Karsten Richter and Jorg Fischer use one word to describe how they feel about Utah: "wunderbar."
Generous Utahns have thrown out the welcome mat for the two Germans since they were stranded in the state almost two weeks ago. They've also opened their wallets, contributing more than $1,600 to a fund to help reconstruct the two visitors' trip to the United States.One individual sent a check for $500, along with a note saying that his mother-in-law was from Berlin and that he had lived there himself from 1961-64. He asked the bank to "give the boys my love."
Richter, 21, and Fischer, 22, were one month into a three-month cross country tour of America when a man in a black Ford van picked them up outside of Las Vegas. The man stopped at University Mall in Orem April 19 for lunch.
The man - and his van - disappeared while Fischer and Richter window shopped. He made off with duffle bags filled with clothes and toiletries, sleeping bags, a tent, their passports, airline tickets back home and $1,000 in cash.
"At first we didn't believe it," Fischer said through a translator. "We walked around the mall three times to see if we had missed him. After that we thought to ourselves how stupid we had been."
The two men have become the special guests of two benefactors who are making sure their visit to Utah will be unforgettable. They've visited Brigham Young University and the University of Utah, been to a laser show at the Hansen Planetarium and gone bowling, bicycling and sightseeing above Sundance on the Alpine Loop road.
They've toured the Wasatch Front in a private plane and will travel to one of the state's national parks Saturday.
"Being here is the best that could have happened to us in America," Richter said. "It almost seems like it was worth it to go through that and lose everything to meet all these friends."
With the help of their benefactors, who have asked that they not be identified, the two men have been able to get new visas. By Saturday, the German Consulate in Salt Lake City should have new passports for them.
On Saturday a benefactor took Fischer and Richter to Park's Sportsman in Orem, where they spent $300 donated by Utahns buying items to replace their stolen belongings - hiking boots, a tent, backpacks, a campstove and some clothing. Park's owner also contributed to the cause by selling the items at cost.
"People all want these kids to know America is full of good people," one benefactor said.
The only remaining stumbling block is replacing the two men's airline tickets home.
A Provo travel agency, Uniglobe-Concord Travel Inc., is attempting to get the agency that issued the tickets in Berlin to either reissue them or provide identification numbers that can be used to buy new tickets.
Buying new tickets would use up a large chunk of the remaining donated funds; each ticket will cost between $400 and $750, depending on whether they are able to get a discount.
Richter and Fischer could be on their way again across America within two weeks.
"We just have to wait to see how it comes out with our passports and all," Fischer said.
Donations may be sent to the "Fischer and Richter Account," Central Bank, 202 S. Main, Springville, 84663. Donations can also be made at any Central Bank branch.
An open letter of thanks
This is a letter from Karsten Richter and Jorg Fischer to Utahns who've lent them a helping hand. It was translated by one of their benefactors.
"We, Jorg and Karsten, would like to thank everyone who has helped us in our misfortune. Through them, the people that have helped us, it has been made possible for us to continue our trip.
"We especially would like to thank (our benefactors) and their families. They have endeavored to make our entire time here enjoyable, pleasant and full.
"We're very thankful. We'll always have Utah in good remembrance."