Hitchhiking to Berlin

Trip: Hitchhiking competition to Berlin
Date: 3 – 5 October 2014
Route: Den Haag (Netherlands) – Hengelo (Netherlands) – Osnabrück (Germany) – Melle (Germany) – Hannover (Germany) – Magdeburg (Germany) – Potsdam (Germany) – Berlin (Germany)
Transport to Berlin: Train, hitchhiking
Transport in Berlin: U-Bahn, S-Bahn, train
Company: Aegee Delft
Stayed the night at: Happy Go Lucky Hotel (which is actually a hostel)
Highlights: Spreepark Berlin
MapBerlin
Unfortunately, the map isn’t as clear as I would like it to be, but for a clearer view, you can click here: http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=2w2ph0k&s=8

Getting started
Friday the third of October, at 6.45 am, a bunch of tired, but excited TU-delft students had gathered at the Ikea parking lot. This was where our “rat race” would start. In teams of two (or exceptionally of three) their day began by politely stalking Ikea-customers in hope for a ride towards the Eastern border. However, I was not one of the students there. I like my bed way to much to stand at te Ikea Parking lot at 6.45 in the morning. Besides, I was then still living near the Hague, where a few teams got dropped of as their first stop anyways. Would have been useless.

To avoid all this trouble, I had carefully selected my hitchiking partner. He had to do a presentation in the morning, so we couldn’t leave untill somewhat lunchtime. Perfect. As the “inconvenience” of my buddy’s presentation caused us over 6 hours of delay and most of our opponents had already passed the German border by far, we did not consider it cheating to catch a train to Hengelo, near the German border. So that it was we did.

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The petrol station at the higway that runs near Hengelo was said to be a good one to start hitchhiking from. This left a challenge: How to get to a highway petrol station without a car. Option one was finding a local petrol station or parking lot and waiting for someone who could drop us of at the right side of the highway. We soon agreed that it was probably going to take ages, because the thing with local facilities is that most people using them do not usually have the intention to travel much further. We chose the other option, luckily the weather was nice. One aspect in our advantage, you must not forget that highways are designed to keep pedestrians away from it…

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Having jumped two ditches, climbed a few fences, tumbled down a hill and our skins itchy from nettles and our feet soaked from swampy ground, we made it to far-famed Hengelo-higway petrol station. Relieved to have arrived, only to find out that we only just got started.

On the move (or well, almost)
The first sight we got at the parking lot was the truck parking lot, then the gas station itself, with a normal parking lot and rest area behind it. Everything looked promising until… Yep, two other couples that participated in our competition were there. And that was not all of it, there was another non-related hitchhiking couple from the Netherlands on their way. They had all been stuck there for while. Maybe this was not the way to go.

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Four sets of hitchikers and only so many people on the move. Running towards every passing car with an eight-headed team would scare off any senisble driver, so we had to make arrangements. One group could stand at the petrol station, one at the rest area and one at the trucker area while the others could sit down on a little grassy spot, enjoying smell of gasoline and the sight of passing cars and failing hitchhikers. That’s a way to go you would think, if it had not been the 3rd of October, it would have been. However, after speaking to several Polish truch drivers (in a language that neither resembled English nor German)  it became clear that, what none of us unprepared, ignorant travellers had known, today was a German public holiday: German Unity day, to celebrate the German unification in 1990, who would have thought.

This new knowledge meant that none of the truckers (who are actually not supposed to take hitchhikers in the first place, but hey, rules are there to be broken) was going to go anywhere until 22 hours later. I had computed a bit of waiting time in this journey, but 22 hours seems to be overdoing it a bit. This left us with one spot less and two teams on hold.

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First come, first go, that is what the arrangement was. Us lazy laties had two wait until two teams were gone until we could start, but once we got started, oh boy. Not sure if it was my female charm or that we just got lucky, but at the moment my buddy had left me alone for two minutes, I ended up speaking to a couple that was about to leave in a car with a German license plate. You should know that my German is never going to get me far, and my grammar equals that of a two-year old, but I tried. I tried and I was flabbergasted when the man replied with: “No speak English”. Seeking for words and pronouncing my words with utmost precision, I tried again…. and got the exact same reply, followed by: “wife english” . Since when had my German gotten so bad that it resembled English even in the slightest?

