The original plan had been to take the train to Weiskirchen–a small town just outside of Frankfurt–find the gas station there, and hitch hike to Munich.
So we packed our things (guitar, change of socks, road atlas, notebook, large-tipped sharpie), giggled ourselves to sleep, and left the next morning to the tune of crisp winter air and three black crows who mirrored our flight in the sky above us.
Katey and I had been planning the trip for weeks, for months–planning that she would come to Europe to visit me, that we’d go on tour with her accoustic music, that we’d hitch hike everywhere, dumpster dive everywhere, and play in as many countries as we could fit into two months at the very last minute. We’ve know each other since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and forts in the backyard, since play kitchens and sleepovers and preschool and Bridgeton Elementary. Leopard I’ve known for about a year, since wagons and Mainz and getting fired, and the night before we left, he came in to the Kinowagon where Katey was staying. “I think I’m going to come with you,” he told her. And then we were three.
Before the sun was even up, we were in Leopard’s wagon fueling up with tiny cups of espresso. “You know, it is the weekend,” he said when I sat down on the curved green couch he salvaged from the university dumpster across the street. “We could just hitch on someone’s group ticket on the train. That’s how we got home from Nürnberg last weekend.”
“Ah right, shit, it’s Saturday, I forgot. Yeah, let’s do that. That’ll be even easier than hitch hiking. Sweet.”
In a few minutes we were on a train to Aschaffenburg with three white-haired Germans with a weekend ticket. They got off in Darmstadt, and we paced up the train platform and down the train aisles, asking everyone if they had a group ticket and if we could come along. No one did. The conductor eyed us from the platform. She knew what we were doing, knew we had been hitching on the other folks’ ticket, and that if we got back on, we wouldn’t have one now. Fuck it, we said, we’ll hitch hike from here.
Outside of the train station we followed big yellow highway signs, and the map, to a path between highway and forest. Just before leaving town a 20-something on a bike with a messenger cappie pedaled up out of nowhere, told us that yeah, if we took this path to Griesheim and then went left, we should be able to walk through fields next to the highway until we came to the first gas station on the 67–“Pfungstadt”–and then he pedaled back the way he’d come, as if he’d been sent just to answer our questions, a spirit of the road, appearing only to dazed hitch hikers paralyzed by the lack of detail on their maps.
The path was next to the highway, but the air was clear. People were out walking their dogs, and once in a while, a tram buzzed past on the tracks to our left. At the underpass we cut up a small stone stairway and into the woods, certain that in thirty, forty minutes, we’d be in Pfungstadt, and on our way to Munich.
Two and a half hours later we walked back out of the woods and back into the Darmstadt train station. We’d ended up sitting up in a hunter’s stand, looking off into the distance through the little fold-out telescope Leopard keeps in a pouch on his belt.
“I don’t think we’re going to find the gas station.”
“So either we go back to the train station and try to find someone with a group ticket again, or we take a train to Frankfurt and hitch out from the gas station at Weiskirchen like we originally, originally planned.”
Back to square one, the Darmstadt train station. From there to Frankfurt Ostendstrasse. Ostendstrasse to Offenbach Ost. Offenbach Ost to Weiskirchen. Another hour and three more trains–six hours to get to a spot an hour and a half away from home. In the train I’d started to feel trapped, like we were stuck in some sort of hitch hiker’s Bermuda Triangle, like we’d never make it past Frankfurt, like we’d end the long day back in our own beds, unsure if any of it had even really happened. I swore to myself that I’d never fall for the easy lure of the train again–group ticket hopping or not–and always stick to the plan: Backpack, gas station, thumb, road. No trains, no money, no directions from travel-demon bike messengers, no telescopes necessary.
“Let’s just pretend like we didn’t want to leave early this morning. Let’s just pretend like we spontaneously decided to go hiking first, and that this was the plan all along.” We walked through Weiskirchen and after following several people’s misguided directions and a muddy field, we finally found the gas station. “Well, I think we’ve gotten all of our bad luck for the trip out of the way now. The rest will be easy, right?”
The first woman I approached was standing beside her car smoking. She was going our way, almost the whole way, and she thought she could drop us off at the rest stop before her exit. “So, how much are you willing to pay?” she wanted to know.
