Here is a short story based on a short adventure I went through during my Erasmus in the Netherland 2 years ago. Enjoy the reading!
A very unexpected hitch-hike to Germany
Today is the day!
I woke up at 7:30, my mind full of thoughts about what would happen, what a great WE I would live, with the ESN team and all the other exchange students. Without losing a minute, I got to my feet, took a shower and dressed up. After checking that I hadn’t forgotten anything, I left my housing at 8 O’clock, to be certain to arrive on time, although I only needed about ten minutes to get to the train station, which was our meeting-point.
After my 10-min journey, I struggled to find a free place in the parking place of the train station to put my bike and hurried to the meeting point. I was early, since it was only 8:15 and the meeting was at 8:30. We were about 5 people there.
Slowly, the group grew, and at 8:30, 3/4 of the people had arrived. But my hitch-hike partner wasn’t there yet. I didn’t worry, because she was used to coming late, so I thought she would arrive any moment….but as the time went by, she didn’t show up. At 9 O’clock I was almost the only one without partner, while the first groups already left the place to begin the adventure.
When I was asking one of the ESN members to call, Devon my hitch-hike partner, she finally showed up. She had just not heard her alarm-clock.
After this small stress (I had begun wondering what would happen, if I would have to go alone or if I would be allowed to join another group), we headed for the road where we would take the first car ! (This road was Hereweg, just in the south of the center of Groningen and leading to the city center.
After about fifteen minutes of walk, during which we spoke about the WE ahead of us, and the strategies we would use to get to Köln, we finally arrived. We just stopped for 10 min, to make our signs (“Germany” , since our plan was to first get to the border). Meanwhile, we came across a group that was going to try to get a car.
Then, when we were finally ready, we went along the road, and as we prepared our signs, we saw the group, that we had just seen 5 min before, get a car.
« Damn it, lucky you !!! », I shouted, although not angrily.
« Oh, can you believe that ??! » said Devon, looking amaze.
« I hope we will have their chance !! » I told her, hopeful.
But their chance…. We never got it. We waited for some time, and almost got ridden over by a crazy car that seemed to have fun scarying us by moving in our direction and almost touching me. After about 45 min, a man advised us to go to the IKEA, saying that we would have more luck there, and that we didn’t stand a chance as we were hitch-hiking here. So we decided to change spot.
We walked for a small half hour, and went in a shop to find something to eat. At that moment, it was between noon and 1 O’clock. We then went on a road, near the beginning of the highway, leading to Germany. There, we surely would find something!
We waited there for more than an hour, singing, learning swear words in each other’s mother tongue (since Devon is American and I am a French speaker from Belgium). A policeman then asked us to go to the bus stop, because hitch-hiking there was not allowed (I think he had just seen us fooling around in the very middle of the road when the light was red). So we changed spot again, but as no car went by, we changed spot again, and reached another group. And strangely, at the very moment we reached them, a car stopped and proposed to help them. They then agreed to take us as well.
We drove for just 10 km, enough to get us to the next petrol station.
There, we asked, and waited, waited, waited. We asked most cars, trying to have them take us to the border. Finally, we found someone who could take us to the border. After waiting for one hour. It was more or less the luckiest moment of the trip.
Once we were at the border, we did realize that we were in Germany : there were German signs everywhere, and I heard more German than Dutch or even English.
We waited again, and kept asking, but people clearly seemed less helpful and less cheerful. We waited for an hour, even a bit more. Then we saw a small truck, and asked the driver if he went in the south, in the direction of Köln. His answer was of course negative. I turned around, desperate, and sat, waiting for another car to come.
After ten minutes, the truck went in our direction to go back to the highway. Then Devon got up and went to speak to him. Then I wondered: « what is she doing? He already said he wasn’t going south… »
After a minute of talking, she turned to me and said:
“He can take us. Come quick !!”
I didn’t understand what had happened, but went to my feed, took a picture of the plate, since we had to inform ESN of each car we took, and stepped in. But then, as we were joining the highway, I understood that we were not at all heading south….
“Mais Devon”, I told her, for the driver not to understand, “Qu’est-ce que t’es en train de faire??”. I wasn’t really sure where Hamburg was, but I saw on a map that it was rather in the east and in the north, not at all in the direction of Köln.
