Today we present the last text of our advent calendar 2016. Big thanks to everybody who contributed with their own story to this project and special thanks to Hannes, Simona, Franzi and Felix for the translations and to Gero for the pictures!
As usual the best part comes last:
Route: West Berlin – Münster (Westfalen)
Date: Late summer of 1989
Turning point: 1989. After a week in West Berlin, Heidrun, my girlfriend at the time, and I decided to turn the night into day one last time in Kreuzberg. The next day, we woke up from a coma-like sleep at half past one in the afternoon. To my horror, I realized that our car-share ride from Witthenbergplatz to Münster already had taken off about an hour ago.
There were no mobile phones yet and my friend Sven didn’t have a telephone connection installed in his apartment. And besides all of that, turns out that last night someone broke into the apartment and stole my camera and a stash of money. When the police officers came, they laughed as they saw the lock of the door, saying (in a typical Berliner accent): “Dit mach ick dir inne Sekunde uff.” (meaning: “I’d unlock that in a split second.”)
I was only left with 20 Mark (which wasn’t enough for a train ticket to Westfalen). And I was expected to be there by evening for a gig with my band “The Subway Surfers”.
So, off we go by “S-Bahn” to the Wannsee since there’s a hitchhiking spot nearby. In the train, I noticed that it’s a sunny September-day. Meanwhile, it was almost three o’ clock. In about 6 hours I had to be in Münster, on stage. 475km. I was aware that the only chance I had of getting there on time was if my girlfriend and I got a lift directly to Münster. As we walked towards the hitchhiking spot, the service station Dreilinden, I recognized through the trees its red and brown façades but also something else: At the legendary hitchhiking spot going west, were standing at least 200 people sticking out their thumbs in the air.
A hippie couple already spread out a blanket on the roadside and had a picnic. They stuck a sign on their basket saying: “BEL”. As we arrived two girls with dreadlocks just jumped into a truck. Most hitchhikers apparently wanted to get to Hannover, Göttingen or Hamburg.
Obviously, there weren’t any who wanted to get directly to Münster. All shyly, we went up to the street. All the other hitchhikers seemed to be in pretty exuberant mood. In those days many cars that were leaving the city, approached the rest stop just before passing through checkpoint Bravo for looking for passengers. This Friday it wasn’t very different. The cars passed by very slowly, examined the signs and beckoned the people if the direction was right.
My girlfriend and I no sooner got to the spot in this very moment than a couple got picked up by a Mercedes. As soon as they got on board to that white-haired banker guy, he stepped on the gas and left all the other hitchhikers applauding sarcastically in dust. Right behind the Mercedes there was a ruby VW Passat rolling to us. Year of completion: Late seventies. I didn’t believe my eyes, it had a license plate number from Münster. Hectically I grabbed my girlfriend, who stretched out a sign with the letters “MS” on it just in front of the windshield. The black-haired guy in the car pointed to us with his finger: “You want to go to Münster, well, jump in.”
When I took my place on the passenger seat, a woman – type: teacher of social studies – yanked the door open. “Ey, assholes, I’ve been standing here since 3 hours. And you arrive here and just jump into the first car.”
The driver kept calm: “Girly, where do you want to go?” – “Hannover-Allertal”- “So, jump in, there is still place of a gallon.”
While thinking about how to express a gallon in cubic meters, we left. It was half past three. If we would make good time, we should have been in Münster around nine and the concert could have started on time.
When we left the rest stop I read a graffiti sprayed at the bridge, where you could read in big letters: “You are leaving the American sector”. Right behind it a Russian tank from world war times greeted just at the zone border.
On this Friday evening there was bustling traffic like always. Already 300 m before handing in our passports we got off the car, the driver loosened the hand brake and we pushed the car to the toll control.
Just no antics now, hence the GDR-authority let us pass.
While the frontiersman collected the passports, his colleage beckoned us. All of the tollkeepers were speaking in Saxon accent. Why were we never confronted with personal from Berlin or Brandenburg? With lances at which ends some mirrors were fixed they inspected the underside of the car. After examining the packed trunk we were allowed to carry on. We picked up our passports 200 m further and reached the transit route.
The majority of the way our driver dashed with 190 something on the holey street. Here and there he braked unexpectedly and slowed down to the mandatory speed limit and was beckoning. Obviously, he drove this route more often and knew the places, where the DDR police built up its radas speed checks. Indeed very often there were nice little Wartburg cars standing on small hills right behind the embankment and two gentleman wearing uniform hats observed the flashed by traffic.
We listened to the sound of Bob Dylans LP classic „Highway 61 Revisted“. When „Like a rolling stone“ started for the third time, I looked back to the Passat’s back seat, where my girlfriend caught up her sleep deficit from last night and snoozed shoulder to shoulder with the „Alltertal“ broad. The sun was low and showed us our way. I did the same like our driver and clapped down the sun shield and thought about the fact, that happiness is no feeling that you can cage to your heart and let it free once if required.