Not so hopeful, but curious, I turned to his wife and started speaking to her in English. She could tell me that they were an Israeli couple, here for a roadtrip through Europe, driving a German rental car. I understood that the man wasn’t being rude, judging my German or making fun of me in any way. He actually had no clue. Brave as they were, as a couple in a foreign country, with only limited skills to communicate with us, they decided to let is get in. They warned us that they were eventually heading to Berlin, but had no idea how far they would go today or where they would spend the night. No worries, we were quite happy to be mobile again, as long as they would drop us of at another, rather large petrol station on the way.

In the car, communication wasn’t easy, but we sort of got along. The woman put on a range of different Israeli musicians and tried to learn to pronounce our names, while we tried to learn theirs. Everytime we passed another city on the way, it got us closer to our destination and with every city we passed hope grew that we might still reach Berlin before midnight. Both of us were opposed to finding a hostel as well as hitchhiking at night. The road continued, it got later, started to get dark and we were still going, untill, all of a sudden, the car pulled up at a petrol station that I believed was near Magdeburg. Okay. So that was it. So close, but still so far. And twilight.

We were positively surprised when the woman spoke, they were only going to get something to eat here, invited us to have something as well and we might as well join them all the way to Berlin, tonight still. There was no way we had expected that the moment we got in the car with those people. They had been friendly and polite, but a bit distant, probably just in case they needed to get rid of us for whatever reason. I bought them coffee as a big thank you, there was not much else we could do and then time flew. Around 9 pm, it was time to say farewell to our new, short-term friends. We had arrived!

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Going underground
The next half hour was spent looking for the hostel where we would be staying and meeting the others, hostel Happy Go Lucky. Funny enough, starting late (and cheating by train, but still) we were not the last ones to arrive. We still found we had quite some time to settle in our dorms while waiting for the last ones to arrive. The rooms by the way, were insanely large for the price we were paying for them and had a private shower and toilet for every four-bed dorm. Amazing, if you ever go to Berlin, this is an absolute recommendation.

When everyone was there (but one group, who were probably not going to make it anytime soon), the winner was announced and the big group split up into several smaller once, according to interest. On the way to the hostel I had spotted several huge plastic bears, that appear to be the symbol of Berlin, but I had not only seen those. My eye had fallen on a cocktail-bar where they had a happy hour, 2 cocktails for the price of one, in the street of our hostel, no matter what, that was where I was going.

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One enormous tasty cocktail (it was called a kangaroo, has anyone ever heard of that?) later, I was feeling a bit jumpy and time was ticking, we only had two nights in Berlin, so we decided to move on to what is, according to a friend, the real Berlin: the underground-techno scene.

As a word-joke and, because Berlin is supplied with a good, but incredibly hard to understand train, u-bahn, s-bahn, tram-system, I think we took the metro (underground) to the place where we wanted to go. However, since this was located a bit remote – for as far as anything can be remote in a big city – and the trains had a problem, we had to walk for some 20 minutes. Getting closer to the area where the club, called Suicide Circus, was located, we passed some stands where men with foreign roots were selling the crappiest food you have ever seen. However, it was obviously not food what the business was about. If you mumble the right order, this is the place to get your dance-moves and energy till 8 am in pill or powder-form, whatever you want man.

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Source: http://www.theclubmap.com

As some people, who looked a little hazy, started bothering us and a fight broke out not to far away we decided it was time to move on. Off to Suicide Circus it was.

Not being personally interested in techno or underground clubs the world behind the industrial-setting and grumpy-looking bouncer, was a rather new one. Ten euros entry-fee is considered normal, even low for those parties. I was thinking I could get myself another two cocktails for that price, but c’ mon, off we go. Don’t want to miss the “real”  Berlin of course.

The atmosphere was typical, mysterious, I must admit, the people are diverse and all off in their own pretty little world. It was a Friday night, but it was not extremely busy in the club. There were multiple rooms, part outside and a DJ was playing in the main one. A light show was playing on a beamer, nothing too interesting, but I think I can see the fun of it when your head is spinning on something stronger than one cocktail and a couple of beers.

