Day in the life of a Hitchhiker: Augsburg, Germany
Today was not exceptional in any way, standing under the grueling sun with a sign saying “INGOL”. My destination, Ingolstadt, served no other purpose than to bring me halfway to Augsburg. I was hitchhiking through Germany for no other reason than to hitchhike through Germany. In search of mountains once again, I made it from the top of the country in Berlin through the lush greenery of the Czech Republic and down to Regensburg where I stood at an intersection bustling with cars unwilling to take me with them. Standing there with my sign and backpack, I was playing automobile roulette and the odds were against me.
Rule #1 of Hitchhiking – The cars need somewhere to pull over – If the car has nowhere to stop without blocking traffic then it cannot pick you up.
The sky was void of anything resembling a cloud as the sun rained squelching heat on my neck. My route led through a lesser traveled road which separated off the highway whose onramp I was occupying. There was nothing but curt lanes with hard shoulders and no room for any cars to stop. I was a sweaty mess banking on a car-shaped miracle to stop for me and take me out of there. In the five weeks I spent meandering through the asphalt veins of Germany, it was the failures that taught me the most.
Tip #1 – If there’s no room for cars to pull over, stand at the stop light.
I was anxious to leave this place. I spent the last hour walking through the city to get here and my luck wasn’t much better standing at the stop light turning onto the highway, nor did I have it in me to walk another hour to the next place. I stuck it out, and after 40 minutes a car with three Chinese people pick me up on their way to a factory outlet near Ingolstadt.
My drivers were pleasant, the air conditioning was heaven sent and the joy of not having to walk this road made me forget how rough the wait was. To my amazement, they spoke superb English and I chatted with the woman in the back with me. She related how spacious Germany was compared to where they came from (some city I never heard of with several million people). The man in the front passenger seat recorded the monotonous road ahead of us and the driver was ecstatic to play real-life Need for Speed in Bavaria! The best rides are the most entertaining when the others are chatty and curious. Like a storyteller who never gets bored of his story, I repeated back my response to the same question I always get–
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m an American born Lithuania that’s traveling around Germany to see more than Hamburg & Berlin (and let’s be honest, Berlin isn’t even Germany).” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve regurgitated some version of this along with where I come from, why I don’t want to live in America, yada-yada. I’ve found it makes the time go by!
Eventually they drop me off in an awkward spot several miles outside of Ingolstadt. Being as I was without internet this whole trip I was dependent on the occasional WiFi and my trusty offline map, Maps.me. I found WiFi there and I turned to HitchWiki–the Google Maps for hitchhikers, to find where to go next. The closest place was a McDonalds several miles away, all I had to do was walk there, under the mid-afternoon sun…
Tip #2 – Use traffic to your own advantage. And the most reliable traffic comes from people returning home from work.
When I got to the Mickey Dee’s I could tell it was no better than that stop light I was standing at two hours earlier. Now at least there was after work traffic and there were many more eyeballs who could see me. Once again I was in a tricky situation because the road to Augsburg lie on a delicate passage from one highway to another.
Tip #3 – When in doubt, use your thumb. It’s always possible to get in the car and negotiate a good spot to be dropped off. When you have a sign, you risk the potential drivers ignoring you because they may be going a parallel route to the some destination.
I stood there with my thumb out and smiled a continuous smile, because Rule #2 – Smile! It was slightly less hot by then with the sun casting it’s slanted rays over the cars and surrounding urban life. I managed to catch the attention of a young man waiting at the red light with his window down. It could’ve been the awkward fact that we made eye contact. He asked me where I was going. I pointed in his direction and talked my way into the passenger seat of his car all before the light flashed green. He was going to Pfaffenhoffen, another city I had never heard of before. To Pfaffenhoffen!
Getting into the car with someone who used your puppy dog mind tricks on hasn’t had it’s down side yet! Every time the driver ends up in a conversation with you. With this driver, a 30 something year old returning from work at a car parts factor, I regurgitate my usual story and we get into an interesting conversation about Islam and how he, as a Muslim, is coping with fasting for Ramadan. I know very little about Islam so he explains to me that fasting is a choice. The rest of the ride goes smoothly as the sun keeps dropping like a blazing volley ball falling in slooooow moooootion.
I find myself in the middle of Pfaffenhoffen. The city center is neat like all Bavarian squares with a town hall clock gilded in shiny gold angles. I take an ice cream and start plotting my next step.
Rule #3 – Be ready to walk. You never know where you’ll be dropped off and how far you’ll have to go.
In hitchhiking you will often have to guess where the best place to stand is and for getting out of a small city like Pfaffenhoffen it involves some form of standing at the most direct road outside of the city where the inner city traffic ends and the intercity traffic starts. Two miles later I’m standing next to where the farms begin and within twenty minutes an older man picks me up in his red jeep. He must be at least seventy and he starts telling me how common hitchhikers were back in the day some 30 or 40 years ago. He did it as well and therefore picked me up. I told him about my plans to reach Augsburg that night and he was delighted for me! He drove me 20 kilometers to the highway entrance. At the end of the ride we sat in the car for five minutes as he listed off places for me to see at my destination and I’m grateful for it because this whole unplanned trip until now consisted solely of previous recommendations that got me this far.
Five minutes after he dropped me off another red car stops to pick me up. At this stage I’m a mere 30 miles from my goal and this driver can take me halfway there. Like clockwork I regurgitate my usual answer when he asks. I tell him I’m on my way to that Disney looking castle that everyone’s heard about, Neuschwanstein. My fuzzy goal up until then was to head further south after Augsburg, to the land of faerie tale castles and mountains. Anyways, one twenty minute ride later I get dropped off at the same highway entrance I just exited.
And like a miracle I get picked up within two minutes by an exhausted worker driving home from work and I learn that he’s going to Augsburg! He’s a little older than me and he’s excited to have someone to talk to for once on his return commute and I’m psyched to reach my destination. We clear past the usual question and answer about our work and who we are when he asks me “Do you like beer? Do you want to get one?” I haven’t drunken any beer since coming to Bavaria and only so since Bavaria is beer country, so of course I replied yes. I thought it would be cool to grab a beer with him afterwards. We stop at a gas station, he picks a beer and tells me to do the same. A little confused, we return to the car with our beers and– he opens his right away and starts drinking. This is Bavaria I guess, so I open my own and follow suit!
As is not unheard of at this point, I get invited by my driver to come up for a drink at his place where him and his wife will make dinner. At long last we reach Augsburg. Looking back on the day it’s been 5 drivers covering over 100 miles over 6 hours. Today wasn’t the easiest, wasn’t the hardest, it was the norm…