In autumn 2016, I became a digital nomad. Taking the first steps travelling Europe and working from no matter what country and location, I hitchhiked from Maastricht, the Netherlands to Salzburg, Austria.
After a try-out period of hitchhiking and camping in the Netherlands, I crossed the German border 13th of December 2016. My first goal was the ‘Tribe of Likatien’ community in Füssen, a village in the south west of Germany.
After filming in two ecological communities in the Netherlands, my plan was to make a documentary about Tribe of Likatien and present this to them personally.
From Füssen I would go to Zürich to visit Paul, an inner circle friend. I could stay in his apartment during the Christmas holidays.
My final destination was Salzburg, in the first or second week of 2017.
After four weeks in Maastricht, sleeping in a tent in an abandoned park and using the public library as a work location, I took the jump to hitchhike through Germany, but with a small step first: from Maastricht to Aachen, 30 kilometres.
Starting Tuesday late afternoon, I arrived to Aachen in two rides. First to a petrol station just before the German border. And after half an hour I got a ride to Aachen. Some hundreds of meters from the highway exit, near the soccer stadium of Alemannia Aachen I got out of the car.
My intention was to follow the principle that in an unknown city, my arrival place would lead to either the next ride or a good place to spend the night. So, I watched the soccer stadium and its surroundings for possibilities to spend the night. It was a broad area with a park, lots of trees and large parking spaces.
I walked to the backside of the stadium and found a huge parking space. It was abandoned, apart from four trucks at the far edge. The trucks looked as if they had been there for quite a while, so probably long-term parking. They would give shelter and I put up my tent behind the trucks.
After a fresh night and a cold and sunny Wednesday morning, I wrapped up my tent, hid my backpack and one bag in the bushes and walked to the close-by supermarket for breakfast.
From there, I walked to the Aachen city center and found my working location: the ‘Mayerische Buchhandlung’, a large bookstore with a quiet area to read and work on the top floor.
The bookstore closed at nine in the evening and I spent the rest of the evening walking around the old city, visiting the atmospheric ‘Weinachtsmarkt’. Around midnight, I returned to the soccer stadium and put up my tent again.
After doing this three nights and three days, I considered this first experience successful, as I was able to sustain myself in a city abroad: find a safe and free sleeping place, do my work at a comfortable location and enjoy myself in the evening. It was time for the 800-kilometre jump to the south of Germany.
I had checked the city map of Aachen for a ‘raststätte’, the typical German highway restaurant. These are the best locations for hitchhiking, as they provide shelter when it’s cold and raining, good lighting when it is dark and the possibility to address drivers personally.
The closest raststätte was too far away though: ‘Aachener Land’, at some 10 kilometres from the stadium. With a large backpack and two heavy bags, I considered this too much of a challenge.
So, late Saturday morning I walked to the location where I had entered Aachen three days before: ‘Aachen Zentrum’. The location was all right, mainly cars coming from the city center entering the highway. I had a cardboard sign ‘Stuttgart’, which I thought was a good destination in the middle between Aachen and the south of Germany.
After two hours, it started to drizzle. Unfortunately, this location had no shelter. And when half an hour later the drizzle turned into rain, I had to find shelter and wait for the rain to pass.
Another half an hour later there was no sign of weather change and I started to consider the hike to the raststätte. Under these weather conditions and with darkness falling early this time of year, it would now be my best option.
The moment the rain became less intense I started walking. I kept as close to the highway as possible, figuring that by doing so I would encounter the raststätte automatically. Unfortunately, there are no other access roads to raststättes than the highway. My route consisted mainly of small dirt roads. Now and then I had to cross meadows and potato fields in order to stay close to the highway. With rain pouring continuously and fully packed, the hike gradually became a military drill-like exercise.
Above this, I had to cross some dangerous highway junctions and exits. As it had become dark in the meantime, I had to watch out for the fast driving cars and trucks. Both for my sake and for the drivers’ sake. A fully packed hitchhiker suddenly appearing in the headlights, in worst-case scenario could cause an accident or collision.
The last stretch was relatively comfortable. I followed the highway road side, a one and a half meter wide grass strip. After nearly three hours, finally the first sign to the raststätte appeared: 1000 metres to go. Counting down every 100 metres, I arrived at Aachener Land totally exhausted and soaking wet.
I put on dry clothes and asked drivers to take me to Stuttgart, but no luck. After half an hour I got to cold, found a hidden piece of grass at the picnic area, put up my tent there and spent my first night camping on a raststätte.
Sunday morning started sunny and I took time to dry my clothes and tent. Around eleven, I walked to the raststätte. Lots of cars coming for gas, lots of drivers going in to pay and buy coffee, no one helping me to get to Stuttgart though.
After some time, looking for other options I noticed a large part of the traffic passing the petrol station, heading for the raststätte restaurant right away. I decided to try my luck there and walked to the restaurant. While still looking for the perfect place to set myself up near the entrance, a dark station wagon approached. Impulsively I raised my cardboard sign. The station wagon stopped immediately.
