Interested in my journey? Before you move on, read the first part of How to Be a Hippie. This is a series of articles that should be read in a chronological order.
Stuttgart was about 2 hours from Bodensee. Once I’d get there, I would be just one ride away from my destination – if I was lucky. Still, getting to Stuttgart did take time. Hence, I spent the next 4,5 hours with my third driver.
Chatting and laughing, from work to hitchhiking, we ended up talking about masks. Briefly, I presented my stance on this issue, saying that helpful as they might be in preventing COVID-19, I don’t think they should be legislated.
“Of course not,” he said. “It’s hypocrisy, you know.” He was even more opposed to the legislation of masks than I was. “If I have sex with a girl, Angela Merkel is not standing behind me, telling me to wear a condom so that I don’t get AIDS!”
That’s an interesting point, I thought. Driving for over four hours can be tiresome, and sooner or later one will run out of subjects to discuss. We talked about how beautiful it was in Bavaria and how terrible the southern German accent was. My driver told me how often accents change in Germany, which reminded me of my stay in Huddersfield during summer 2019. Back then, it took me two weeks and tonnes of self-doubt to understand the West Yorkshire accent, whose reminiscence stayed with me till this day.
The driver said he was going Stuttgart to take a look at some issue with car production lane, which the company he worked for manufactured. He said that it would take some 1,5 minutes to assemble and S Class Mercedes, so every second counted for their customers; every minute cost them money. He also told me that there are many systems involved in car lane assembly, and he knew from experience that the problem usually wasn’t their fault. Normally, he wouldn’t have to go to Stuttgart from Berlin, where he lived, but because of the pandemic lay-offs, he had no choice.
At the end of my ride with him, I almost fell asleep. My back hurting from hours spent in strangers’ cars, my eyes were almost closing. The prospect of another ride coming real soon got me energized again, deriving stamina from the depths of my body.
Before we parted, he said that he would be coming back to Berlin on Friday, in five days, and he could take me back if I wanted to. Again, we exchanged numbers, wished each other luck, and said our good-byes. It was dinner time for me, so before I started looking for a ride, I grabbed a cheeseburger at the iconic fast-food burger & fries chain (as Google has it), McDonald’s. With my belly full and my hopes high, I started to ask around for a ride again.
Walt Disney once said that “the difference between winning or losing is most often not quitting.” I believe it’s an important thing to have in mind when hitchhiking. You have to truly believe that somebody will eventually pick you up. Come on, you just need one ride, man, I told myself. You’re so close now, you can make it! Without any company, I had to be my own motivational coach, and I did a pretty good job at it.
I approached everybody with a smile, asking about Bodensee. Most of the smiles were reciprocated, even if I didn’t get a ride, and that reciprocation gave me more hope. On the road, assume sincerity. Smile, and it shall be reciprocated. Imagine the good things, they’re most likely to happen. Wait for three hours, and you’ll ride for eight. Other humans derive happiness from helping – don’t be ashamed to accept this help. Also, ask for help. Some of them might not know that they want to give it to you. It’s the most reciprocal of relations.
A group of three people were smiling at me, and I couldn’t but ask them if they were going to Bodensee.
“Well, we don’t know,” said the lady in the middle. “Let me check.” She swiped and clicked on her phone, examining the maps app. “No,” she said after a while. “We’re not going to Bodensee, unfortunately.” They all wished me good luck, and you bet – I was a lucky bastard.
A newly arrived couple were looking at me. I approached them without hesitation. “Hey, are you perhaps going to Bodensee?”
“Actually, we are,” they said. I was ecstatic.
“That’s great, could you give me a lift?”
“Sure, where exactly are you going?”
“Wherever, I just want to get to Bodensee.” It’s a big lake at the border of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, with lots of small towns around it. The lake was my destination, anywhere near it was fine with me.
“We’ll just eat something and we can go,” they said.
“Alright, I’ll wait here.”
Sat on a bench, I took a few of my thoughts down in my travel journal. I use my copy of Kerouac’s “The Dharma Bums” for this purpose. Filling the empty spaces above and below the text, it’s my handy diary during my travels. I’ve only used it once before, when I travelled to Hamburg some month earlier. This book first came into my hands in Holmfirth in 2019, when I bought it in a local bookshop.
A year before my hitchhiking adventure, I went for a Eurotrip with two of my friends. Together, we visited London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Madrid. I remember reading it while waiting for our trains and planes in the capital cities of Europe. It was back then when I decided that “The Dharma Bums” would accompany me during my journeys into the unknown – it had its vibe.
