Aimless Hitchhike Through Germany, Switzerland and France

I walked down the Munich streets in the rain, backpack on with all my belongings, no destination, but apparently a direction. I’d just spent a few days sampling beers and exploring the city, with a week gap between now and a reunion in Amsterdam, there were plenty of places I could go. Sometimes the road alone is more than enough.

One last beer came from a corner store to break up the walk, I enjoyed every sip as I kept moving towards a better spot. That better spot came and I quickly got a ride from a talkative girl who’d done some hitchhiking races before and was always happy to pick people up.

Next a pickup truck running on vegetable oil gave me a short ride, then a girl from the UK who was heading to the airport. I waited at the on ramp where she dropped me off, munching on some bread I soon found to be moldy, I tossed it to the ground when an older couple pulled over and let my damp self hop in.

They dropped me off in a town where they said there was a great big lake worth checking out. I got another ride quickly from a local who bragged about a beer called Meckatzer, he got me a bottle just before dropping me off. I walked down the road debating whether or not drink it right away, “Don’t be a fool!”, I told myself, and popped it open.

I walked along the edge of the lake thumbing cars as they came, through a little town and onward. A proper seeming guy picked me up and took just over the Swiss border where I saw the most beautiful border patrol woman of my life, and all without her cracking a smile, the rumors of Switzerland were immediately validated.

He dropped me off just past that border and I was at a fork in the road, one way that could take me towards Zurich, another that could get me down into Italy, to Milano. I jumped back and forth feeling out the traffic on both sides, debating in my head which I really cared to see more, judging distances and times as far as returning back to Amsterdam.

A guy going the Milano direction picked me up, he said he had his own rule to pick up any hitchhiker he saw. He told me he was a music producer with “more money than I know what to do with”, a history of being in the army, stories of skiing with a machine gun and saving people from avalanches. I dug his stories all the way until a massive gas station rest area where he was turning off. It got dark quickly, so I went a round a bend and found a place to camp amongst the trees.

In the morning I stared up at the beautiful mountains and contemplated the day. Again I had the choice, to continue down towards Milano, or start flipping around to Zurich, I hadn’t gotten all that far. It ended up being a trucker from Kosovo who picked me up, going in the Zurich direction. I was backtracking a bit of road from the last night, but was happy to see it in the clear daylight.

He dropped me off at a roadside truck stop just outside of Zurich. I got my bearings there, looking at a Burger King menu with astronomical prices, then headed to the exit to hitch a ride. A nice guy picked me up who built shipping boxes for bikes, he invited me back to his home briefly for a cup of coffee. Afterwards he drove me to the city of Basel, bypassing Zurich all together somehow.

I wandered the beautiful city for a bit. I found an internet connection and put out some requests on couchurfing for that city and a couple just north. I kept on exploring and then stumbled upon the freeway again and decided to keep moving. I got a ride, up into Germany again to a town called Freiburg. The guy who’d given me the ride had hitched out of there and showed me a good spot to catch a ride.

I walked up the pedestrian strip first to check out the town and the people around, doing a loop back to the hitching spot. I’d managed to get an internet connection there as well to find I’d gotten a response from some people up in Heidelburg who were up for hosting me.

I stood at the spot for a while, then walked up a ways and caught a ride to a dodgy junction, then got a ride from a girl who’d done quite a bit of hitchhiking herself. She dropped me off at a rest area along the highway. It was just a place for people to park, no stores or even a bathroom, so I thought I might be there for a little while. A guy was coming out of the woods, having just pissed presumably, I smiled at him and asked if I might be able to catch a ride with him.

“Sorry, I’m just going to the next exit and I’m in a bit of a hurry”, he told me, “Where are you from?”, he asked.

“New York”, I told him, “I’m heading up to Heidelburg”, finally I had a destination.

“New York! What are you doing here, where else have you been?”, he asked, I told him a few recent places, “Istanbul!”, he shouted. “Well, I can give you a ride up to the next petrol station”.

