world map


Otto waited three days at the border before being allowed in to visit the lip plate people

date of entry 26/01/1994
mileage 121,341

capital Addis Abeba

area 1.104.300 km²

population 96.633.458

official language Amharic

In 1994, Ethiopia was an untamed country, where some peoples still led a very traditional way of life. The Holtorfs, together with Otto, were the first Western tourists to be allowed to enter with their own car. The customs formalities at the frontier were uncharted territory for all involved and took three days to complete. Once they were in the country, they headed for the Mursi tribal areas, where they encountered the culture of lip plates: huge lips expanded by clay discs.
  • ... in order, over time, to insert even bigger clay discs into them. For safety reasons this lady even carries her "spare" plate on her head.
    22  of  22
  • Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian-influenced countries in the world: Ethiopia’s history extends all the way back to the 4th century. Jahrhundert zurück. The 17th century palace in Gondar is now an example of the splendour of the kings of Abyssinia.
    1  of  22
  • The official language of the present-day Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is Amharic, which has been used in the country since the 13th century and has its own alphabet. Naturally, Gunther Holtorf, seen here in 1989, could not understand it.
    2  of  22
  • Markets in Ethiopia were often a very colourful affair.
    3  of  22
  • On special occasions, dignitaries in the provinces used decorated donkeys and mules.
    4  of  22
  • The road network was still much worse then, so donkeys were also in demand as an everyday means of transport. Here, they are laden with traditional water jugs.
    5  of  22
  • The Ethiopian Highlands reach a height of more than 4,000 metres. Most of the country is over 1,200 metres above sea level.
    6  of  22
  • The Highlands have a pleasant climate, and even troublesome tropical diseases such as malaria are unknown there. The road network is often Italian in origin, as can be seen from the stone walls. The country was occupied by Italy for a short period in the 1930s.
    7  of  22
  • Most of Ethiopia’s land is used for agriculture. There are hardly any forests left, and even the typical red-hot pokers are less common now.
    8  of  22
  • Almost all the country’s trade is conducted through the port in the neighbouring country of Djibouti. The road leading from the capital, Addis Ababa, was then considered one of the most dangerous in Africa.
    9  of  22
  • The Blue Nile Falls in Tisissat are 42 metres high and, in the rainy season, up to 400 metres wide, which makes them the second-largest in Africa.
    10  of  22
  • In many villages at that time, water for the camels often had to be drawn from a great depth.
    11  of  22
  • It was usually the women who walked long distances to fetch drinking water for their families.
    12  of  22
  • As they crisscrossed the Ethiopian interior, the Holtorfs were often a long way from paved roads. They once spent three days driving across open terrain.
    13  of  22
  • In 1994, Gunther and Christine Holtorf drove far into the Ogaden territory in eastern Ethiopia, which was then a lawless area where they often had to pay local tribes for permission to pass through.
    14  of  22
  • In 1994, the southwest of the country was also still home to many very traditional tribes, who crowded around Otto...
    15  of  22
  • ... when he appeared in their area.
    16  of  22
  • Here, Christine Holtorf talks to well-armed members of the Hamar tribe in the Omo valley.
    17  of  22
  • Ethiopia is dominated by agriculture: in 1994, cattle were present everywhere, even on the airfield of Jinka in Omo Valley.
    18  of  22
  • The Mursi, with their huge lip plates, are probably the best-known tribe in the Omo region.
    19  of  22
  • Women and men alike cut their lower lips...
    20  of  22
  • ... and sometimes even their earlobes...
    21  of  22
  • Video: Ethiopia – roads "Made in Italy"