At this point, anyone who still thinks we are referencing an updated kid’s party game should think again. Nowadays, it is not children, but adults who consider these outdoor pleasures (and treasures) a fun leisure activity, eager to scan nearby woods, fields, caves, meadows, or even cityscapes for intriguing hiding spots, hidden finds, or geolocation landmarks. Urban geocaching, especially, seems to be booming with record numbers of participants joining in around the globe. Hamburg-based photographer Yvonne Schönherr explains the appeal. “There are so many different ways to approach geocaching. The community is not as close-knit as you might think and there is plenty of information available on the internet, including projects and websites. What’s more, there are also educational geocaching initiatives as well as companies who stage tours for groups or team-building events. So, if you are in HR and need an idea for the next company party, why not try geocaching?” Well, why indeed? What exactly is the appeal of this updated treasure hunt? Yvonne Schönherr mentions the sleuthing “kick” and sense of achievement. It is all about the hunt itself, the excitement of discovery. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but more and more people are catching the bug.
Somehow, playing detective has always been part of human nature. Who, how, where? What about the Hercule Poirot inside all of us? Yet unlike the world of this famous, fictitious private detective, questing for answers all on his own, urban geocaching is a far more communal experience, adds Yvonne. “You share and communicate with the community, you log your findings and document what you find – or any problems you might encounter. Geocaching is a great way to explore and conquer new spaces while challenging your mind and maybe even expanding your horizon a little,” she explains. “For example, I once did a geocaching tour of Hamburg’s harbor. On this route, I discovered a lot of new things about my own city – things I had simply walked past before without noticing. That was a fascinating trip and I can only recommend urban geocaching!”
Several metropolises have joined the fun to challenge geocaching fans with captivating, if time-consuming opportunities and alternative ways to explore the city. After all, anyone can consult a guide. In Los Angeles, for example, you might be asked to solve mathematic riddles while ambling across the Walk of Fame, searching for specific stars referenced by the brainteasers. “It’s simply far more exciting to do a geocache in L. A. than to simply tick off the sights,” says Yvonne. Always tagged with exact co-ordinates, these L. A. caches serve as encouragements to complete the course. And who knows – maybe one of the hiding spots contains a starring prize? At the other end of the scale, from improvised to professional, many cities offer bookable, i. e. organized versions of the game.
Occasionally in a race against time, small groups of intrepid treasure hunters set out to conquer the cities and their everyday challenges. Winners get to bask in fame – and enjoy the sheer satisfaction of having mastered the course in question. With the power of their own mind. Puzzle 2.0. This, by the way, is a precious skill in an age where modern-day shortcuts take a lot of tasks off our hands, where Google explains the world, YouTube teaches us how to cook, calculate, dance, sew, or kiss, and where online shopping even “spares” us the need to venture out into the real world and the urban space that surrounds us. Yvonne agrees: “Geocaching is far more than a technology-oriented variant of the classic treasure hunt principle. It is a great incentive to venture out, enjoy fresh air, and shut down the computer. Also, it is simply great fun to navigate the city or nature with a bunch of friends for a few hours.” Finally, she appeals to anyone already active or looking to join this contemporary obstacle course to “please observe the rules of the game. It is always hard and time-consuming to maintain the routes. So, please try to leave the routes and caches the way you found them. Sometimes, parts are missing from the installed containers or you get traces of vandalism. Try not to spoil the fun for those who take geocaching seriously or even pay for it.”
Text: Agi Habryka
All illustrations, including the header image: Bettina Knoop