature on some trips through Kazakhstan. How did you perceive the city and its inhabitants during your visits?

Dagmar Schreiber: As explosively growing, very lively, Mediterranean, spirited, musical, indulgent, above all culinary.

Info Shymkent - Famous German travel guide and writer Dagmar Schreiber in a tulip field in South Kazakhstan
Popular German travel guide and writer Dagmar Schreiber in a tulip field in South Kazakhstan (Image: Dagmar Schreiber)

Info Shymkent: What do you do when you’re not traveling? How do you relax after a hard journey or a long day?

Dagmar Schreiber: I tidy up, cook, ride my bike, do something in the garden, chop wood, read, meet friends, visit my children and spoil my grandson Armin.

Info Shymkent: The year 2022 is a double anniversary year for you: You are celebrating a milestone birthday and you have been offering trips to Central Asia for 20 years. Congratulations! What do you wish for the next 10 years?

Dagmar Schreiber: Hey, that’s right. I almost forgot about the 20th anniversary! Two years of pandemic have turned a lot upside down. At one point I almost gave up. I celebrated my birthday in Khiva, on the roof terrace of a very nice family hotel, with friends, Uzbek white wine and a stunning view of the well-lit old town. What do I wish for? Peace, peace, peace. All over!

Info Shymkent: That is a great wish, Dagmar! We wish that, too. We thank you very much for this nice interview and your detailed answers and your great impressions. We wish you furthermore many kind and interested guests on your guided tours through Central Asia, still a huge thirst for adventure like in your first years in Kazakhstan and good health, joy and power.

(The Credit for headline photo which shows Dagmar Schreiber during a hike to the Big Almaty Peak goes to photographer Valeriy Izmailov.)

Read more about Dagmar Schreiber and you can find guided tours in Central Asia with her on this site:

Here you can find the Guide books written by Dagmar Schreiber (in German):