another hitch-about | Berlin > Zurich

Yet another hitch-about, albeit with specific destinations in mind. From Berlin I would go to Mössingen in southern Germany to visit my beau, then to Zürich – a small hop away relatively speaking – to meet a person for the first time who had responded to my ad as a ‘bass guitarist looking for musicians’ on craigslist. We had had a number of email correspondences and telephone conversations regarding the possibility of forming a band together. Craigslist is more typically used by Americans, Germans and probably many Europeans haven’t quite caught on. http://zurich.fr.craigslist.ch/ The timing was right to go to Zürich following my first stop, since it was a mere 191 km, as opposed to close to about 693 km from Berlin to Mössingen.

It was the morning of the 17th of August, 2010. I set my alarm and woke up at 7am, anticipating being on the road at 9. That was without considering the fact that I still hadn’t thoroughly packed. It was 11:30 when I was approaching the location of my starting point – one which I’ve used several times, adjacent to the Messe/Exhibition center in Berlin. There, at the entrance to the road that leads to the A9, people have less than a minute pause for a traffic light signal to: see me, decide if they want to bother to stop and whether they can negotiate around the other traffic to do so, with not much of a shoulder on the road to pull over.

My first ride appeared without me even noticing, I heard a honk and turned around to see this big white van had pulled over. I opened the door, scanned the surprisingly young and handsome guy, and hopped in while there was a wake of no cars. Within 40 seconds or so, he distinguished my English accent in the German I was speaking, and blurted out, “I’m American”! He was in fact a dual citizen – US & European passport. His American father had been stationed in Germany during the 1st Gulf War, where he met his German mother. They had lived for a while in the States until he was six or so, and the rest of the time he has lived with his family in various towns in Germany.

Currently he lives in Berlin, and works as a body guard, and on this particular occasion – a driver and escort. He was on his way to Nürnberg to pick up a Japanese film crew from the airport there, who were attending a film festival. He was going to be their personal chauffeur for a week. He spoke of having been the personal bodyguard for a year for Kate Winslett, while she was shooting the film “The Reader” in Berlin. He dropped names of various different film stars, and had stories to tell about a number of them. He also mentioned that Kate had requested him personally when she had returned to Berlin to attend the Berlinale film festival.

http://www.berlinale.de/en/das_festival/festivalprofil/profil_der_berlinale/index.html

We slid into the topic of what it must be like to be famous, and barely ever having the chance to just openly walk in public, or go anywhere with freedom. He mentioned that one time during an event at the Berlinale, he and Kate and her entourage had managed to walk out the front door of Hotel Adlon, adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate (where Michael Jackson had dangled his infant child out the window to receive lots of bad press), without any press or paparazzi hovering at the door recognizing who they were. They wandered to the Brandenburg Tor/Gate, where she commented on how wonderful it was to be so liberated to just walk out the door.

He had done some training with a Police academy in Berlin, and had started out in leadership positions pretty young, getting ‘boy scout’ points for good behavior and responsibilities he took on. He explained that being a body guard also require being able to use a weapon, so it was relevant to the skills he had already been developing. I was again and again amazed that I was sitting there speaking English with this guy, and delighted that he was so communicative, fun to talk to and quite attractive. I enjoyed his company, and discovered upon asking, that he lives with a girlfriend, and has a great cat. Ahhh, the endless glimpses into other peoples lives and comparisons – between healthy, happy relationships, and the one that I’ve been in. What I hadn’t realized as I was first getting in the van, is that he was going to be driving three quarters of the length of my trip – wow! I hadn’t realized just how far south Nürnberg actually is.

In the interim, after being left off at the last Autobahnraststätte/highway rest-stop before my driver was heading off towards his destination, I walked around, approaching people to ask If they’re going in the direction of the sign I was gesturing to in my hand. It was there that this little mini antique camper truck with a round man inside, said he was going my way. He was a jolly old guy – like an incarnation of Santa Claus – with long white hair, minus the beard. Wolfgang was his name. He was putzing along in comparison to the majority of traffic, which isn’t to say that it was that slow. He was traveling around on a big loop through different areas, as he does several times during the warmer months. Just stops where he feels like it, and enjoys nature. Said he has a wife at home who won’t travel further than a 14 km radius from her home, if she goes out at all. He doesn’t make his trips in the winter months. He was so jolly that I felt very warm and comfortable in his presence, in the passenger seat. We chatted in German about languages and their various roots and evolution & movement to different cultures. He spoke a remarkably clear German, with seemingly no particularly strong accent or dialect. He explained to me that he had been raised in a rural area where the various local villages had no schools, and he was a student at a boarding school, where the only solution to all the different dialects was for the students to learn high German, to have a common ground. He was going further along in my direction, but I had to step out at one point because I wasn’t making good time.