The beauty of the abscense of everybody around you is that no one cares. My dance moves are the worst, but when the world around you is in your own bubble anyway, why would you care. I absolutely enjoyed every minute of trying to dance, walking around and moreover watching people. They amused me. These were the kind of people that seemed to not exist in everyday life. They dance, come up to you and poke around you, as if your surrounded by little bubbles, they kiss with 5 different completely strangers in the same night, they dance more untill there legs turn jelly and the sun comes up. That is when they leave the club and see to dissapear off the Earth, untill the next party. In all the time between entering the club and dissapearing, they have danced and poked and kissed, but they have also been to the bathroom several times. And the bathroom in Suicide Circus, it unsurprisingly looks like the bathroom in Trainspotting.

Lederhosen and history
Having seen “underground” Berlin it was time to drink a few large coffees and get back on our feet. The other part (or parts) of Berlin awaited us. The part of Berlin that all tourists get to see, not just the young and experimental ones. No need to worry, Berlin being Berlin has bratwurst and (half) litres of beer everywhere. Despite this seemingly unlimited amount of beer, day and night in Berlin differ like Jeckyll & Hyde.

The day started of slowly, with a tour past all the standard must-see monuments: The Berlin wall, Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor and the Fernsehturm. Not to forget the holocaust monument. The last one intrigued me, because it is a memorial  to all the Jewish victims of a terrible war, but the monument itself is used as a place to be merry and play hide-and-seek, rather than to mourn. Of course there is more than that and of course you must visit these places. However, I do not want to spend to many words on these buildings and monuments. They are the type of buildings that I like to look at and take a picture of, because they look like they are important buildings. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to feel the story that these buildings tell, the history they have seen. This makes me reluctant to speak about them too much, because all I know is what Wikipedia told me. There will be a short summary of some points of interest on the Berlin page. My tip, either get a good and motivated guide or just stroll through town and enjoy whatever you happen to stroll past.

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On our tour through the city we were lucky enough to meet a group of jolly men in lederhosen, who were very happy to be the setting of a photo for a few pretty girls. Please don’t start to believe that it is a custom to wear lederhosen in Germany, or even Berlin. That would be like thinking that we wobble around in wooden clogs in Holland. It is just that it happened to be Oktoberfest (celebrated mainly in München, but the scent of it had reached Berlin too), an enormous festival that includes regional attire and lots and lots of beer.

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Having taken photos of all the “important buildings” in the city, a smaller version of Oktoberfest was where we ended up for the afternoon, spending way to much money on half liters of beer, served to us by an unfortunately not so pretty girl in a dirndl, but who cares, the more you drink…

Adventure time
Time flies when you’re drinking. This explains the leap in time I’m taking here. Various visits to the toilet in a massive office complex and one dinner in a German beer café later we stood outside, time had whooshed past and it’s safe to say that we were all a bit tipsy at least. It is funny by the way how some restaurants still seem to think that they can make vegetarian customers happy by serving a pile of cheap, overcooked veggies with instant cheese-sauce. Lucky for them that the great amount of choice in specialty beers made up for the lack of quality food. And honsestly, what else would you expect in a restaurant with a focus on beer. Beer-battered chips and bratwurst would probably be the only meal that they would serve well.

The next question was, what to do next, after all, this would be our last night in this city already. A story had been going around about an old and deserted theme park in East-Berlin. It wasn’t too hard to get to, the S-Bahn would safely transport you to either Plänterwald or Treptower Park, from where you could walk. I am an absolute coward, but I am a curious one. This is not the ultimate combination of characteristics to posess, but I am very glad that my curiousity usually beats my lack of courage as everything that thrills me is usually what I remember as the best part of wherever I may go.

In this case, that place was Spreepark Berlin. I had gathered four brave men to come with me. A group of five was discouraged by the girl who had been there before. “Five is too many, you should go in groups of two or three maximum!” No problem. Five can split into two and three.

So off we went, it was dark and when we got off the train problem one was knowing where to go. We just started walking and happened to walk into the right direction. The way is not hard to find, literally straightforward all the way, but it is a reasonably long walk, half an hour maybe and with all that adrenaline rushing through your body it seems to take even longer. However, if you persist, at one point you will reach the entrance of a forest. This is just a regular forest, but it is dark and your thoughts are haunted by ghosts of deceased thema park visitors, crazy killing circus artists and bloodthirsty guards. I get a bit shaky now even thinking of that feeling.

