TR-advent calendar #23

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#23: Stefan

Shit. The sun is already setting. And nobody is stopping. Really nobody stops at this damn spot. Motorway-ramp Leipzig Nord-Ost towards Dresden. I am standing here for several hours. It is cold. Smelly fumes fill the air. Loud and annoying cars drive past me. I am frustrated. No love for me. What is this hitchhiking supposed to be?

I decide to go back home. This shit makes no sense. Hitchhiking doesn’t work! I have to go all the way back to the city center. How embarrassing. I stay a little while just to be annoyed. Losing all my motivation to do anything. Why am I doing this again? I should have taken… zzzzzziiiippp. Did the car really just stop? Yes it did. Run you fool! It really stopped for me. Incredible….

A fellow student motivated me two weeks before to jump into this adventure. “Hitchhiking is so cool, you should do it!” Made sense for me. He just told me, how he hitchhiked from Hamburg to Leipzig in a suit and how well it worked. Appearance matters. Especially when hitchhiking, I should internalize that pretty soon. This was ten years ago. Ten years ago, when I almost turned around and went home. Ten years ago something happened, that changed my life completely. This woman stopped on the roadside and took me.

I can’t remember her name. It was a small, old car. Maybe a Renault in red. The woman had family roots in Angola, worked as a hairstylist and was on her way to Pirna. Passing Dresden. Exactly where I wanted to go. Directlift in the dusk. How lucky. If you, my dear driver, may read this, I want to say ‚Thank you‘ again! I am so glad you took me and gave me the opportunity to make hitchhiking become an important part of my life.

The journey was pretty nice, we talked about this and that. I really can’t remember the details but the feeling. And this feeling was good. I probably was just happy that it really worked. This hitchhiking-thing really worked. Who would have thought that. I had to enter the city center of Dresden. The highway is not close to the city. Of course I didn’t care about such an unimportance at that time. I was a greenhorn. And there was no need to do that as well.

The driver did an extra detour just for me and drove all the way to the main-station. She was so nice! And on top of that something happened that I would experience more often in my life and recall it as an act of pure kindness. The woman asked me if I had some money for the tram. I said without thinking about it, that I had no cash, but that wouldn’t be a problem since I could withdraw some at an ATM. We arrived at the main station. I thanked the driver and was almost out of the car when she pulled a 10 euro bill out of her pocket. “Here!” I was seriously surprised and denied instantly: “Oh, no thank you, that’s not necessary, I can get some money at the ATM” “Come on, I would have given it to my son as well.” What a lovely response. No way to keep up resistance. So I took the 10 euros and left the car.

The ten Euros were not really important. Just a symbol. It does not matter if people give me money, food, a ticket for the bus, selfie-sticks or a hug. It’s about something different: It makes people happy to help. And I want to enable them this pleasure. This relationship between two strangers evolved in a short time. And she treated me like her son already. This was very touching. And, for me, that is the beauty of hitchhiking. The random encounter with strangers, that leads to this wonderful connections.

I hitchhiked with a lot of people in the last ten years, who came out of different backgrounds and with whom I probably would have never gotten the chance to talk in normal life. And I love it. I am curious about all those strange minds that I get in touch with. I want them to surprise me. Because everybody is interesting and everybody has something to be loved for. My first time hitchhiking definitely formed this attitude. And because my first driver showed this unconditional love to me, I am always grateful when someone picks me up and feel deepest respect for their help.

I am not just hitchhiking out of joy. Or to have those lovely experiences. Hitchhiking was a lifestyle for me. My basic principle of moving is hitchhiking. I even owned a car for a while and still I had to hitchhike. Every time and everywhere. I never thought about becoming a hitchhiker, I just did it. And it deeply changed the way I look on people and the world. It made so much happening for me. We founded the competetive-autostop-club in Western Europe and racing around for 5 years now. In Oktober 2014 I went out to circumnavigate the world with hitchhiking. After 22 months, 58 countries and 109.000 km I just got back home. And now writing about my first ride. I have no idea how this escalated. But I know why that started: Because this wonderful, kind person stopped on a summerday in 2006 at the on-ramp Leipzig Nord-Ost and to pick up this stranger. Sharing is caring. And small gestures may have a big effect in the lives of others!

