I woke three hours later than scheduled with a throbbing headache, dry throat, and half extinguished joint on my pillow. My farewell party as maintenance volunteer at Euphoria Hostel in the capital of Estonia got way out of hand in unsurprisingly ‘hostel party’ circumstances. The musical themed hostel in the heart of Tallinn had been my home during the sweltering hot euro summer of 2018. The ancient building was ill equipped for the consistent heatwave that regularly saw temperatures climb above 30 degrees in the Nordic city normally known for its cool climate.
I sat huddled with my travel pack in the colorful common area with a dusty yoga mat and sleeping bag which i found in the hostel attic which may or may not contain a great number of unidentifiable stains and marks. I am wielding a big black texter, scribbling on A3 sheets of paper, the names of potential cities I might pass through in preparation to display to motorists while hitching on the road. This will be my first long distance hitch hike. There are multiple ways to travel the 2000km journey from Tallinn to Munich. Due to the spontaneous nature of hitch hiking I decided not to bother planning a desired route and instead leave it up to the generosity of fellow motorists to point me in the right direction.
The little known country of Estonia had given me far more cherished memories than I’d expected when I decided to volunteer at the hostel just months earlier. Most people, Europeans included, couldn’t even point out its geographical location on a map, let alone tell you anything about it. Estonia is a unique piece of land on the shore of the Baltic sea, Sandwiched from all sides by Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the other two ‘baltic states’ Latvia and Lithuania, with Poland only a day drive away. The influence of all these and more cultures is evident in the diversity and laid back vibe. Estonia is a country on the rise. A place I expect to becoming increasingly popular with tourists in the future, it’s one of few places remaining to not be overrun in the summer and hopefully for Estonians sake it manages to stay that way, and maintain its alternative charm. I got a refreshing sense of freedom amongst the people. Having recently split from the Soviet Union as early as 1994 after hundreds of years of change and control. The country is one of the least religious in the world and seems to celebrate individuality and culture differences. It was a sad goodbye to this humble country and I vowed to be back one day.
I found a recommended hitchhiking location on hitchwiki.org. This website is extremely helpful on finding somewhere suitable to stand especially when going from a major city. The site operates much like Wikipedia, enabling users to update information based on positive or negative experiences from hitchhiking. I caught a city bus to the end of the line headed for Riga. The Latvian capital was my goal for the day, just a short four drive from Tallinn.
I stood awkwardly at first displaying my sign at my chest, an extended thumb with my all my belongings huddled at my feet. Just ahead, A roundabout slowed the traffic that I invited to pull into the bus zone that I was standing in. It took about 7 minutes for a car to oblige. A man in his thirties puts his head out the window of a small 4×4 and offers to drive me 30km’s down the highway. At this early stage of my hitchhiking career im in no mood to be turn him down. The Estonian man is on his way to Austria to motorcycle around the alps. He finds amusement when I explain my plans to hitch hike to Munich where I’ll work at Oktoberfest for seven weeks. I thank him for the ride and scribble a code word for free beer which he can use at the campsite that ill be working at if he gets thirsty after his bike ride.
Soon after an older man pulls in and rushes toward me, wielding a bigger, black, thick, marker pen. He informs me that my sign is impossible to read from the motorway and demands I make it bolder. He isn’t going in my direction but once im finished decorating my sign and it suits his description, he drives me a kilometer up the highway to a far better hitching location headed to Riga.
Im on the crest of a hill with view of all the incoming traffic and a handy stopping lane fifty metres behind me. My arm barely extends when a vehicle immediately pulls into the stop lane. The man looks about thirty five and introduces himself as Tino, a pilot from Czech Republic. To my amazement, Tino is driving all the way to his hometown of Prague, and offers to take me with him. Initially im undecided if we are companions who want to spend The 18 hour journey together. On one hand it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and would almost eliminate the entire travel distance in one single ride. On the other hand, I have a whole week before my scheduled work starts in Munich and not much of a story to tell in getting there if one ride lasts 18 hours. It was through a combination of knowing how lucky a ride this is, a genuine friendship developing and the comfort of fresh leather seats that only a pilot would own that persuades me to pass right through Latvia and Lithuania, and jump out in Warsaw, Poland.
At 2am Tino pulls over at an empty gas station on the outskirts of Warsaw, the jolt of the handbrake disturbing my deep slumber. Dazed and confused perhaps from too many swigs on my vodka which was strategically placed in the front seat, I thanked Tino for the massive help and dragged my bag from the boot. It was a wonderful drive and we chatted the whole way until I fell into a drunken sleep just past the polish border. Tino had many interesting stories to tell about his piloting career, he zig zagged across the continent working for various different airlines with curious itchy feet that never seemed to settle, a feeling I could all but relate to. A few years ago Tino had a dramatic car accident while inside a passenger cab in the Ukraine. He was doomed to a life in a wheel chair by a medical doctor. Tino decided to seek alternative medicine and found cannabis oil the most beneficial relief and subsequent recovery from ever having to spend time moving about in a wheelchair. He made an almost full recovery and attributed a lot of the recovery process to the healing CBD oil. Tino is forbidden to use the drug anymore due to strict anti-drug policy for pilots, so for the next few hours I was prompted to add my own tales of experimental drug use. Christiania in Copenhagen is a fantasy land for someone like Tino. Im willing to bet that once his piloting career is over, a retired life in the Danish freetown is where I’ll be able to find him.
