On Thursday evening, approximately 25 Ann Arbor residents gathered in the Ann Arbor District Library in downtown Ann Arbor to hear Stefan Koehler, Ann Arbor resident and University of Michigan senior technology licensing specialist, talk about his bike trip in Iran this past summer.
Koehler is an avid cyclist and has gone on bike trips in many countries including India, Tajikistan, Rwanda, Uganda, Colombia and Cuba. Kohler began the event by describing his passion for cycling and travel. He explained he chose to visit Iran at the advice of a French couple he met on a bicycle trip through Tajikistan a few years prior.
“I asked, ‘what was your favorite country?’ and without hesitation, they said, ‘Iran,’” Kohler said. “They went on and on and on about the hospitality of the Iranian people.”
In his talk, Kohler described that hospitality, expressing how it was a stark contrast to the complex and fraught relationship the United States has with Iran. Kohler, who is both a German and American citizen, talked about how he used his German passport to travel to Iran as an American. He said getting in the country did not turn out to be much of a problem and told multiple stories of how people were interested in his life as an American.
“When they understood, ‘this isn’t a guy from Germany; this a guy from the United States,’ initially I thought, ‘Whoa, I hope they don’t call some local police,’” Koehler said. “It turned out they were just thrilled when they learned I was from the United States.”
Kohler focused most of his talk on how hospitable, friendly and interested the people he encountered in Iran were. He talked about how many people offered him meals and places to stay, how many of the people he spoke to had strong feelings against the regime and how beautiful of a place Iran was to bike through.
Koehler recounted an experience he had with the owner of the “best Kebab place in town.”
“The owner said, ‘Let’s do a promotional video!’” Kohler said. “He would post it on his Instagram because he was very savvy at social media marketing.”
Toward the end, Kohler told the story of the people in a small town who offered him a place to set up his tent.
“Isn’t it touching?” Kohler said. “Three people came and shared their food with me, with this stranger who had pitched his tent in the middle of the village.”
A 15-minute Q&A session followed the hour-and-a-half long talk. Ann Arbor resident Dana DiMaggio came to the event because she was curious about what Kohler had to say.
“I guess I didn’t know a lot about Iran,” DiMaggio said. “I thought it was interesting. Everything he had to say was about getting to know local people on a very personal level.”
Ann Arbor resident Eric Middleton said he was intrigued by the stories of how similar life in Iran could be to life in America.
“I thought … how Western the people were was so interesting,” Middleton said.