So fidgeting with the flash on our phones, that were oviously all not charged properly, we tried to find our way through the dark forest. There is a footpath and everything, just follow the path. I was clutching the people on both my left and right side into some kind of wrestle-grip. The whole setting started working on my nerves and I knew that it wansn’t just me. Not only the sensation of walking towards an abandoned theme park was working up the thrill, it was this in combination with the fear of getting caught. This theme park was said to be strictly guarded by guards with massive dogs.

We passed two people in the bush. What were they doing there? Were they watching us? They were most likely just smoking a joint, but hey. We weren’t doing anything wrong yet. This is when we arrived: a huge fenced off area in the middle of the park. There is a normal looking house just outside of the fence and the majestic ferris wheel can easily be spotted from outside the fence. Well, not so easy because it was dark, but you get the idea.

The five of us walked around the fence, trying not to make to much noise and trying even harder to catch a glimpse of the other attractions. The darkness and neglected vegetation didn’t help. At one point, all the way on the other side of the park, we found the perfect spot. Out of sight of lights, cool. Two of my companions had volunteered to go first. We made the arrangement that they would be back in half an hour max, so they climbed over the fence and dissapeared.

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Spreepark Berlin. Source: http://www.lightsniper.de

The three of us started pacing up and down, trying not to get cold, watching the spot where we were expecting our friends to reappear, but the spot remained lifeless. We waited and waited, had seen all there was to see by peeking past the fence (this was pretty impressive already). The half hour had passed and there was still no sign of the boys that had dissapeared into the haunted theme park, until a light shone from amidst the park. This light was bright, really bright, brighter than the flash light of an almost empty mobile phone. “What are they doing?” “I think they got caught.”

Hearts beating fast, there was nothing we could do but wait. The beer was losing its power and I did not want to give the guys a call, just in case I might ruin a police interrogation or such. We waited longer and it seemed to get colder every minute. Then my phone rang.

Rumors about guards patrolling the park had been well-founded. The park was guarded by a team at least four men strong, no dogs though, and my silly companions had been stupid enough to leave their cover and start walking on the main path, because “they were sure there was no one there” and the guards are obviously not dressed in colourful glow-in-the-dark attire, so that you could easily see them coming.  The two had been escorted out, nothing major, and were now waiting for us at the train station. One of the two had a hole in his hand (literally), injured himself climbing over the fence. Shocking!

We set foot to meet them. Partly still thrilled, partly dissapointed that the three of us now hadn’t had the chance to go in and explore more of the park. I do want to go back one day though, with a better prepartion and preferably by daylight, in an attempt to take pictures. Nevertheless, absolutely worth the trip. Spreepark Berlin is the perfect horror movie setting.

Backing away again
Two interesting nights and a cultural day spend in Berlin, having been very lucky with the weather, we were satisfied, but exhausted when we left the city Sunday morning. Hitchhiking is fun on the way there, but it’s dreading when there is nothing you would rather do then just go home and relax.

The way back started terrible, the train that should get us closer to the highway wasn’t going (but a friendly German and his parents helped us out there). Then a couple in a Mercedes rejected our request for a ride, but in a very rude way (I told you so, they are driving a Mercedes) and another team was still at the same petrol station. Suddenly our luck turned. The others got picked up soon and someone actually offered us a ride, instead of the other way around (We’ve been stuck in traffic forever. I pulled over at this petrol station and asked my girlfriend to get me a coke and some hitchhikers for my entertainment. And now that you are here, we can’t possibly not take you). This amazing couple brought us all the way back to the Dutch border, where we soon found a ride all the way back to the Hague and with the unlimited highway speed in Germany, we were back before we knew it. Amazing.

P.S.
Re-reading my posts, I noticed two things:
The first being that the last bit of my post is a horrible piece of shit, while part of it was the best bit of my journey. I can’t do these long stories. Have to make sure I write everything during my trip next time, not in the long run after.

The second is that I forgot to tell you about the amazing trafficlights in Berlin! I almost got runover by a car trying to take a picture of one of these bastards, so it’s absolutely worth mentioning, yes. There is even a store called Ampfelmann (German for trafficlight-man) where you can buy all sorts of items with this guy on it. So cool!

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