« Hamburg n’est pas notre destination. On doit aller au sud, à Cologne! », I told her, half angry, half puzzled.
« Ne t’inquiete pas, c’est pas grave! Hamburg est aussi une belle ville et j’ai toujours voulu y aller », she replied, very calmly, « everything is going to be all right ».
« T’as pas l’air de comprendre, on doit arriver à Cologne entre 16h et 22h. Hamburg est peut-être une belle ville, mais ce n’est PAS notre destination. Si tu veux y faire un tour, c’est ton droit et ton choix, mais tu le feras une autre fois. Pas ce weekend. »
« Tu es si stressé, calme, c’est pas grave. Nous pouvons les joindre demain, après la nuit dans Cologne ».
The travel went by, and I realized that we weren’t on the same wavelength. She clearly didn’t seem to care at all about going to Köln. As it was useless to talk to her, I tried to look at the signs on the highway, to know where we were and if we were really heading to Hamburg. In the meantime, as the kilometers went by, I half slept, half looked at the signs, my face rested on the top of my bag, which was on my knees. She tried to talk to me, but I didn’t react. Then I told her:
« On doit s’arrêter à la station service la plus proche et trouver une autre voiture, là on va trop loin vers Hambourg »
« Nous ne pouvons pas. Ce monsieur est très gentil de nous prendre. Ce ne serait pas poli de demander d’arrêter encore »
Unpolite….unpolite ??!! Why the hell should we care about being « unpolite » ?? I don’t give a damn bloody shit about being « unpolite ». But since Devon just didn’t seem to care about going to Köln, I thought it was just useless to tell her what I thought. I just made a face showing her my state of mind.
The kilometers went by again, and I then told her:
« Une fois arrives à Hamburg, tu fais ce qui te chante, mais je prendrai le train pour rejoinder Cologne ».
Then, when I wasn’t expecting it, the driver turned to park in a patrol station. God was I relieved!! I thanked him warmly (although more for stopping than for taking us through the road) and went to buy a map. It was 10 euros, but we NEEDED a map. There was no way we were going somewhere again without knowing the destination. Once the map in my hand, I went out.
« Ok, let’s try to find someone else, and this time, we do NOT go with people without knowing where they are going. We are NOT moving randomly. You do NOT go in a car without knowing where it’s heading and without knowing where the city it’s going to is in the country !!! »
As we were waiting, the relationship went better, and I was less mad against Devon. We tried to ask people if they were going south, but we had actually gone too far on the road. Everybody was going to Hamburg or Berlin. We kept asking everybody (and since we were in Germany, it was needed that I talk in German, although my level was still quite weak. I realized that German people weren’t as good in English as I had thought. I had to speak in German half the time. Fortunately, and thanks to my Dutch, my level was enough to get the message across, at my delight and astonishment).
We noticed again that people in this country were less likely to help us out.
After asking many people, we came across a very kind man, who told us that we had better go with him to Hamburg, and then back south, because we would probably never find anyone here heading south. Although I was against, I agreed, since we had no better option.
We stepped in the car and headed to Hamburg. We spoke a lot, and leaned much from this man, about Germany, Hamburg, and even about deciphering car plates. We also saw that « thanks » to their weird laws, we could drive as quickly as we wanted, and the man even reached the 200 km. It was indeed quite dangerous, but he seemed to really master his car. And in the end, we didn’t die: P)
We arrived in Hamburg at around 5-6 PM, and decided to stay in Hamburg for the night, to see the city, after telling ESN that we would go back to Köln again.
We went through the city and enjoyed, because it is a beautiful city. Still, I was worried about going back to Köln. I have always been the type of guy to dislike going against the rules and the plans, so I felt really bad about not going to Köln that night. But what else could I do?
We enjoyed the city and talked a lot. Devon wondered if she would not just stay in Hamburg the whole WE, because she really liked this beautiful city. She liked it there, and wanted to enjoy the moment, and preferred to stay there than going to Köln, even though she (and I) had paid 80 for this trip (this is the price that ESN asked for the evening in Köln, the restaurant and the night).