Warsaw is visible from the gas station but not reachable on foot at this time of the night. My persistent yawning prompts me to wander behind some old train tracks behind the gas station where a suitably sized concrete slab lay beneath a chunk of old fence that has been demolished apart from a two metre stretch that is wedged against the slab. The area is dim lit from the nearby streetlight lights and the shrub has grown enough to hide my body if I lay flat on the slab. I unroll the dusty yoga mat and crawl into the sleeping bag, spooning my travel pack. I reach inside to remove my bank cards and passport and small bundle of cash and shove them inside my jocks. Im hopeful with this strategy that if I am robbed, in this vulnerable position, the criminal will at least leave me unharmed in my underwear, where all my valuables are hidden.
The makeshift campsite feels eerily unsafe but I’m too exhausted to move on. Instead I reach again into my travel pack and pull out the remaining end of that distinguished joint I found the morning before, on my pillow at the hostel. I hope that smoking it will put me into a thoughtless, calming, deep sleep. Unfortunately, it has the reverse effect, further enhancing my paranoia. In this state, Im convinced I can hear a robber crunching in the shrub beyond the fence. The only solution here is to reach again into the bag, grab some previously crushed herbs, roll a fresh joint, and smoke that too. This time Im so bent that my body becomes paralyzed, my mind slowly dissolves from thinking. I see the distant streetlight blur, crunching bushes dissipate as the dream state finally takes me over.
Three hours later my eyes peel open, A long drool of saliva drags from my raising mouth. I get dressed noticing my belongings still wedged in my groin. I hear the sound of morning traffic and the distinct chugging and screeching of wheels on train tracks. Im Shocked to firstly be alive and unharmed, and second to already be more than halfway of the journey to Munich, way ahead of time. A nearby hostel offering cheap accommodation seems like a good place to celebrate for a few nights. At seven euros a night I become aware that sleeping on the street is perhaps not worth the small financial gain, vowing never to spend another night of the streets of Poland. I meet some hostel guests thrilled to hear about my adventure, most are planning to join the bar crawl that evening which I sign up for too.
Warsaw was decimated, laying in rubble, after the second world war. The old town was rebuilt and maintains its classical European old town feel. In a stark contrast, other parts of the city contain massive sky scrapers, giving the city a modern advanced look, a rare sight in most European cities.
Buoyed by my successful first day of hitch hiking I decided to make the trip itinerary a little more interesting. I headed out to the next advised hitching spot trying to go north west via Berlin, on a scenic route to Munich. I again woke late and hungover and started my hitch in the early afternoon on a Monday.
I met a bunch of fellow hitchers on their way to pick fruit in France. They took the first ride, mine came about half an hour later. A nerdy IT family man drove me an hour on the freeway. Jumping out at a gas station I notice the slowing Monday afternoon traffic. An hour later another middle aged man with a car jam packed full of booster seats and children’s toys picks me up. He introduces himself as Igor, he can’t speak very good English but after several attempts and the help of my massive BERLIN sign, he roughly understands my task. He calls his wife and about three of his friends on separate occasions to tell them of his lost companion from Tasmania, and prods me to speak for proof. ‘Say hello to my wife’ he says, when I introduce myself they both simultaneously burst out laughing and continue chatting in Polish.
Acknowledging the slim chance of making it to Berlin that day I follow Igor to the small town where he is driving to for work. Igor tells me there is a hotel I can stay, and bus from the town in the morning going direct to Berlin. He drops me at the hotel that simply displays, in massive lettering H O T E L. I walk inside the empty building, there are no lights and the switches I activate fail to produce any light. The front desk is empty, cables hang from the roof, and carpet has been half torn from the entrance hallway. I can faintly hear someone inside so I instinctively call out for assistance. An angry old Polish lady noisily ushers me back outside. I point to the sign and she shakes her head slamming the door in my face. I walk to a kebab shop and asks the shop keeper for directions to a hotel. After a short delay a small child grabs me by the hand leading down a series of twists and turns through dark alleyways. When We eventually emerge, the boy points aggressively at the building which familiarly reads H O T E L. I thank the boy for his help and decide to search the area alone. The pact I made with myself to never sleep on Polish streets looked likely of being broken.
