I once again enjoyed a fun and informative hitchabout, crossing most of Germany; from Berlin in the northeast to south of Tübingen, a few hours from the Swiss border, ’bout 695 km. I had last summer gone from this same destination on to Zürich, which was a very brief trek in comparison.
This time I left on Friday the 25th of February and returned on Monday the 28th. I had prepared a bit the evening before my departure, yet only really was sure that I’d be making the trip as of 8am that morning. Spontaneity, when you can get away with it, is a wondrous thing! The last time I had waited at this same departure spot, at the entrance to the autobahn in Berlin in pouring rain for hours with no luck; when my cardboard signs literally disintegrated in my hands from moisture. This time it was once again a bit tough to get a ride (not much chance for people to make a decision when they have only 30 seconds to assess the situation) however, I believe that part of hitching is being assured, knowing, that the right person will come along eventually, and that with patience, these are the rides to wait for!!
Funny thing, is that about when I was really questioning if I was going to get a ride at all, suddenly a van pulled over, prominently stopping next to me on the road that normally is streaming with traffic, many of the people already speeding up in anticipation of getting on the highway. The van was full of people, I thought, okay, so at least they feel ‘safe’ having me as a passenger, when I’m quite outnumbered. It turns out, that Manfred was driving a group of 5 individuals, all of whom were connected via http://www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de (an organized ride service, which in the last years has become completely online-connecting drivers and passengers in Germany) to be dropped off at various places en route to Stuttgart, near to his destination. He said to me immediately, if he had not seen my sign (Nürnberg on one side, Stuttgart on the other), he would not have stopped. Ah, so I was prepared and fortunate!
Most of the passengers were 20 somethings, sleeping during most of the 5 hour or so trip. I was really fortunate, since this ride would take me across Germany, 9/10th of my trip, to within an hour and a bit of my destination. One guy sitting next to me, preparing for potentially taking a civilian job working in either Central America or India, had printed out a bunch of wikipedia text about India the night before. I wound up reading this, in German, the bulk of the trip, and realized pages into the text, that I was beginning to learn the meanings of words, just by virtue of seeing them several times in context.
It was after most of the people had departed in Würzberg, that I sat in the middle seats, close enough to chat with the driver as well as another girl passenger, who just joined via the ride link, on her way to Stuttgart. We conversed cheerfully. He dropped me off at a gas station, along a smaller highway en route to my destination.
I was still in the southern edge of Stuttgart, it was dark already, and most of the people were not traveling far. I was surprised when after approaching about 15 driver’s of cars at this small gas station, when a woman passenger actually didn’t abruptly shake her head “no”, but gestured that the driver was inside. Then the driver whom I approached, answered without hesitation, sure, he could give me a ride. I was rather astounded, after all of the other people were smiling, but shaking their heads no, as most of them were just returning home after work. It turns out that these two were Russians, both born in Kazakhstan. Alexander was 10 when he arrived with his family to Germany, and identifies with being a German native. Julia, had been here 9 years, and wasn’t sure what the future would bring, but seemed to be content to presently settle in Germany. They were not a couple, which is another reason that they did offer me the ride.
Alexander drove very fast in his Audi, with a brightly lit paneled dashboard. He works in finance, real estate, and appears to work a lot, in various different parts of mostly southern Germany. He wound up actually using his GPS unit to plug in the exact address I was going to, and dropped me off in front of the door of my destination. That was after I had feared being stranded in Stuttgart, 45 minutes or so from where I was traveling to. Julia had said something to Alexander in Russian, and I asked, what did she say? Neither of them spoke English. He translated into German, she said, “you’re going to get a halo, because you’re such an angel”. So, he must be frequently going out of his way to do nice things for people. I hugged them both as I was leaving. I was so happy and relieved to be there, and delighted to meet them!