We first went to a Starbuck to eat something and have a drink. There I discovered something that I would never see in Belgium: I went to the toilet, and saw that I had to write a code on a machine, just like in those secret places in movies, as though we were in a secret laboratory, or in the white house. I thought: « well, it’s just a toilet in a Starbuck in Hamburg…..why do they need a code ? »…Well, the code was just on the ticket that you receive when you buy something. Such a high security to go to the loo…so weird and useless…
After this, we went inside the city, and arrived on a place, where we saw something that looked like a statue. A statue of someone kind of falling off his bike, and another person on the ground. We got closer and Devon asked:
« Do you think those people are real? Or is it a statue? »
« It couldn’t possibly be a real person! » I answered her, laughing, sure of what I was saying. « The guy on the bike is falling. It’s not possible. It IS a statue ».
We were right in front of it, and then the guy on the bike moved his head and proposed his hand. Devon gave a small shout, and I was very surprised. I shook his hand and complimented him for how well they were doing it.
We went further in the city, took some pictures, went in streets full of expensive jewels and cloths shops and all sorts of things. The city was really beautiful and interesting, but we could unfortunately not see the whole city because it was already dark
At 8 O’clock we decided to go to the hostel, which was quite difficult to find, but it had closed at 8 O’clock, so we had just got there a bit late. We then tried again to find something else, but couldn’t. We couldn’t even find a hotel.
We decided to sleep in a bush, right in front of a building of apartment. It was 9:00 and we wanted to sleep and enjoy the city the day after, although Devon was beginning to wonder if we would not both leave at around 11:00.
We tried to sleep, but since the bushes were in front of a big street with A LOT of cars, the noise made it impossible to fall asleep. We then decided, at around 10:00, to try and take a train then.
We went back to the station, which was far and difficult to find, and looked at the boards. The last train of the day going to Köln was at 10:35, and it was 10:50. We had missed it. We waited there a bit, to eat and charge my phone, which was dead, and which I needed to contact ESN, and then tried to go to the university, next to the station, hoping that it would still be open (some universities never sleep, and it’s possible to sneak in). The only place where to go was warm, but the light was too strong to sleep, and because of the windows, everybody could see us. We decided to change place. We went around the university building, trying to find a place to go, but there wasn’t. Finally, we found a small place with a couple of tree and bushes, and went there. It was midnight. We decided to sleep there and take the train of 4:30, or the next one, at 6:30, to arrive in Köln for breakfast.
We manage to « sleep », and at 4:00 Devon woke me up.
« It’s too cold, I can’t stay and sleep anymore. I can’t. Let’s go to the university to warm up, change, and then take the train. »
This is what we did, and we then hurried up to be on time for the train. We did arrive on time, but there was our next problem: the ticket machine didn’t accept our cards to pay the train. We tried many times, although the price at that moment was of 90 euros, but the minutes went by, and eventually it was too late. We then agreed that 90 euros was actually far too expensive, and we decided to try hitch-hiking again.
We went to the nearby petrol station, but since nobody stopped there, and even the seller couldn’t understand my request in English, we decided walking south to go to a petrol station on a road leading to the highway. We walked for 10 min, and while I was trying to find where we were on the map, Devon, who had been trying with the signs to find a car, caught a fish : a car stopped.
The back windows were black, it was impossible to see through (which I already found weird and suspicious). As the driver was talking to us and to the man behind, the latter lowered his window. He didn’t look especially special. Then, the driver said « usually, I would take you for money, but I think that he (pointing at the man behind) is more interested in her (I have to admit that I don’t remember the very words the man used, but the meaning was quite clear, if you know what was meant).
« Ok let’s go », I told Devon, at the very moment the words had come into my brain.
The car went away without further talking.
This had really chocked Devon (which was totally normal), and since it was only 5-5:30, we decided to wait until it was daylight before trying any further. We eventually had some luck and found a place that was a bit like a Starbucks. There we waited from then until 8:00, until it was daylight and my phone was charged. I then told ESN that we would try hitch-hiking.
Devon was really tired, and wanted to find a hotel or hostel to sleep. We walked a bit and found a hotel, but seeing how modern and chick it was, I thought it must have been like 100 euros for a room for one night. Well….we weren’t disappointed: 235 euros for a night, and 259 with breakfast. We left.
We then went into a Starbucks. In the meantime, I had received as SMS from ESN, advising us to find a cheap bus. I tried it on the internet and eventually found one. I was so happy! There was only one problem: the bus would leave at 9:00, which was in only 30 min.