The tiny town was much smaller than Igor had explained. As I walked I found the bus stop Igor talked about and confirmed it did indeed head to Berlin at 6am the next day. Just as I was close to settling for another ‘concrete slab near train tracks’ type of set up, I stumbled across ‘Hostel 64’. A clear improvement on H O T E L was that this place was actually what was being advertised. The reception was closed, with a note on the desk to call this number for out of hours check ins. I don’t own a phone, but found one of many humans that did, and borrowed it to call the number to no answer. I then tried unsuccessfully to twist the door handles on the rooms, hoping for an unlocked one, to score an empty bed. Both first and second floors were all locked. The final flight of stairs led to a small landing in front of a plantroom sized door which I presumed held all the buildings services. This door was also locked but the landing itself was large enough to fit my yoga mat. I switched off the stairway light and prepared my bed, setting an alarm for 4:45am, fifteen minutes before reception was due to open.
I woke to the buzzing alarm echoing in the stairway. I quickly shut it off, climbed down the staircase, took a shower, and headed out onto the street, the reception chair still empty. I had no idea where I was in relation to the city or even which part of Poland I was in. A local gas station attendant showed me on a map which suggested I had two options, head south, back towards where I came from, and try to jump back on the westerly route to Munich. Or head north in the direction of Szczecin in a triangular route to Berlin. I decided on the latter and stuck out my thumb on a highway with a sign that was poorly spelt Szecin, but which I deemed good enough. A minute later a former ambulance driver invited me inside his tiny car, and clearly hadn’t forgotten his training in ambulance truck school. We reached the outskirts of Szczecin in record time and he dropped me at what he believed would be the best spot for cars going to Berlin. He was wrong.
Four and a half hours later, when all hope appeared lost, on a tiny gas station near the Polish-German border, completely empty of vehicles, my knight in shining armour pulls in. A large family sedan, driven by a father with a small teenage boy in the passenger seat, and his grandmother in the back. They are headed to Berlin airport because the boy is flying to Paris to compete in a mathematics competition. In the four and a half hours ive been desperately displaying my BERLIN sign not a single car has stopped and only a hand full have driven past. In desperation id drawn an Australian flag on my sign to indicate how far away from home I was. Just as its about to start pouring with rain, I climb into the backseat with grandma where she feeds me scones, cake, biscuits, and a cup of hot tea.
Im ecstatic in the sudden change of circumstances and spend the first hour happily conversing with the friendly family before I pass out asleep on grandma’s shoulder. When we arrive at the airport I catch a bus to Berlin Central and check into ‘the three pigs’ hostel.
I booked two nights in a shared dorm. Inside the eight bed room, alone, rocking on an unstable wooden armchair, gazing out a fully opened window, smoking a cigarette, is a fifty-year-old german man completely naked. Without turning his head, a deep, thick german accent introduces himself as, Lucifer, from Berlin. He goes on to tell me he loves this particular room, its his favourite, and he books it for a weekend once a month, to enjoy the chaos that Berlin offers. I tell the chatty naked German that it was nice to meet you, im going to get some dinner, immediately, he offers his extensive knowledge of the local cuisine, and decides he’ll come along, to show me the best Chinese in town.
A now fully clothed Lucifer uses Aldi to unnecessarily refuel his alcohol intake. He stumbles about the store, insulting customers and fumbling over the mini spirit bottles isle. Most of the liquor gets consumed before we even make it to the counter, and the cashier cops a tirade of abuse only German people can understand. Lucifer barely makes it across the road without being hit by the patient traffic and collapses on a bench nearby a soccer pitch.
With Lucifer occupied with his Aldi purchases I wander over and introduce myself to Letitia, a pretty 26 year old German, who is taking a rest from a bike ride around the city. Letitia and I find an immediate attraction, and is surprisingly even less bothered than I am, by the bizarre antics of the third wheel, Lucifer. In fact me and Letitia find the man to be rather amusing, especially when we arrive at the ‘best Chinese in Berlin’, a tiny and tasteless noodle box store located in a busy food court. I farewell Letitia and gladly accept an invitation to spend the following evening at her apartment. Lucifer goes missing and reappears that night at 4am in his beloved hostel room.
At 4am the quiet dorm room lights switch on and Lucifer charges in fifteen times more drunk than when I last saw him. He immediately strips off his clothes and begins shouting racists remarks to a young Japanese boy who was fast asleep, with no idea how to react to his abrupt change of circumstances. A gay couple from Bahrain verbally attack Lucifer for disturbing the peace which sends him into a homophobic outrage. The furious Bahraini men march down to the reception desk to complain. Shortly after, Lucifer, despite his protests, is finally convinced to put on some clothes, and leave the hostel. The gay men and I celebrate his departure by sharing a freshly rolled joint, and fall into a deep sleep as the berlin sun rises, while the Asian boy lay petrified in the corner of his bed.
After a wonderful night at Letitias apartment my final day of hitchhiking was an anticlimactic end to the adventure. I stood at another hitchwiki recommended spot for almost six hours. In the afternoon, as I began contemplating making my way back to Berlin, I stuck out my thumb in one last attempt. As the cars drove by a big, green, flix bus rolled past with the word MUNICH written on the front. The bus passed me in what seemed to be slow motion, I saw the passengers sitting comfortably, held up my sign and waved a dejected arm. I walked back to the city and booked myself a one way Flixbus to Munich for the following day, arriving just in time to start work at Oktoberfest for two months.
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