The next driver who came after quite a pause, was an outdoorsy, cowboy type guy, now that I think about it. Without ceremony, he answered that he could take me as far as Heilbrunn. He was driving a sleek, black automobile. He had a quiet, serious demeanor. As we drove, I learned that he was coming from a horse show in Nürnberg, that was still going to be taking place till that Sunday. People who work for him would be transporting the horses in trailers back to his ranch after the show. http://www.silvernugget-ranch.de/ He wasn’t riding this time, but selling paraphernalia, among them handmade cowboy hats and saddles, which he showed to me in his trunk when I was leaving his company. These leather saddles were beautifully crafted with hand sown chamois interiors. He buys these hand-made goods at horse ranches several times a year; primarily in Idaho, Oklahoma and Montana. He’s been many times to Texas and California, and has visited both Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico numerous times. I had mentioned to him that I’ve lived in both of these towns. And when I mentioned that I’d also lived in San Francisco, he lit up, saying that his favorite restaurant there is “the Stinking Rose“. I love garlic too, I commented ‘-) He said he loves Lake Tahoe in California, particularly in the summer. He has had a ranch for years where he teaches riding and has 3 stallions which he breeds. People bring their mares and he trains the offspring, not before they reach 3 years old. These young colts have already been bought upon their inception.

The restaurant where he left me off, was a bit remote and felt more like a place where locals were hitting a sandwich shop. After asking a few people which way was the entrance to the road towards Stuttgart, I proceeded to walk to it. The first place was the wrong entrance, and no sooner had I walked back to the other yielding turn lane, did someone almost immediately stop to give me a lift. Most of the other traffic appeared to be local, but Michael was a chauffeur with his own car service, on his way to the Stuttgart airport. Ironic that I was getting rides with professional drivers! He says he drives mostly politicians and managers! Ha, high-end driving, don’t mess around with the small stuff 😉 At one point he was on the phone with someone, and when he got off, explained that this conversation just assured him a big amount of cash for later in the winter. He had just received confirmation that two ski trips for December in Austria had been booked, in which he would be driving the German local skiers on a bus to the ski resort, stay there and have the chance to ski himself and have free lodging. Booking this early, in August, gave the people much better rates. He said he has a lot of connections with hotels….

It was still light outside when my last driver gave saw my sign and offered a lift to close to my destination. I had practically reached my ending point. This was a young guy, Jens, who’s an architect and musician. He said he has several projects presently, two Kindergarten schools and a ‘mobile’ church. huh? I didn’t quite get it, sounds like something you’d find in Texas or Alabama, a rolling Baptist church on wheels that shows up at the rodeo on Sundays ‘-) Jens also is a drummer who plays in one cover band and another who play their own music and also percussion in a local orchestra. Wow, busy guy! He said he’d been stuck in traffic for almost 2 hours, within the short distance of commuting home after his work day. I discovered that his live-in girlfriend also plays in the orchestra, so I guess they have a lot of time together with their various extracurricular activities.

These were just the rides that brought me to Mössingen, in the South of Germany, in about 9 hours. Driving oneself, one could make this trip in 6.

I can’t find my notes at the moment to even remember all the rides I had when I departed from Mössingen to go to Zürich, but I made quite good timing, and as most of the time, had pleasant rides with people whom I enjoyed talking to. I often ask a lot of questions and offer information. Here in Germany I like to point out that where I’m from in Pennsylvania, there’s such a resemblance in the land and climate, that many Germans had immigrated there 200 years ago, and stayed. And that there are a lot of family and town names in Pennsylvania which are German.

I always find it interesting to learn about a person and his/her life, and often the people who have picked me up give a lot of information about historical or relevant insights into the locality I’m in…

The rides to Zürich over a period of several hours were also informative and pleasant. Each were comfortable. The last ride was with a couple who were Spanish speaking, from South America. That was funny. I started to speak with them in Spanish and they got a kick out of it. They were a couple who live in the suburbs of Zürich. The woman passenger gave me their phone number and said I was welcome to visit them if I’d get the chance.