We rushed to find this bus, which was near the train station. But…. how to find the station? We ran into the city, asking people, but since the different people gave opposite direction, that didn’t help us. We eventually made it to the station, and asked around where the address was, and guess what? We weren’t at the right station…. the right station was the MAIN station, while we were at…another station….
From there we took a bus, leading us to the station, but it was half past nine, so forget about the bus.
We went into the station and saw a car company, that proposed us to rent the car. But of course, it was 300 euros….
We went back to our hitch-hiking, and thanks to some advice, went to a petrol station. At last a petrol station! From this station, people could take a highway to go anywhere in Germany, East, West, North, South! But of course, nobody wanted to take us. Sometimes they even said « no » when we had barely uttered « excuse me sir ». Some of them had cars like 4X4, expensive cars, and we clearly saw that most people there were too rich to help us, too rich to help people who haven’t had a shower for 24h…. While Devon was trying on the side of the road, I was trying in the station. We waited for…. more or less 2 hours. It was around 11:30. We thought we could still take another bus near the main station (there was one at 16:30), but we would get to Köln at 22:30, which would be quite useless. We would have, for only activity in Köln, the way back in bus. So we decided, in the end, after all, eventually, to go back to Groningen.
We walked back, full of anger against all those people living in Hamburg, all those people who wouldn’t help, who were just so selfish (even though we did come across very kind people…. only because we just asked them where was the petrol station. We didn’t ask them for a lift. Maybe that’s why there were kinder…).
Once at the station, we first needed to find where to buy the ticket…which wasn’t easy. We waited at a desk for like 30 min, before eventually giving up, and finally found a machine. There we tried to buy a ticket to Groningen, which would cost us 50 euros. But of course, the machine didn’t want to work. So we went back to the desk, but again we were fed up of waiting. At that moment, and for countless hours, we had begun wondering if we would one day see either Groningen or Köln. We were wondering if we would eventually at a moment get help from someone (or even, less likely, from God) because we have always had problems on the road.
Devon decided to try the machine again, and I followed her. Fortunately, it did work and we could FINALLY buy our ticket (with cash, of cours).
We went to the train platform and waited for our train, which was to come at 13:15. In the meantime, a homeless guy came and said something in German, which we of course didn’t understand. We told him that we spoke English, and he asked us, in English, if we couldn’t give him something. Then, without hesitating, Devon took her purse and gave him some money. I told him that I could give him an apple (I prefer giving food rather than money, since I know what they’ll do with the food, but they could use money for something else than eating). Devon then told me:
« You know, I really think we should help people when we can. Those people didn’t want to help us getting to Köln while we needed it. I think that when we can do something to help those who need it, we should do it ». I did agree with her.
We waited until 13:15, but of course, at 13:15, the train was still not coming. We waited, until 13:30, and there was still nothing. What the fuck??? We then asked someone from the train company, but he of course didn’t know anything.
We decided to again go back to the desk, and there there was less waiting to do. We could finally be helped. The man told us that, although our ticket said that the train was to come at platform 13, we had to go platform 13B (which we could never have possibly known).
Since the next train was at 14:15, we went to eat something (we hadn’t eaten since 7:00), and went back to the platform. Then the question was: how to find platform 13B? It seemed to be just as hard and impossible as platform 9 3/4, since nothing was indicated! This platform simply seemed invisible!
As we were talking about where this platform could be, a kind woman told us that she was waiting for a friend and this friend could arrive at platform 13B, although the woman didn’t know where it was. After a bit of thinking we understood: it was BEYOND 13A (even though there was NO indication for it). We walked, and eventually found the platform, a couple of minutes before the train left. I urged Devon to hurry up and run, otherwise we might miss the train, to which she replied that she didn’t want to run and that I should go ahead. What the hell ?? you would miss a train and have to wait 1 hour because you don’t want to run for like 50 meters?? Well, this girl could hardly astonish me any further anyway…
I ran and arrived on time, but didn’t see Devon. Would she have missed the train? I seemed quite unlikely, since we had in the end had enough time to get on the train.
We met again when we had to change train more than an hour later, in Bremen. The rest of the voyage went as planned, and we slept for the 2nd half of the road, until we finally arrived in Groningen, AT LAST, at 18:40. It was raining, but it was probably the happiest moment of my Erasmus, ever since I arrived there, 7 weeks earlier.