“Pay?” My eyes must have been like saucers. “We can’t pay you anything. That’s why we’re hitch hiking. We don’t have any money.” I guess she hadn’t heard much about hitch hiking before. Most drivers who do pick me up talk like hitch hikers are a dying breed. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. What with this recession I keep hearing about and all.
“Gasoline costs money you know,” she started in, indignantly.
“I’m sorry but we can’t pay. We don’t have any money. That’s why we’re hitch hiking.” She looked away, offended and wouldn’t look any of us in the eye. She turned back to her car.
“So I guess that’s a no then?”
She shook her head and shut the door.
Parked next to her was a man leaning against his trunk smoking. His eyes were smiling before I opened my mouth. “Do you happen to be going in the direction of Wurzburg?”
“I don’t usually do this,” he said, still smiling, “but yeah, I’ll take you.” He was older, with a salted black beard and short grey-black hair. In the car he ignored the others and told me about building facades, how he was doing a building for the Frankfurt airport expansion, how he’d been all over the world, how his car had made it to 900,000 km, and how Bavaria was the best place anywhere.
“You know, Bavaria is the richest state in Germany,” he said, eyes sparkling proudly, looking at me pointedly across the stick shift.
“Hmmm.” Hitch hiking, you refine a subtle set of “hmmms,” each with a slightly different meaning, each meant to keep the driver happy and talking until you arrive. This one said “Oh well isn’t that interesting,” without forcing me to go through the embarassment of actually pretending that I thought that was just great.
“You see, the area used to be all farming, nothing but farming. But the government, they thought about the future, and they started putting in industry. Now we have BMW and Siemens. Bavaria is the state of thinkers and inventers.”
“But wasn’t Goethe born in Hessen?” I laughed. He didn’t. Oops.
“Yes,” he said slowly, “but I’m talking about technology here. Thinkers and inventers! Richest state in the country.”
He was on his way home from work and dropped us off at the Wurzburg rest stop, an hour and a half closer to our goal.
In Wurzburg things slowed down. Some people didn’t have room, some waved us away before we’d even said a word, some only wanted to take one of us. “I think people are afraid of me,” Leopard speculated. After an hour, a blond man with horizontal chops that cut across his face said, yeah, he was going to Munich, and yeah he would take us, all three of us.
He was a lawyer, a bankruptcy lawyer. “So this recession must mean the big bucks for you huh?” I asked, trying to make it sound like a joke, hoping for insider information about the end of the financial world, and emboldened by adrenaline at having found a ride, at knowing the hard part of getting to Munich was over.
“In every situation there’s someone who wins and someone who loses,” he said, chuckling with me. He was a Frankfurter, one who looked like he wore a lot of suits and drank 8-euro cocktails on the weekends. A lawyer and a bullshitter, but friendly, the kind of friendly that has me exhausted after about an hour, which is about when my bullshitting hyperjets and the adrenaline from having found a ride right into the center of Munich in two moves start to wear off. But he drove fast, and soon we were at Kafe Kult, where we collapsed onto a big couch and into plates of vegan chili and chocolate cake.
I’ve been to Munich exactly three times. The first time, I was 17, at the beginning of a one-month exchange in Krefeld. It was my first time abroad, and everything was new and different and interesting, even rich old Munich. The second time, I was 22, meeting an old friend for a day and a drink. That’s when I noticed that there was no graffiti anywhere and that the city was startlingly clean, too clean, too put together, “we have too much money and no room for your shenanagens” oozing from every concrete pore. The third time, this time, it was a quick stopover on the way to Prague, and a chance to see Gunmob and Planks perform somewhere besides our house.
Kafe Kult, which is on the outskirts of town and just inside a park, is, as far as I can tell, the only building in all of Munich with any graffiti (even though it looks like it might be that planned, painted-in-full-daylight sort of graffiti). The concert room is just big enough for a crowd, just small enough to still be intimate when only a handful of people show up. The beer was expensive (2,30 at the cheapest), but the organizers were friendly and sweet, letting us in for free and offering us a place to sleep if we needed it. If you live in Munich you should go to their shows and give them lots of money. Munich needs as many alternative venues as it can get. Otherwise the rich people will have won, and we might as well try to keep ’em on their toes now, eh?
Leg one of the trip: check. Vegan cake, punk rock, and a schnapps taste-test at my former flatmate’s apartment: check. Now we just had to get to Prague on three hours of sleep and a hangover in time for Katey’s show at the Blind Eye on Sunday night.