I felt slightly uncomfortable only once, when I’d accepted an offer to take a ‘return’ ride from Zürich over the border to Germany, with the same businessman, who has houses both in Switzerland and Germany, by Bodensee. That was the first time I’ve ever arranged to have an additional ride with someone, and I guess that I should have had my antenna up. He mentioned that he would be in Zürich the following Wednesday, and that he could drive me on this first leg of my trip back, that he has a house near this lovely town Konstance, by this large lake Bodensee….Well, he phoned me as promised, and I decided to take him up on his offer. However, within minutes of him picking me up, I started to think that maybe he had anticipated or expected something more from me, ’cause I saw in my peripheral vision him scanning my body. At that point, I made it as clear as I could without blurting out something rude, that this was not my intention. He wound up dropping me off at a place on the outskirts of this town Constance (English spelling) that I thought wasn’t such a great starting point, but hey, I made it all the way back to the middle of Germany. At one point, I was still on my way back to Berlin, but then received a call from my beau who was now in the North of Germany, and I made the decision within minutes of the conversation to just continue to where he was, rather than returning to Berlin, because I was equidistant at that point from both regions. I’m sure that the guy who overheard the conversation and observed this spontaneous change of plans, was pretty amused.

I have even received a facebook event invitation from one of the other drivers on my return trip, to attend his birthday party in Köln/Cologne in October. And with another driver who’s a lawyer, I discussed the economic melt-down in the United States. He assured me that by no means were the US investment banks the exclusive culprits in this scandal, but that various European and other international entities also contributed to this incident as they also invested in the surge and with the aim of milking large profits.

Here are the mileage details:

Berlin to Mössingen is approx = 693 km

Mössingen, Germany to Zürich, Switzerland is approx = 191 km

Zürich Swiss to Lubeck De, approx = 953 km

Lubeck to Berlin germany approx = 313 km

2150 km total = 1335.95 miles

I have to say at this point that I have too much happening presently to embellish any more details about the hitch back.

I can say that I found Zürich to be charming. First of all, the New Yorker who I went there to meet, asked me via sms, when exACTly I would be arriving at the Haupt Bahn Hof/ Main train station? Huh, I reiterated via sms, I am hitchhiking, and I can guestimate, that I’ll be there by no later than 1:30pm. I did arrive in time. It was lovely weather, and I asked if in between the meeting of musicians and the festival that we’d all be going to that day “Zürcher Theater Spektakel”, if there would be anywhere near there to swim. http://www.theaterspektakel.ch/ Wow, was I naive! As we got off the tram and entered the grounds where the festival was taking place, looming out before me was this immense lake. It was rather ridiculous, and I think that I felt a bit embarrassed for even having asked the question, not having realized that the most obvious association to Zürich, is the fact that the city is nestled around this huge banana shaped lake that is visible from many points. ha! So, as it was a warm, lovely, sunny Sunday afternoon with loads of people out on the grass and sand, I was in the water swimming within minutes. Ahhh, was that fantastic, out beyond the docked sailboats and looking along the coastlines.

I had had some nice conversations over the next days with different locals. One man whom I spoke to, when I saw a Jewish man across the street dressed in fundamental attire, told me that there was a significant population of Jewish people living here, four separate groups in fact. I was thinking about the large numbers I’d seen in Brooklyn, and then was wondering about what other cities in the world are populated by the Jewish Diaspora. This same man also informed me about the general location of the spread of the different Swiss populations, the German, French, Italian and Romansh. Romansh descended from a form of Latin from Roman era occupiers of that region, and is spoken by residents of the canton of Graubünden. Someone told me about Julia Pass, named after Julias Caesar, as we talked about the Alps. Around 221 BC Hannibel, a Carthaginian military leader, crossed it with elephants. I was told that the water that runs down the south side of the pass goes to the Danube, and from the north, flows into the Rhine. I’m not exactly sure why we got onto that topic, but it’s a good story!

The one thing I wanted to say also, is my delight in strolling up this narrow street to a park that the architect friend of the New Yorker, who became my second host, pointed out. I arrived at this park on a high perch, and then glanced along one side wondering why these two men were standing there with such a peculiar posture, facing one another, their legs spread apart and their elbows out and hands on their hips. I moved closer to get a shot, and then realized that there in between their stances, were inlaid chess boards! I then wandered over to find a corner busy with activity, banter, discussion where at least a dozen men were seated at the periphery of this corner chess board. They were for the most part, well-dressed, active observers. After about 20 minutes, when the two who I originally noticed had finished their game, I approached this group and asked in German if anyone was interested in playing? I’m sure that most were bewildered with the fact that I even had the audacity to ask them, or with my German…but one younger guy sitting there perked up and said, sure, he’d play.