On my return trip, Monday morning, it was a guy in a “smart car” who works for a theater in Stuttgart, who picked me up for my first ride. He builds sets. He dropped me off at a corner in Tübingen, realizing that there was no appropriate place to drop me off in Stuttgart, without dragging me into the center of town, which would be completely the wrong place to be stuck. So, I stood at this traffic light, along a place where people could see me and pull onto a side street, waiting in the sunshine…and minutes later, a car pulled over in front of me. Out hopped, unbelievably, the same guy who had given me the ride 3 days before, Alexander, from Kazakhstan. I thought that this was absolutely amazing, that the synchronicity of this was pretty astounding. He was pretty surprised as well. He lives near Ingolstadt, a city between Munich and Nürnberg, famous because they manufacture Audi’s. Normally Alexander returns on Sunday evenings, but this time was only leaving Monday morning, and was already running behind schedule. Wow, my angel had returned, and he drove like the devil ‘-)
He was on his way to several appointments. Turns out he’s 28 years old. Seems to be very busy with his career, working a lot. He was going to be driving across the south to a town along the A9, a north-south highway going to Berlin. So I had a couple hours to ride with him, from Baden-Würrtermberg (an area with many Swäbish specialties, of which Stuttgart is a part) to Bavaria (and we all know that much of what Bavaria is about is beer). Had a number of phone calls he made connecting his iPhone to his GPS, conveying and retrieving information. We talked when he wasn’t on the phone. He left me with a German saying that says something to the effect of “Don’t hold tight onto that which you can’t hold on to”. “Halt nicht fest was man nicht fest halten kann.” Excuse my imperfect German representation! He said he had gotten married and had a baby at 20 years old, and had to grow up very fast. He’s already taking care of both parents to an extent. He also firmly believes, with an obvious extreme amount of confidence in himself, that “a person can achieve whatever it is that they want, they merely must want it”. I got his card this time around, and will email him to tell him thanks.
He left me off at this place that was not very far away from Ingolstadt. I waited at this turn off point that was not exactly the entrance to the autobahn, but from where I could see the traffic on the highway streaming along a few km. away. Many people passing by me were local cars, with local license plates. In Germany, the cars are not identified and distinguished from the States they are from, but the towns. With a single letter indicating the first letter of the larger cities, and the more letters coupled with the first, demonstrating the size of the towns, in a hierarchy of diminishing size. Finally, a man who has worked at this military airport nearby, picked me up. He clarified why I’d seen a number of vehicles with Y on their license plates, with people inside wearing army camouflage clothing. He explained that there’s a military airport nearby. He was pleasant, and brought me to a much better place, this time within yards of the entrance to the autobahn. His name was Fritz. I saw a new feature in the landscape in this area. As opposed to the tiered rows of grapes planted on steep, hilly vineyards in what I’m perhaps erroneously calling “Swabiland”, here were these netted string like apparatus, that Fritz explained are for drying hops, for the more beer oriented Bavarian region.
Okay, well, there was another person in the mix for a short ride, which I can’t remember where it was, he was Rami, originally from Syria. He was as well a pleasant person, with whom I conversed, though briefly.
I was standing at a gas station somewhere I believe outside of Ingolstadt, wondering who I was going to get a ride with, often glancing at people’s license plates to get an indication of what direction they were going. I had been inside the service station to look at a map and thought that I had heard English, but hadn’t turned around to give it much notice. Then, out walked a guy in his 30’s with a wool hat on, returning to his car packed with stuff, and a license plate I hadn’t recognized. I rather unceremoniously held up my sign, expecting him to be going elsewhere, and was almost startled when he said, “bis du alein?” “are you alone”. Suddenly responsive, I nodded hopefully, yes. I wasn’t sure if I was holding the Nürnberg or Berlin side of my sign up. Amazingly, he was a Polish guy, driving all the way back to Poland, via Berlin. Wow! I really couldn’t quite believe this, because this was a significant trek, like over 500 km, taking me all of the way back.
This easy going, pleasant guy named Szyman, from Warsaw, Poland explained that he’s done a lot of hitch hiking, so naturally he didn’t hesitate to return the favor. We conversed the entire time (this time in English 😉 with mostly him talking, in response to my continuous questions, probes and comments. I was keenly interested in the subject matter and taking notes 🙂 The 5 hour journey, covering about 513 km, seemed to just fly by. I was completely attuned and inspired much of the time with the content of our conversation.