Should you not be familiar with “The Dharma Bums,” let me tell you a bit about this story without spoiling too much. In his novel, Kerouac writes about a group of Buddhist Americans who travel around the US, climb mountains, and meditate. In eastern religions, dharma can be translated to destiny, but it means much more than that. Dharma is the search for yourself, dharma is the roads of your life, dharma is the steering wheel of your existence’s vessel.
Travelling, I’m the only one in control of my path, however crazy they might be. Let me tell you – there comes a feeling of satisfaction when you undoubtedly prove your craziness to yourself.
But a few minutes passed and I was on the backseat of my last drivers that day. “I gotta be honest, you guys are fast-eaters.”
“Oh, we decided not to eat here. My boyfriend has skin problems after eating junk food.”
As strange as this ice-breaking small talk may seem, we bonded pretty quickly. They were just a couple of years older than me, hence there was a lot to talk about. From national stereotypes, through alternative medicine, to the difficulty of the German language. Hours passed in no time.
After almost 12 hours and around 830 kilometres (515 miles), I could see the mighty lake from the car’s window. Indeed, it was exquisite. The vineyards and apple farms surrounding it only added to its mesmerizing beauty. There I was – Friedrichshafen – and I felt content. Spontaneity is the traveller’s greatest ally, and it proved itself useful time and time again that day.
This time around, instead of phone numbers (how crude and antediluvian!), we followed each other on Instagram. Modern problems require modern solutions.
Doing crazy things makes you prepared for the dull challenges of normal life, and that includes its dullness. With a bandana on my head, I felt like a hippie. Well, almost.
On the one hand, I had the carefreeness of hippies. I often rested sitting on my cardboard banners, hitchhiking around the country, all with that stupid bandana. Yet, on the other hand, I had something that no hippie ever had – technology.
In my backpack, there was my only working tool – my laptop. Along with two chargers, an ebook reader, and headphones, my rucksack was stuffed with technological nuances that no hobo could ever dream of. Throughout the day, I checked my location with the help of GPS. Couchsurfing had my back in terms of accommodation. Last but not least, there was my phone. Honestly, as hip as I tried to be, I wouldn’t have left my rented room without my phone – I can barely imagine that.
Again, modern problems…
Having left the car, I rushed to the closest free beach. On my way there, I passed by a guarded beach – one with a pool, clean toilets, and family-friendly sunbeds. No way I’m gonna pay for this shit, I thought and marched along.
And rightly so! A five-minute walk and I found myself on the beach, wetting my feet in the crystal clear water, watching the beautiful Swiss mountains on the other side of Bodensee, waiting for the Sun to set.
It was my moment of relaxation after the day’s adventures. One thing was still missing, though. I had to find a place to sleep. My phone was about to die, so I could take no risks. Packing my stuff back into the backpack, I started looking for a place to plug my little rectangle in and grab a beer – two birds with one stone.
With a broad smile on my face, unconcerned, I got to Graf Zeppelin pub. At the bar, some eight or nine Germans were sitting, gambling and inviting me to come in.
Waiting for my phone to charge up, I cherished the moment with Weissbier filling a couple notes in my journals. Once I got that over with, I grabbed my laptop and wrote. A whole day without the feeling of the keyboard under my fingers manifested itself by itching my brain on the inside. In Graf Zeppelin, I finished writing “Crimson,” a short story based on my original script. What a day it was.
When I left Graf Zeppelin, it was already dark outside. Having no place to sleep, I put my last hope into Couchsurfing. Waiting for a reply to one of the 25 requests I’d sent, I started to think about a plan B. Coming back to Berlin was a no-go. Where could I spend the night? The beach, the forest? Maybe under a cosy viaduct nearby?
Oh wait, I totally forgot – I’m a lucky bastard. A Couchsurfing host reached out to me, saving me from temporary homelessness. His place was in Immenstaad, a 45-minute walk away from where I stood. Without too much time to waste, I started walking.
Imagine: You’ve hitchhiked through entire Germany with perfect strangers, without any plan whatsoever, and you’re afraid of darkness. Well, I was. On my phone, I played “Notes on a Conditional Form” to distract me from the wrong-doers and monsters hiding in the dark. Of course, I didn’t use my headphones – I had to stay alert in case I had to fight for my life.
That darkness did have its merits, though. Devoid of light pollution, I was able to gaze at the stars above me. Oh, were they beautiful. Kinda scary, but beautiful.
… to be continued.