I couldn’t have found a better chess opponent, because he was so keen on the game, that he started from the beginning to inform and educate me about different strategies, that there are a number of different ‘first moves’ that have certain names. He said that a person needs to move the pieces to occupy and control the center, and basically just gave me a lot of education throughout our play. I actually held my game and played a good match that was fairly equal. He said at the end, that what was more impressive than my chess playing, is that I had the courage to approach these strangers and even ask to play. And he said that he was sure that most of these men wouldn’t have the courage to play with a woman opponent, because if they would lose, they’d lose face among their group, and would have a difficult time playing that down! That was encouraging that he pointed that out to me. In fact, last evening, I just had a young kid say to me after I had gone over and jokingly said to him that it must be a good book that he’s reading, if he’s so absorbed in it in the middle of a crowd … He wound up joining and talking to me and an Irish guy for a bit about different things, until his friend arrived. He said that it was refreshing to know that people could still approach ‘strangers’ and converse, and not be just isolated in their separate groups, and that he really appreciated it!

Back to Zürich, the only other things to add, is the picture I took of this elderly woman in her leopard dress suit which was uncanny, in the luxury department store, Jelmolí. http://www.jelmoli.ch/ It was a nice salesperson in this music store who helped me decipher where I needed to go to meet people there. http://www.upbeat.ch/ And not far away in the same neighborhood, I discovered a cool internet cafe, that is, restaurant/cafe with WiFi internet access. It was called “Z am park”. http://www.dailytonic.com/z-am-park-in-zurich-switzerland-by-aekae/ I glanced out the window from my seat and saw why it was named this, from the street sign. One street was named Zypressen and the other Zurlinden Strasse – both referring to trees – Cypress and Linden. The street the cafe was on dead-ended at the gate of a huge cemetery, before the low wooded hills on the periphery of the city. Oh yeah, among the pictures is also a local community place called the Xenix, by the Kanzlei neighborhood. http://www.xenix.ch/0_home/index.php There’s an old school house, still a grade school during the school hours, and then the place transforms to a huge community bocce playing area, with different groups spread all over the pebbled area playing this ball game. There are also ping-pong tables, which I played briefly. This is all takes place on the school grounds, next to the Xenix Cafe and Theater. The place has a good community feel.

Now frankly, I have to attend to some other pressing things…such as whether I’m going to leave my residence within two weeks to join in on a hitch-hiking ‘race’.

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=102402513154057&ref=mf

And if so, I can’t afford to pay my rent and not be present living in the house. So, I need to investigate storage units, the top 5 ski resorts in Switzerland to apply for work to potentially live there over the winter – just found one that catches my interest in particular http://www.verbier.ch/ and also put in some bids for an artist residency following the winter months, such as this one that DJ Spooky, aka Paul Miller is setting up http://www.djspooky.com/vanuatu/ so that I can completely dive into writing, illustrating and composing the music for the children’s e-book that I wish to write for example, through a host site like this one http://issuu.com/nomadbeatz
…. yeah, lots going on, lots of planning and casting out the wide net for all the different things that I’d like to accomplish, all of which require a lot of administrative details; applications within certain time deadlines and so forth…and still somehow remain afloat financially.

The neat thing is that the hitch-hiking race, is much more planned out than I’d thought. I received an email back from the guy organizing it, saying that he needed contact details, because he’s organizing insurance for all of the participants. And then he corresponded that he’s also investigating accommodation for the various pairs of hitchers (male/female) in all of the cities en route: Belgrade, Sofia, Skopje, Thessaloniki, Xanthi to Istanbul.

I’ve been intrigued with Istanbul for a while now, and an emphatic MUST for me, is to research and get my head around more of the history – over the ages – of this town which was Constantinople during the Greek and then Ottoman empire – before it was then named Istanbul, within an area later defined as the country Turkey. I have a lot to research, and also have notes that I’ve gathered from people about neighborhoods to visit, an underwater cistern that looks magical and one of the oldest church’s ever built. Hey, I’m sure that my naiveté about the history is already becoming apparent, just by the way I’ve phrased my sentence. I just wikied Constantinople and found this: the imperial capital of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire, the Latin Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe’s largest and wealthiest city. Okay, so, I’ve only got several thousand years of history to read up on ‘-) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantinople

carol

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About carolkeiter
Aspiring writer, artist, musician and composer who was born and raised in the United States and has resided in several European countries. Communication is my forte; both through using various tools and in approaching people of divers backgrounds to gather information. Speak conversational - advanced intermediate - French, German and Spanish. Love interacting with people in cultural centers as much as going to remote places to learn more about the different creatures that share our planet. Love of the outdoors and of a variety of outdoor sports. Driven to learn and expand my own consciousness and understanding through curiosity and love of life. Creative skills merge with analytical ones, leading to an interest in a myriad of topics; ranging from politics, economics, science to environmental. Motivated to use my art, music and writing to support and educate people towards humane practices that support and respect all of life, including practices supporting a healthy planet.

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