Though blocking the road completely, the driver got out and took all the time to put my backpack and two bags in the trunk. Marcel was a car salesman from Liège, Belgium. He was on his way to visit his girlfriend in Vienna, a thousand-kilometre ride.
Hearing this made my Saturday night military exercise and camping at the raststätte worthwhile in an instant. These are the rides hitchhikers dream about. It meant I could get to the south of Germany in one rush, maybe somewhat too far to the east, but I couldn’t care less.
After a seven-hour ride and very interesting conversations with Marcel, we approached Passau, the last city before the Austrian border. After dropping me off at the raststätte, Marcel continued to Vienna and I spent a second night camping at a raststätte.
Southern Germany was cold, temperatures close to freezing. I woke up with sunshine, with a frost covered tent. It was now Monday 19th of December, the last week before Christmas.
This week I had two deadlines. First, my visit to the Tribe of Likatien. I was going to propose them to make a documentary about life in the community. To escape the publicity policies most of these communities have nowadays, I was onto a ‘knock-on-the-door’-strategy: visit them, get to speak to someone, introduce myself, make a proposition and arrange for a follow up.
The second deadline was visiting Paul in Zürich. He would leave on Friday to go to the Netherlands for Christmas. It would be nice to arrive to Zürich some days before Friday and spend time with Paul.
So here I was at the southern border of Germany, some 300 kilometres too far east. I first had to get back to München, as Füssen was exactly on the other side of München. At the raststätte, while making the cardboard sign ‘München’, I noticed a guy aged thirty-something drinking coffee near his car. He looked like on the road for business.
Anton was from Czech Republic, an electro technical engineer working for a German firm, on the road every day. Driving 800 to 1000 kilometres a day was business as usual. He was on his way to Koblenz today, 600 kilometers to the north of Passau.
After two hours and approaching München, Anton got confused about directions. He missed the direction to München and we ended up heading north. Hopefully, we would get to a raststätte soon.
Unfortunately, the distance between raststättes was considerable and I was now going back to where I had come from the day before. And it was a challenge even more to find a location with raststättes in both north and south direction, so I could cross the highway and resume my journey south again.
After seventy kilometres, finally a raststätte in sight. I got out of the car and trusting there would be a raststätte at the opposite side, I went for a coffee and a meal first. But when I checked with the man behind the counter, his answer was ‘no’. There was no possibility to hitchhike to the south.
I checked online and found out that Augsburg was close and taking the train was the best option. The distance to Augsburg center was around eight kilometres, the train from Augsburg to Füssen took around two hours. Arriving to Füssen Monday evening was a very attractive idea, so I started the hike to Augsburg.
Two hours later, I bought a train ticket to Füssen and one hour later I was in a comfortable train to cover the last 100 kilometers. Gradually, the landscape became whiter and whiter, until fifty kilometres from Füssen it was completely snow-covered.
On entering Füssen, I looked out the window for any clues to a sleeping location. Just before we entered the station, I saw a park to my right. This seemed worthwhile to check it out.
Five minutes later I got out of the train, together with a surprising number of Asian people with large suitcases, tourists obviously. I supposed they all visited Füssen for its major attraction: the world famous, beautiful and romantic ‘Schloss Neuschwanstein’, less than 5 kilometers from the city.
Half an hour later I arrived to the snow covered park, climbed the fence and with still quite some people passing the park, I silently put up my tent, using the protection of two large conifers.
The next morning, fresh snow had fallen. I wrapped up my tent and walked into the center. Around ten-thirty I was on Magnusplatz in front of Bio Café Baumgarten, the contact address of the Tribe of Likatien.
I entered, introduced myself and asked for a representative of the tribe. The young woman behind the counter looked at me with astonishment and told me to wait a moment. She poured me a cup of coffee and made a phone call.
Twenty minutes later, the spokeswoman of the Tribe of Likatien arrived. After I laid out my plan, she told me that the tribe normally would not take a request like this in consideration. But as these were special circumstances, they would consider it and confer over it.
At eleven I was on the Magnusplatz again, utterly satisfied and proud. I had traveled 1,000 kilometers for a 30-minute visit to Bio Café Baumgarten and the ‘knock-on-the-door’-strategy had gotten me the result I had hoped for. The last stage now was to reach Zürich, within one or two days. I now started to look forward to the Christmas holidays.
I walked back to the train station, to check the tourist office for the best way to hitchhike to Switzerland. Half an hour later, I was at a roundabout just to the north of Füssen. I made my final cardboard sign for this journey: Zürich.
It was around noon, the day was bright and sunny, snow covered mountains all around. I felt happy that I still had half a day to get as close to Zürich as possible. Distance to cover: 250 kilometre.