TR-Advent calendar #22

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#22: Hauke

The translator would like to express his consternation that the author didn’t manage to learn English during the innumerable hours, nay days that people left him standing next to the road due to his lack of hitchhiking talent and skanky appearance. English may have helped this lost cause of a ride bummer to meet people who could explain him the virtue of thumbing. The following story shows that his brother and friend both knew that he needed help and seemed to always be a minute late with their advice. Almost like they observed him to make sure he made it all the way, but still had fun watching his mistakes. And fun it must have been, considering the pace our author’s brain works in, looking at the first ten lines. Let’s hope together that our little hero still has people who smile and encourage him when he tells a hitchhiking tale, instead of explaining him all the things he did wrong. We know it’s too late to teach him. So please enjoy the ensuing narrative and smile and encourage our little fighter to continue putting up his thumb against all the odds that somebody will pick him up. He already knows that “luck is with the dumb.”

Wonderful. Made it to Berlin. Could have gone worse!

In order that it’s going well, I had to and wanted to follow some small steps, since there are not many rules for hitchhiking (editor’s note: They said in order to not overexert his competences). There’s just one rule: Someone will always pick you up. This made me conclude: You will always make it to the destination. Always.

At the very least, I accomplished that when hitchhiking for the first time.

It was in May or June 2008, going from the “Green Heart” in Kiel to the Couchsurfing Beach Camp in Berlin.

In order to make this one rule possible, there are a few easy things to consider – what should I do, what should I rather not do?

With a wild pumping heart, I headed off to my chosen spot with a fancy, well legible “Berlin” sign. My thick backpack including a tent with me, I stood at the side of the road like the next best stereotype of a hitchhiker. Well visible for each car and with loads of space to stop. So far, so good. These were the first things I had to keep in mind. Wuddich und Malte made the trip a day before and gave me these clues.

Just like you would expect, my first ever lift stopped after four minutes: An old VW “Bulli”. I entered the “Bulli” and we hit the B404 direction Berlin. After not even an hour, this treat ended and I was outside again in the middle of nowhere between Bad Segeberg and Bad Oldesloe. Directly behind the guardrail at a constricted B404 construction road. That I could have asked for the driver’s destination while entering the car, you’re saying?…well.

Hint number two by Wuddich and Malte appeared immediately via SMS on my Nokia 3210 when leaving the Bulli: “Let them drop you at a place where cars can stop easily.” Touché.

As you know, luck is with the dumb and just like that, less than two minutes and I sat in the car of a soldier on the way to Berlin. Plenty of confused ramblings later, he had to get off the autobahn and dropped me at a gas station. At this moment clue number three reached me:

“Oh and in case you have to change cars, let them drop you at gas stations on the autobahn and not away from it!! You won’t get away from there.”

Refueling was possible, calling this directly at the autobahn would be a big stretch though.

Thanks for nothing, mates!

Thus I chatted up the limited amount of drivers and got lucky with a young couple from Berlin, had to wait for ten minutes though before we could get started. The reason for that was the distinct health consciousness of the girl: First eating the salad by McDonald’s with a lot of emphasis (“all this other unhealthy stuff is a piece of shit!”), followed by smoking a menthol cigarette. All of that outside of the car, smoking wasn’t allowed inside. Once in the car, all the soliloquies and conversations between the inmates stopped, Techno was cranked up and the wild ride to Berlin kicked off. At some point I heard a soft beep between the smashes of the 5000W bass machine and saw clue number four on my cell phone: “After you arrived in Berlin, take the metro to station whatever (I forgot), we can walk from there.”

Less than 15 minutes later, the Beamer roared by this station – the couple let me out and I arrived at the Camp in Berlin. Wonderful.

Some bizarre stuff happened there – amongst other things, we involuntarily ran into Pascal Pernod, who hosted all the participants of the first Tramprennen at his place in Lausanne around three months later. The fact that we were at the same Camp in Berlin was only detected a few years later though. Another future host was our neighbor “I-brew-coffee-with-vodka”-Mario, who in turn harbored the whole crew in a scout hut in Linz in 2009.

I have no clue how the return journey went. I certainly made it to the destination.

TR-advent calendar #21

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#21: Johannes

You can barely call it „hitchhiking“ when I first decided to stand by the road and hold my thumb out, hoping for somebody to pick me up.
It was in August 2011, after I just quit my physics studies, so I had a lot of free time and not much on my mind as I didn’t have any university related obligations. One of the best things to do with free time is travelling so I decided to travel Germany and visit all kinds of friends.

