If you want to do things in any logical order, you better read part 1 of the hitchhiking odyssey before reading this article.
You remember that we had reached Friedrichshafen without any major hiccup. But then I liked the city so much, that I overstayed, jeopardizing the nonexistent plan.
So, let’s get moving again:
Only with the firm resolution to come back for a trip around Lake Constance, I finally manage to tear myself away. Now, I somehow have to hitchhike northeast, in the direction of Bavaria. I walk to the beginning of highway B30, which leads to Ravensburg and Ulm – not yet able to imagine what headaches this highway will give me today. It will turn into a veritable way of the cross.
But it all starts off great. I’ve only been standing at the traffic light for a minute when a young man comes out of the kebab store behind me: “Where are you going?”
“I’m only going to Meckenbeuren, but that’s on the way. I’d be happy to give you a ride.”
“That’s extremely nice of you! But take your time with the meal, I am not in a hurry.” Well, when the sun is high in the sky, you still think like that.
After a few minutes and a digestive cigarette, we climb into a mega-turbo horsepower BMW, and the young financial advisor is taking the hitchhiking hobo north, through wonderfully green avenues with blossoming trees under the smiling sun. That’s how life is supposed to be.
As could be expected from a financial advisor, he drops me off in front of the bank in Meckenbeuren, directly by the highway. A good spot, I think, with a parking bay, as if made for bank robbers, hitchhikers and other people who need to get away quickly. Not a good spot, think dozens of drivers who ignore me, until a young African in an old Volkswagen stops. He’s only going a short distance, but he is determined to give me a ride because his wife once hitchhiked from Germany to Portugal. For him, it’s a matter of honor to return some of the kindness experienced by her.
So you see: If you hitchhike, you are making the world a better place!
Fortunately, I mention that I don’t actually have to go to Ravensburg with its puzzle-like maze of streets, but on to Ulm, and the driver, who knows the area well, has a flash of inspiration. He takes me to an intersection of the highways, where the cars to Ulm have to stop at a traffic light. This gives the drivers time to look me over, to decide and to invite me to come on board.
Truly a perfect place to hitchhike.
In practice, I stand here for half an hour in the blazing sun, and most drivers stare ahead, roll up the window and pretend to ignore me, displaying their lack of both acting and social skills. In the more expensive cars occupied by married couples, I can observe the same discussion again and again: The female passenger suggests giving me a ride, but the driver brusquely declines. “If he wants to go somewhere, he should buy a car,” he grumbles with derision for the poor, not wanting to take on the risk of a car-less, career-less and burnout-free person talking about a more interesting life than going to the office every day. The wife raises her eyebrows and gives me an apologetic look. “On Monday, I’ll call the divorce lawyer,” she thinks to herself, while the husband speeds off as soon as the traffic light gives him permission to do so.
Only a pretty woman with a hippie camper van and a baby in the passenger seat stops. But she is not going far and thinks that the current spot is definitely better than where she would drop me. Because she looks like she has already hitchhiked to Kerala and Kathmandu, I heed her advice. And continue to wither in the sun.
Finally, after more than half an hour, a red van stops. The driver can only take me 10 km further, but I gratefully accept. The radio is playing “Mr Vain” by Culture Beat, just like on the mixtape which I made for road trips in the 1990s. Thirty years later, I have no car, no tapes, but a better taste in music.
“In the tunnel ahead, there’s a speed limit of 100 km/h, but recently someone was caught going 300 km/h there,” he says. That’s 186 mph. I could use a driver like that right now.
The window is open, the wind is blowing around our faces. It’s a feeling like driving down the Pacific coast in California. Instead of Berkeley, he drops me off near Baindt, which is just as hard to get away from as Alcatraz.
At the onramp to the highway B30, I am standing pretty lost until another red van stops. Maybe the son of the previous driver. He takes me to Bad Waldsee and drops me off where absolutely no one passes. It’s 4:20 pm, I am beginning to run out of time. Thus, I walk into town and stock up on water and gummy bears. Because the prospect of spending the night in a park is becoming more and more realistic.
Bad Waldsee seems to be a pretty little town, so would be no less suitable for a vagabond’s night out than any other place in this world. Although time is precious, I need to sit down in the park to write, which is met with enthusiastic approval from a passerby: “It’s nice to see someone scribbling in a notebook for a change, and not just typing into their phone.” I rather not mention that it will end up as a blog on this modern interweb thingy.
In the friendly town of Bad Waldsee, I wait by the road for just a minute. A young family gives me a lift on their way to a barbecue. Apparently though, I don’t look hungry enough to warrant an invitation.