After waiting for an hour at the roundabout, I got a ride to Kempten: 50 kilometres down, 200 to go. After fifteen minutes in Kempten, a ride to Lindau: 135 to go. Another fifteen minutes later, to Bregenz, close to the Swiss border: 120 to go.
With Zurich coming within reach faster than expected, I sent Paul a message to ask if he could pick me up when I was within reach of Zürich. He could pick me up in the evening after work if I was within 100 kilometres from Zürich.
After half an hour, I got a ten-kilometre ride to a petrol station in the center of Bregenz. Practically all traffic to Switzerland would pass there. I stood at the roadside before the entrance of the petrol station, so both drivers passing by and those visiting the petrol station could stop for me.
After one hour, darkness fell and I walked back to be in the lights of the petrol station. I addressed the drivers that stopped for gas, but they were merely locals getting home for the evening. As it became cold as well, I started to feel uncomfortable. Considering the option that I could get stuck in the middle of Bregenz, I checked the surroundings of the petrol station for sleeping opportunities.
Then a young woman stopped, a nice looking lady. At first she reacted somewhat cautious, but after she checked my story and I assured her I had a passport and did not carry anything that could cause her trouble at the border, she decided to take me as her passenger.
Steffi was on her way from Dresden to Zürich. I was happy to hear this, but it put me in an inner conflict as well. I now had two options: all the way to Zürich with Steffi or to the closest raststätte to Zürich and send a message to Paul to pick me up.
As I didn’t know to which part of Zurich I had to go, I considered it a risk to get dropped in a dark and unknown city. On the other hand, Steffi was pleasant company, a chatterbox and a beautiful lady. Going all the way with her was an attractive option as well.
Despite her pleasant company, I asked Steffi to drop me off at the closest raststätte to Zürich. From there I could send Paul a message and I would be sure to reach my final destination comfortably. Unfortunately, this turned out the worst decision of my journey.
After Steffi dropped me at raststätte Forrenberg-Nord, about thirty kilometres before Zürich, I realized I probably had to wait at this cold and dark raststätte for some hours. I went to the Burger King to send Paul a Facebook message. Just before I could startup Facebook, the battery of my laptop went down.
Then I found out I was in Switzerland the hard way. Switzerland is a country that likes having its own unique systems and stuff, like totally different connections and sockets for electricity. I could not use my adaptor. I asked for a socket adaptor, which was not available.
I could not use my IPhone either, as I had run out of phone credit back in Füssen. Fortunately, a visitor was willing to let me use his smartphone. From his Facebook account I sent Paul a message that I was waiting at Forrenberg-Nord.
First I waited at the Burger King, around ten o’clock it closed. I had to wait outside. The temperature came to zero. As I figured Paul had to work until ten, it would be less than an hour now.
Around eleven, still no sign of Paul. As I knew he worked as a chef in a restaurant, I figured it was likely that finishing and closing took more time, maybe he had a beer with colleagues. So, Paul arriving around 12 was maybe more probable.
I checked my phone at a quarter to 12. Twelve o’clock passed. And around one o’clock I let go of the hope that Paul would pick me up and began to accept the thought that Paul had not got my message. Instead of arriving to Zurich with Steffi, I spent a cold night at Forrenberg-Nord, in front of the Burger King.
I woke up around seven. It was Wednesday morning. The first drivers arrived to the raststätte for gas and coffee. I wrapped up my bunch and after ten minutes, a middle aged man, clearly the hippie type in his younger days, said yes. He could take me to Zurich airport. And asked me the best possible question, if I would like a coffee as well.
Around nine I arrived at Zürich airport. I expected the international airport to have the right sockets, but after searching and asking around for 15 minutes I accepted that Zürich is in Switzerland as well. A young guy in a coffee bar with a MacBook was gladly willing to let me send a message. From my own account this time. Paul responded immediately, he would pick me up within half an hour.
With a visit to the supermarket, coffee and breakfast, my five weeks of challenge and discomfort came to an end. Four weeks Maastricht and one week Germany had taken their toll. I was dirty, exhausted, I needed a shower very badly.
On Friday, Paul left for the Netherlands for Christmas holidays. I could stay in his apartment until he returned. For 10 days, I had total freedom, total comfort and an abundance of foods and drinks. As Paul is a chef in a restaurant, he takes home left overs daily, resulting in a fridge and freezer overloaded with high quality food and drinks.
This felt like a luxury vacation, I fully surrendered to it. I slept till late every day, had lots of morning coffees, had luxury dinners and found myself in front of the TV many hours.
Late in the evenings, I found time to pick up an old hobby: music editing and mixing. I had a song that was challenging to remix: “Struggle for Pleasure”, by Soft Verdict, a not so well-known song from the eighties.
In Zürich I had the inspiration and the patience to finish the mix and add a video track. Inspired by my travel experience, I put it on my new YouTube channel. The name of the channel and my intention for the new year as well: “Surrender2Pleasure”.