One of those travels brought me up North to Hamburg, where I visited a friend who studies at the armed forces. This puts me in quite a strange and interesting position, as I also stayed in the barracks. He told me that one of his friends just moved out, so I even had a room all for myself. In the following 3 days I had some odd and interesting talks and encounters, as well as some irritated reactions due to my clearly visible non-belonging to the armed forces. However those 3 days are a different story and can be told another time.

After those days, in which I also saw a lot of Hamburg itself, and which marked the longest period I have spent in this city so far, I decided to go back to Berlin. The only question was how I would get there. At this point of time I normally just looked up a rideshare, as it was well organized and quite reliable – but I was in adventure mode. I had time to spare, the road to Berlin is well travelled and I had a marker pen – all was set for the first hitchhiking experience of my life.

The fact that I even considered it, was mainly related to getting to know some people of Viva con Agua some months earlier at the World Water Day in Berlin. After some events and meet ups with the VcA group of Berlin I realized that hitchhiking is quite a usual way for many of them to travel. For me the feeling about hitchhiking was mainly coined by my sheltered and wary upbringing in the Thuringian country side.

My preparations were quickly finished – I got some old cardboard from a pack of Sherry in the barracks and looked up the best places to hitch to Berlin from Hamburg on Hitchwiki. Because the road is much frequented I didn’t have to look for long to find a good spot to start from – a roundabout right at the access road to the highway to Berlin, called Horner Kreisel. All that was left was find the best way to get there from the barracks by public transport, which was just another quick lookup and I was ready to go.

When I arrived at the roundabout the spot to put down my stuff and wait was easily identifiable by a vast number of stickers and writings on a big column, which clearly marked the place as the hitchhiking spot I was looking for. For the drivers, a bus stop just some meters behind the column was the perfect place to stop and pick up people. With some insecurity still in me I began to write the letters “BERLIN” on my cardboard. Next was the moment in which I realized that I’m really doing it, I’m hitchhiking and so I stood by the road, board in front of me, thumb out, and more or less smiling at the drivers passing by. Just about three minutes after I held out my thumb a Mini Cooper was coming to a stop at the bus station. With some disbelief as to how easily that worked I grabbed my stuff and went to the car.

The driver, about 40 something, directly told me he is going to Berlin and if I wanna jump in. As my feeling about the guy was quite good I put my bags on the backseat and got in on the front passenger seat. What followed was about 3 hours of a relaxed drive and some nice and interesting talks with the guy, who told me that he was hitchhiking a lot himself when he was younger. This way he properly was way more experienced in the whole thing and he even gave me some tips as what to look out for. When we arrived in Berlin he dropped me near a train station and all that was left for me was to take the train to my flat.

This way, the first hitchhiking experience of my life ended and after all those thoughts I had before about security or insecurity, what kind of people would stop, if anybody would stop at all, what remained was a feeling of joy. The joy of having travelled with a certain amount of randomness, a feeling of freedom. Since then I hitchhiked quite some times and every time was different, all of the people, all of the places, but one thing always stays the same at the end of a journey – the graceful feeling that I got to know new people who share this world with me and who are ready to help other people.

TR- Advent calendar # 20

#20: Audrey

The first time I hitchhiked it was in summer 2011. I was a French exchange Student in Kiel at that time. Through couchsurfing I had met some nice german hippies who were involved in the NGO Viva con Agua. They were talking all the time about Tramprennen. I had no idea what it was about, and it’s only when they showed me videos of them of the road that I understood they were some kind of pround hitchhikers. It was the first time I heard that people enjoyed hitchhiking for the sake of it and not only out of necessity. And I found the idea as disturbing than exciting.

We were in Prague CZ wanting to head back to Kiel for the Kieler Woche festival. My friend Camille and I got dropped off at a petrol station outside the city of Prague. It was early morning, we had no idea of what we were doing but felt fairly confident we could get to Kiel before dark.

As we were two girls with no map and just one phone between the 2, we thought of some rules to keep safe. One of them was to stick together whatever happens or tell the other if we felt incomfortable.

After a few minutes holding our sign, a massive truck stopped. The driver, an older guy said in german: “HEY GIRLS we are going to Germany, you can come with us. One chick comes with me and the other goes with the truck following me” We looked behind his massive truck and another guy was up in another massive truck waiving at us. I responded “THANK YOU BUT we can’t, we want to stay together!”

