Wim Willems

The Globetrotters

A League of Idealists

Idealist revolutionaries in sandals

On 16 July 1911, three friends dressed in velvet suits and leather sandals set out from Amsterdam to walk around the world. They were pacificists, vegetarians, teetotallers, socialists, but – above all – working-class boys set on escaping their lot in life. Without much money or preparation, yet buoyed by their optimism and idealism, they would make it to the Middle East before their journey was cut short by the First World War. Nearly a century later, a chest of their diaries, letters and drawings fell into historian Wim Willems’s lap, sparking a new journey to reconstruct their footsteps and motivations, their later lives and evolution of their ideals.

To earn money, the three friends sold portrait cards and reported on their travels for small newspapers. They slept beneath the stars, or in haystacks, traversed snowy mountains barefoot; they were ‘hippies avant la lettre’, and their unusual fame quickly spread as they walked through Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Romania, and from Constantinople to Palestine. After eight months, Marie Zwarts, the girlfriend of one of the three, would join the group. Eventually spanning years, it was not a journey free of setbacks and fights, and Willems describes their many encounters and impressions, as well as the surprising places their optimism and fervent belief in goodwill took them. Their message of pacifism and socialist unity, however, contrasted sharply with the world around them. With the help of diary entries and letters home, Willems resurrects a Europe on the brink of dizzying bloodshed, as the young group navigates the ethnic tensions in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and takes in the remains of the Ottoman Empire and colonialism in the Middle East.

In addition to retracing their steps, Willems attempts to uncover the source of their vision—especially in a time when only the elite could expect to travel. He also speaks with their living descendants in the Netherlands, Israel and Australia to sketch the very different lives the group led after their journey. None of them escaped the sweeping political movements of the 20th century, with tragic consequences for one. Nevertheless, their mission lives on today in their family members spread around the globe.

This is an extraordinary history, one as entertaining as it is poignant, and an ode to youthful idealism that will capture readers’ hearts. It also includes a selection of delightful photographs and drawings made underway.

A story that seems too crazy to be true, but nevertheless is. […] It is a breath-taking journey.

NRC Handelsblad

A small monument to bygone ideals.

Het Parool

This book makes you reflect on hope, longing, dreaming and utopia.

De Groene Amsterdammer

Wim Willems

Wim Willems (1951) is emeritus professor of Social History at the University of Leiden. As an avid walker who also grew up in a working-class family where studying was not a given, he felt a strong bond with the three globetrotters and their inspired endeavour to lead a different life. Willems is…

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De Wereldwandelaars. Een verbond van idealisten (2020). Non-fiction, 384 pages.



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