At the supermarket and gas station it is already more difficult. I have to refuse an offer of a ride to Biberach, because two bear-sized German shepherds are barking angrily in the back seat.
But then a woman stops. She used to hitchhike herself, all over Germany, to festivals and concerts. She takes me in the direction of Biberach, where highway construction is throwing all the non-existent plans out the window. “I have to take you to the Jordan roundabout, otherwise you’ll never get away from here.”
But I can’t get away from the roundabout either. As always, I deliberately place myself where the speed is reduced, but the drivers don’t care. They would slow down for a speeding camera, but not for a human being.
Until another van stops. Somehow, people who drive vans are more helpful. This time it’s a former investment banker turned yoga instructor. Among career dropouts, we get along splendidly.
Apparently, though, we’re still not in Ulm, but in Biberach or near Biberach or somewhere around Biberach, because he drops me off at a convenient spot and says: “You’ll easily get to Ulm from here.” That’s where the motorway finally begins, which should put an end to the 5- and 10-km rides, and I’ll really be covering proper distances. Also, once I’m on the motorway, it doesn’t matter if it gets dark, because I can hitchhike from rest area to rest area.
A car stops, the door opens, a man and two women, all of them over 50: “We are praying the rosary. If you don’t mind, get in!” I don’t mind at all, as long as I will get to Ulm.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” they recite mantra-like. A rosary dangles from the rearview mirror, and the two women each hold one of these prayer chains in their hands.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Apparently, you have to recite this repeatedly.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” This will probably go on for the whole trip.
“We’re going to the industrial park in Schwaighofen, does that suit you?”
“I don’t know my way around Ulm at all. But if I can get on the motorway from there, then it’s fine.”
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” It’s difficult to maintain a proper conversation in this car.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Finally something different.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” But Mary does seem to be the most important figure.
“Couldn’t we take him to the Temple of God? Maybe someone will drive in his direction from there,” one of the women suggests.
“That’s too risky,” the man replies. It remains unclear whether he means that I might not find a lift, or whether I am a threat to the Christian community.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
In the end, they dismiss me with God’s blessings in Breitenhof, a few kilometers before the motorway. Still two hours until sunset. The clock is ticking. Car after car rushes past me, unchristian, selfish, heartless.
The only one who stops is a young father with three children in the back seat. He is driving them to their mother. The three children don’t say a peep, either because they are afraid of the stranger or because they don’t want to spend the weekend with mom.
He drops me off right at the entrance to the A7. Another hour and a half of daylight, that will be manageable. But this onramp is not blessed and sacred, but bewitched and cursed.
Car after car darts past me, while I cast longer, lonelier and more desperate shadows in the golden light of the relentlessly lowering sun. The only one who stops is a Croatian truck driver, but he is going to Stuttgart, not Nuremberg. I should have gotten in anyway, because – to cut the ordeal short – I won’t make it onto the highway that night.
As the sun drops behind the horizon, exhausted from a long day’s work and because it’s wanted elsewhere on this globe, I have to leave. The area is not lighted, and no one will stop anymore.
There is a gas station nearby, maybe I can talk to drivers there. The closer I get to the gas station, however, the more depressing the sight. Hope is fading, actually it’s already dead. As dead as the Total station with all its tristesse.
Sporadically, a car passes by. Two Polish truck drivers stop, but they are going in the wrong direction. I am already preparing for a night in the nearby forest when a young woman approaches me: “Where do you have to go?”
I explain the plan and the problems with its implementation.
“I’m going on the A7, but south, to Illertissen,” she says. I need to go north.
We check the map to see if there’s at least a rest stop on her way, where I could spend the night in the light and not quite so cold. Negative.
“It’s your own fault,” “I’m sorry,” or “not my problem” is what everyone else would think. But the woman, who looks more like a young girl, is seriously concerned, also because she has often hitchhiked herself, as it turns out, and therefore correctly assesses the situation: “You can’t stay here all night, no one will come by here anymore.”
“If I was going home,” she continues, “you could come with me. But I’m on the way to my parents, and if I bring alone a stranger, saying he needs a bed for the night, …”
That’s a good point for a break, isn’t it? After all, it’s already dark and you need to go to bed.
But soon, everything will be resolved in part 3.
- If you want to move faster, a little planning helps. For example, I could have asked to be dropped off in a better spot in St Gallen. And on the German shore of Lake Constance, I would have been better off hitchhiking to Lindau, where the motorway A96 begins instead of moving along the B30 like a snail. But then, speed is not everything.
- It would have been smarter to make the trip more manageable by organizing accommodation in Ulm, for example through Couchsurfing.
- Friedrichshafen and Bad Waldsee are definitively worth a visit.