You have to feel happiness, when it happens.
And in this moment I was very happy. Because I felt young – which doesn’t happen very often in my life – apparently, because I was it in these days. And I felt light, because we were travelling, 4 people united by coincidence, we were on a journey with different destinations. People, that would never travel together again in their life, travelling in an unfree country on the high speed of freedom.
I made myself comfortable in the ruby Passat’s grubby seat. In the evening I would play Rock’nRoll with my friends. And later I would kiss my girlfriend, whose name was Heidrun, but in my eyes was as beautiful as her name was Sophie or Angelina or something like that. The Passat purred. Dylan sang. In Allertal we said goodbye to the social science teacher girl and it was bathed in smooth colours by the sun.
When our drived dropped us off at Münster main station he shouted „See you…“. Today everyone is saying this, but in these days I heard this for the first time. And I realized that you will always see each other again on the street … anyhow, anywhere, anytime.
When you get enthralled it’s very hard to get loose of that good feeling of being on the road.
Now I am 47. I hitchhike very rarely. But, I still play Rock’n’Roll with my friends and I like to kiss my girlfriend. And when I get into the band bus and the door is closing behind me, when the music sounds from the radio and the sun is setting in western over the rolling past trees, I am thinking about how lucky I was back in time in Dreilinden.
And I am wondering, what the other passengers might do today?
When I was thinking of my first time,
I realised, that back then I had no idea
how important – or at the same time better normal-
hitchhiking would be for me one day, 9 years later.
So, I was travelling in central america, and after a while
I was really „on a shoestring“, more than lonely planet ever could think of.
Well, I came back from an island in Honduras to the mainland,
with me a blonde swedish girl, and my friend from Guatemala,
but without any idea to go next, because the expensive stuff like volcano boarding
or whatsoever, we couldn t affort to do.
We thought „ok,then, just lets go to the next city, and we ll see what happens!“.
You know, public transportation works almost like hitchhiking, you wait beside the road,
just anywhere, and wait for the next bus to come, somewhen.
So meanwhile you can strech your arm a little and hope for some pickup trucks to pick you up.
We were three people, and it went so fast and easily, that I couldn t even think of how dangerous and stupid it could be, like in the eyes of my mother, to try hitchhiking in a place like Honduras.
I just jumped on the back, giggling, grapped my sunglasses and we started to scream and sing against the wind, taking photos, to be sure to never forget that moment of total happiness, freedom and carefree living.
After a while the driver stopped, and asked us, where we actually wanted to go, good question..
So, we asked him, where he wanted to go and if it would be possible to join him.
He told us, that we could stay at his place, the only house in town with electricity for occasional parties and one of those would take place that night! Great! Half an hour later we were in that little Garifuna village at the beach, and we probably were the first white tourists who came there.
The whole village was really welcoming, they made us try the best medicine, which was a really good rum with herbs, cooked a great fish soup and invited us to join their tradional dance and stick fight against bad winter ghosts, as I remember. And afterwards we really had a fun party until sunrise in the house of my first lift, a place I d never would have come to without my thumb!
Then it needed a while and a few more experiences and well, the tramprennen,
to become more normal to use autostop. And not only for adventurous trips,
but more as another type of public transportation, even to my parents home for christmas right now,
so hohoho, thumbs up and go!
Today is Christmas Eve.
And what do you do on this day when you are home alone? Right, you go to a bar. Exactly what happened to me some time in the mid-2000s, so around 4 p.m.
I started my way to the city center of Dresden to find a nice bar to find salvation on this holy day. On the way to the Neustadt I thought to myself to find a special bar and I was looking for some people who wanted to honor Christ’s birth the same way I was trying to do.
Still thinking about who to ask, I barely recognized that my tipsy mind moved my body automatically to the Hansa street and I raised my thumb towards the empty road. After 10 minutes two lights indicated the first car that left the city. Euphoric and secure I presented my hitch-willing thumb into the night and indeed my appearance seemed to convince the driver to stop.
Somehow, I did not really know, how to tell the driver that I just wanted to visit a nice local pub. So I started to create an impenetrable network of lies, I wanted to visit my grandma near Görlitz. Since his license plate indicated that he came from there, it turned out to be my destination for this evening.
Luckily, after a bit of Smalltalk, it turned out the driver just wanted to go back home to support the local barkeepers by consuming one or the other alcoholic beverages. Relieved I untangled my sinful lie and pointed out that we had the same goal for this night.
This was the beginning of an excessive night in the bars and pubs of Görlitz, concluding in an unfamiliar bed in an empty apartment.
So after all I hope the fortunate and blessing spirit of Christmas may be with you as well. Cheerio!
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!
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C.o.R. – Autostop!
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