I hopped in and we got to talking, he had a sister living in New York and was becoming pretty excited the more we talked. He began asking me and telling me about France, wondering if I’d been and what I knew. “If you have the time, I’d love to show you some great towers and villages there!”, he proclaimed.

So off we went, the guy who had no time to take me up an exit or two was now taking me over the border into France for a tour. We spent the rest of the day and late into the night going from one village to another, getting out on foot so he could show me towers and tell me the history. Pointing out the window as we drove at wineries and architecture and castles tucked into hillsides.

Well after midnight we arrived back in Germany and made a stop at his house, he apologized profusely for not being able to put me up for the night since he had an early morning ahead, but had promised to get some food in me. I was grateful all around. He showed me some old books while putting bread and meat in front of me. His house was cluttered with books, papers, instruments and seemed like he’d lived there a hundred years. He was a the head of the music department at a near by university or some such, violin was his main instrument of choice and had a couple in his house that actually were a hundred years old and older.

At last he took me to that petrol station, the rain had stopped, things were still damp, but I managed to find a dryer spot in the woods and camp out. In the middle of the night it felt like water or something had dropped in my ear. I tried like hell to get it out, I was convinced it was a bug of some kind. The more I tried the more it felt like it was getting lodged in there, the most bizarre feeling as it squirmed around intermittently. After hours of little sleep it finally popped out, a small centipede sort of creature, I was glad to be ride of it, left only with the insanity it had implanted. The glamorous side of hitchhiking.

I got a ride from a happy woman in the rainy morning. She dropped me off at a petrol station, I walked to the far end of it by the exit and awaited my next ride. The rain came first and it came heavy. The shower became too much, I was drenched and walked back towards the petrol station for cover.

There was a couple there trying to catch rides as well, they were bound for Austria. The girl would walk up to everyone as they drove in and ask if they were going towards Austria, when they said “no” she’d ask if they were heading towards Heidelburg and point towards me. It was pretty nice just hanging with them for a while as she happily did all the leg work.

They soon got a ride for themselves though, so it was up to me to get my own ride. I chatted with them as they waited for their new found driver to finish up in the store. A car rolled up and a man hopped out, I went over and approached him, he was stand offish right away.

“Hey, by chance are you heading in the direction of Heidelburg?”, I asked him. He looked up at me and I could tell he was going that way, but couldn’t think of what to say yet, so I continued, “I’ve been hitchhiking that way, even any distance in that direction would help out”, I noticed he’d seen the other two standing by the store, “It’s just me, those two are going to Austria”.

He hesitated for just another second, “Let me think about it”, he said.

I walked back to the Austria bound couple and told them, we all got kind of a laugh about it, none of us had heard the “Let me think about it” line before. Sure enough, though, he popped into the store and as he came out he looked over at me, “OK, let’s go”. I said goodbye to the couple and off we went.

The guy was a CEO for a paper and power company and would be heading right through Heidelburg on his way to Frankfurt for business. He’d never picked up a hitchhiker and I wasn’t surprised, but we chatted about the paper industry and so forth until he dropped me off right around the city.

I beelined it into the town center and managed to get in touch with my hosts to arrange a time to meet. With time to spare, I headed into the first brewery I could find, Vetter, for a couple beers and relaxation.

Soon I was sitting on the balcony with Rima, then her husband Raymond who returned from work. They were great hosts and I was happy to be inside out of the off-and-on rain of the past days. Raymond was especially into beer, we made a run to the store and he chose some of his favorites. It was a night of good food and trying all the beers. As it turned out, we knew a lot of the same people, there were several stories he was telling where halfway through I’d say something like, “Wait, was his name ‘Walter’?”, the world shrinks more and more as it expands.

The next day I did some exploring on my own, seeing castle ruins and more breweries, glass elevators for the sake of riding up, wandering about, another big beer run and another night of talking and playing games with my friendly hosts.

It had been an aimless wander since leaving Berlin, but much great scenery, interesting people and unexpected tours and exploring. The next morning I’d begin to head up towards Amsterdam, but on the way would be Belgium, more beer, more geeking out.

September 5, 2011 - September 8, 2011