Before entering the car, I immediately saw ski boots tucked in between several plastic containers loaded with things. He was clearing out the front passenger seat and floor, where I saw Dolomite ski brochures. I quickly learned that he was returning from a ski camp he organizes for kids from Poland, with the car packed with teaching equipment. This had taken place in Italy. The kids were returning on a bus to Poland, and he had taken some extra days to ski at some new potential locations. I told him that I’d been a ski instructor for kids at Taos, in New Mexico among other places, and that there, one guy (shout out to Laef) had opened up a pizza place called “Dolomite Pizza”, which had put the Italian Dolomite mountains on the map for me! He said that most of the places that he scouts, are located in Italy, along branches of the Alps, because it’s considerably more mild for holding a ski camp for kids there, as opposed to the typical harsher weather conditions in Austria and Switzerland.
He researches the locations, scouts them out, skis the terrain, books the resorts, organizes the kids groups – some Kindergarten age and others teenagers – and teaches skiing. He said that he had done this part-time for years, going on week stints to teach kids skiing in the past several years, then started this past summer full time for this group. At this point, he’s realizing that he’s getting a bit burned out from it, because he puts an enormous amount of time into it and has a lot of responsibility, with not such a great financial reward. I told him that this past winter I had been considering getting a job in a Swiss resort I randomly picked, Verbier. That I’d applied to 40 or 50 jobs, and that they mostly asked if I had a EU passport; which weeded out the positive responses. I mentioned that it was September when I’d applied, to which he said that really, the time to apply for the coming winter season is in June. I mentioned that I was quite excited and enthused about the prospect of working for this kids “ski – sports and language camp” with one of their bases in Verbier. This camp brings together my love of skiing, sports, languages and communication with people, into one bundle. Anyway, I realize now that if I really want to try to make this happen in the future, that I will have to apply in mid-summer.
Szyman’s spoke pretty much flawless English, and it was great hearing stories about this job. He had worked at Whistler Peak for a year, several hours from Vancouver in Canada, which I knew about from the ski pipeline back in Taos, as being an excellent mountain with a lot of vertical. He said that if he would ever consider living abroad as an expatriate, he would consider Vancouver. But pointed out that because of the language difference, stemming from the nuances of understanding and shared experience about an area that people who have grown up in the same culture take for granted, that he wasn’t so sure that he’d want to live in another culture, where one is estranged from the nuances in humor, and so forth.
He said that now he’s thinking about what other work he may like to do, and because he always tinkered with things with his hands as a kid, he’s thinking that he might like to shape his own skis. After a several year period, he’s created his first pair of home made skis. Mentioned that in the US., in Colorado for example, there are a number of little shops who build their own custom skis. His intention wouldn’t be to mass market them, but would be content to make maybe 50 pairs a year or something. That sounds like a lot! I said that “hey, you are fortunate to have the luxury to “choose” changing careers and so forth.” and he agreed. yeah, many people in the world don’t have such fortune!
He mentioned that he’ll be traveling to Vietnam for the first time in the spring, and already booked a quite cheap ticket from Warsaw to Hong Kong with a Russian airline. And also mentioned the few places he would like to ski in his lifetime, among them, on the island of Hokkaido Japan, at a resort called Niseko.
Though Szyman seemed to be quite knowledgeable about a lot of things, having studied International Relations, he particularly knew a lot about the different tribes and territories that were later embraced by the Russian Empire. I believe that this was mostly the area he had concentrated on in his studies. He’d visited the Balkans and had lived for a year in Kazakhstan. He’s quite familiar with the various Turkic states in Central Asia such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Armenia…and the Caucuses; of which Cechnya, Georgia and Azerbaijan are a part. He mentioned that the Caucuses have predominantly three religious groups; the Muslims, Greek Orthodox (perhaps) and Christian. The Caucuses had been a region of war during the Ottoman Empire, which had reigned for 6 centuries, from 1299 to 1922, and spread over three continents.
He talked of the Silk Road which passed through the Caucuses area, explaining that it wasn’t just one road, but in fact a number of trades routes that passed through the area coming from Southeast Asia, China and India, often through an area of the Caucuses.
With more wars in the area later, during the Austrian Hungarian Empire.
At one point Szyman spoke of Tito’s Yugoslavia, and the Serbian Croatian war, mentioning how things changed when NATO becoming involved in the conflict.