Too late: Camille was already running to the truck with her backpack, happy we got a lift so quickly. Once in the truck the driver told me how much he loved french girls, since he had an affair with a woman called Nathalie. After that akward moment, I remember liking the feeling of being up high on the road looking down at cars. I liked also being invited into the truck driver as if it was his house, he was offering me coffee biscuits and cigarettes, while driving. We talked about his family in Poland, listened to polish old school pop music. I was looking at the back mirror all the time, afraid that Camille’s truck would disappear. The 2 trucks started a race on the highway trying to pass eachother. Not thinking of the speed limit, it was good to see Camilles smiling face everytime they passed us.

A few hours later we stopped and they shared their meal with us. Camille’s driver was very friendly but also had posters of naked women all over his cabine. She was in control she said. They dropped us 6 hours later in Leipzig and we continued our way to Kiel, without to wait more that 5 minutes. We even got disturbed during our break by a family at a station asking us where we wanted to go! We ended the day asking some guys to drive 200 kilometers out of their way to drop us off in Kiel. They partied with us all of the following night.

It was the first day of a very long love story with hitchhiking. Everyting can happen on the road, especially great experiences and random hilarious encounters. I can not imagine how the last 5 years would have been without hitchhiking. I gained confidence, freedom, trust in humanity and trust in my survival skills. I learned how to be patient, accept failures and wrong decisions, listen to my buddy and to not be greedy.

Last but not least I discovered also how privileged I was to cross borders freely and be welcome everywhere. During Tramprennen 2015 on the way to Albania, we met countless groups of people walking along the train tracks and hitching toward to North, while the friendly drivers of our air conditionned car were making disgusting racist comments.

The world is up to you when you are hitchhiking, only if you are a white european/westerner.

Well, to be honest I am not that white but it’s a fact that foreign people were much more welcoming with me than they had been with my dad a generation ago or than they are now with the people coming to Europe fleeing conflict they haven’t started.

So now, the question is: do you want to keep your privileges for watching TV? Or do you want to go learn about your limits and the world? There is nothing to feel guilty or worried about, just go and hit that road!

TR- Advent calendar #19

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#19: Tue Gonzo

A bit more than 13 years ago, I read Jack Kerouac’s – On the road, which inspired me in numerous way, which is a total cliché, I know, but back in those days it hadn’t become a cliche yet.

Crap, I just realized that I’m not 60, so that also makes me a cliché, nevermind, back to my literary fueled wanderlust.

After reading the inspiring words of a young hitchhiker, backpacking his way around the United States in the mid 60s, I figured that I should try that hot old drug called Thumbing.

I wrote a bunch of my friends a text saying that I was going to do something new and exciting, several of them answered back interested in my new adventures, which is the equivalent of 50 likes, 12 reaction emoticons and 4 shares, in modern communication.

My plan was to hitchhike from Kalundborg to Copenhagen, the mind boggling distance of 120 danish kilometers ( which is just like normal kilometers, but better, and much more up it’s own ass about it)

Kalundborg is only about 20.000 people, so there’s only one way out of town leading to Copenhagen, and it only took about 15-20minutes to walk there.

My 17 year old self looked amazing, thumb in the air, wind in my hair, and what appeared to be a smile from a distance.

As you can probably imagine, it didn’t take long before a car stopped, they were only going to the next city, but that was fine by me.

The next spot was equally good, cars were slow, easy visibility and plenty of space for the cars to stop, I hardly had the time for my thumb to get cold before a car stopped.

What happened next, and the time after that, was that the car was actually going all the way, but I told them to only drive me 20-30kms.

Why did I say no to a direct ride?

Because my main interest wasn’t getting to Copenhagen, it was to try hitching, and through my thumb, to get into different cars and talk to different people.

After around 5-6 rides, I arrived to Copenhagen and walked the last 8 kms to the main station, got into a train going back to Kalundborg and spent the next 1½hours eating my lunchpack.

This was my first time hitchhiking, I successfully went from A to B and then back to A again, I turned down several direct rides, all in all it was like no other hitchhiking trip since then, but you’re allowed to do some weird, freaky stuff on your first time, right?

At least that’s what Santa always told me, Merry christmas everyone :)