We discussed and denounced government oppression, those who deprive their citizens of freedom of information. Poland, which since the end of World War II, also created a citizenry of people who had for years been dominated by fear and disinformation; sharing the Eastern Bloc mentality of not having the ‘spirit’ to create something new. They have for so long not had the privilege to choose or right to think for themselves…that eventually the entrepreneurial spirit and motivation to create, is sucked out of the populace. After years living in a centralized government system, in which most of one’s basic needs are taken care of and wherein a person doesn’t really having to compete or struggle to create something new, inspiration somewhat vanishes. We also conversed about the various nobility in different regions and city states of Europe, and how often very harsh and violent the relationships were, even within the families themselves. He mentioned a good Russian movie from the 1940’s that described how bloody the history of “Ivan the Terrible”. The movie “Ivan” seemed to quite accurately depict this.
“His long reign saw the conquest of the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Siberia, transforming Russia into a multiethnic state spanning almost one billion acres, approximately 4,046,856 km2 (1,562,500 sq mi). Ivan oversaw numerous changes in the transition from a medieval nation state to an empire and emerging regional power, and became the first Tsar of a new and more powerful nation.”
Hey, this was a long ride as a passenger, covering subjects I’m interested in, yet obviously a neophyte in terms of my own knowledge! Somewhere within our conversation we talked about the differences between the French and German languages. French having more words that express things in refined detail; maybe because it was the nobility and privileged class that already had more education and exposure to the finer, more detailed things in life…..as French was once the diplomatic language.
Among the many topics we discussed, we meandered into the those of film and books…He suggested the book written by Norman Davies “Europe: A History” as very worthwhile, to gain information on the subjects we’d been discussing. Somehow this music group, Porcupine Tree, that created an album called “Fear of a Blank Planet”.
We also got into the subject of the psyberpunk genre of writers. He mentioned the writer William Gibson
Here’s a short blurb by Timothy Leary, describing the cyber punks of different ages.
When I asked what his girlfriend does, he said that she had previously worked for the foundation that her mother created, which provides a healthy space for wholesome activities, during the period of time after school and before the parents get home from work. At this location, less fortunate, impoverished kids who maybe have emotional or family problems and not such great role models, can learn new things and new perspectives. His girlfriend has since learned ART, and focused on being a teacher in this. ART, which he mentioned is an acronym for “Aggression Replacement Training“, actually has nothing to do with art nor music therapy, nor theoretical psychology which digs into a person’s past. It’s instead a “hands on”, pragmatic and practical approach to helping people cope, with alternatives other than violence, which perhaps they’re more accustomed to. With new tools and insights, these youths and adults can learn to change their aggressive behavior. Giving people a different way to cope, rather than their tendencies and habits of responding with violence and aggression. According to wikipedia, a program with three components: introducing people to social skills, anger control training and moral reasoning.
My last ride, literally within walking distance of Berlin (around 20 miles) from the highway on the periphery of the city, was from the gas station where Szymon left me off as he headed East to Poland. The first person I asked before I even got my bag out of the car, upon seeing a B on the license plate, was an African man. I asked if I could catch a ride back to Berlin from there, the last leg of my journey. I hadn’t seen that he had a wife and baby in the car when I’d asked him. He was going inside to pay, and I assumed that this would be a No-Go. However, when he returned to the car, he actually leaned in and mentioned something to his girlfriend/wife, and she promptly responded by getting out of the passenger seat to let me in the back seat, next to their sleeping toddler of 3 years or something. They spoke German and English. She was German, born in Berlin. He was from Monrovia, in Liberia. Founded in 1882, Monrovia, the capital, was named after the US. President, James Monroe he told me. I read later, because he was a supporter of the colonization of Liberia.
He informed me that it was a German immigrant, John Roebling, who was the engineer who built the Brooklyn Bridge among several other suspension bridges, and that his wife was a self taught engineer, who helped finish the construction of one of the bridges, when her husband died before it was completed.
My rambling from one, to another subject (as this is often how conversations evolve) and event, is now at the end!
And coming up in the next blog, looking into ‘a causal’ and ‘non locality’ principles and some other mysterious things that occur in the breadth of consciousness…a quantum leap into being!