Bern – Hradec Kralove Fri Apr 6

Unfortunately, I don’t find any more old photos. If I do, I’ll edit these last posts. Or, I could also edit once we have a mind-reader 😉 Woke up, had a shower, wrote “goodbye” on

Unfortunately, I don’t find any more old photos. If I do, I’ll edit these last posts. Or, I could also edit once we have a mind-reader 😉

Woke up, had a shower, wrote “goodbye” on a flyer, stole some breakfast and walked to the highway. It was 10:02 and sunny. After 7 minutes car # 27 stopped. It was a man who took me to a big gas station further down the road. There I stood at 10:13 thumbing at the exit. In front of me there were two families sitting and I got a feeling that they would eventually walk up to me and ask where I was going. After 2 minutes and 11 cars they did, and offered me a ride to St:Gallen in the North-Eastern corner of the country. I got in with one of the families – father, mother and baby – and off we went.

The father was working for the UN with making maps. When a disaster occurs somewhere on the planet, maps need to be made quickly in order to allow help to get there and that’s what he’s doing when not taking his family on beautiful trips picking up hitchhikers. The mother was a chemist and we talked about genetically modified plants. They told me that they had had a referendum and that the people had voted in favor of forbidding plantation of GM seeds on Swiss soil. Personally I don’t know where to stand on this issue, but I had to agree with my hitchhiking host when she said that “GM technology is associated with some risks that might be worth taking in order to save a country from starvation … but Switzerland isn’t really starving, so why take the risks”. Sweden isn’t starving either, so I’d vote no to GM on Swedish soil if I got the chance. But I never will. Still German citizens despite years of Swiss residence, they hadn’t got to vote either.

They used to hitchhike a lot before they got their own car and baby. In Italy they had been encountered by the police on a service area. “What do you do here?” “Eeeh … we are waiting for some friends to pick us up.” “Yeah right, and how did you get here?” “Eeeh … we were taken here by some other friends.” The police couldn’t prove that they had been – and intended to – hitchhiking so they just gave them a stern warning and left. I was shocked. I can understand the police who fined my friend Haga when he hitchhiked on the Autobahn in Austria. I can understand that the police in Germany get all grumpy when they find you walking there. It’s a non-pedestrian zone where hitchhikers might disturb the traffic. But hitchhiking on a service area is the safest thing in the world. The cars are standing still and the drivers may if they want have a look at your passport and you can have a look at their driving license and hitchhiking can be just as safe as you want it to. To prohibit the resource-efficient and social capital-building voluntarily exchange that is giving a car ride for company is fascism. I know that is abusing the term “fascism” but that’s how I feel about it. Civilized, developed and democratic countries do not have their policemen harassing hitchhikers on service areas. I hope this was something Berlusconi introduced and that Prodi will abolish.

I wrote positively about hitchhiking 15 years ago. But judging from the worst rides I’ve got, I’ve realized that while you can be as safe as you want, the conditions on the road might be so harsh that you after three hours accept rides that you would have rejected after one hour. So, before hitchhiking, picture your funeral, just to understand what’s on stake. Don’t hitchhike when you need to be somewhere at a certain time. While nothing happened on this trip, I wouldn’t do it again. But still I don’t mind it at all if I’m stuck on the countryside with buses not going, if you see the difference.

Prohibiting hitchhiking is prohibiting knowledge exchange between people. My Swiss/German host for example, asked me about the Swedish education system, at what point students are being sorted into eligible or not for university education. I said that until now there are no such stratification, that as long as you don’t drop out of school you are on your way to university, but that since September we have had a new government that has expressed the opinion that vocational high school programs should not necessarily give university eligibility. My drivers said that in Germany they divide up the kids at age 10-11 and if you are not a good student by then, then you are put in the blue-collar-worker-pile. This got me all upset of course. I told them about one of my best friends who got the highest grades in the whole school when we finished junior high and who went to the most prestigious business school in the country and got her MBA at the age of 22. If she´d been sorted out at the age of 11 she’d for sure got into the lowest kind of school there was since she hardly knew any Swedish by then, fresh as she was from the civil war in former Yugoslavia.

It’s a shame that Germany – in some respects a very progressive country – has such a segregating education system, especially since it has such a high proportion of immigrants. I remember a discussion we had about Turkey’s membership in the EU on a convention for European students of Public Administration. “We already have Turkish immigrants in our country” one participant said “but they don’t integrate”. They don’t integrate? If you put them in a school class with other immigrant children plus German kids from shaky social backgrounds, then how are they supposed to “integrate” with you? It takes two to tango, my dear Wolfgang.

Sorting the population into alpha-, beta- and epsilon-people like in Brave New World is not just disastrous from the perspective of inequality and it’s consequences material dissatisfaction, jealousy, lack of self-confidence and criminality. It is also bad from a macroeconomic perspective. We have a little thing called globalization going on. We have no idea what Pakistan, Vietnam and Tanzania will be exporting in 10 years; any of our industries can be wiped out in no time. The European economy needs to be able to change shape like the evil robot in Terminator 2. To come out on top from every wrestling game, our economy needs to mutate faster than a banana fly. Every economist needs to be able to double as a construction worker and every car mechanic needs to be ready for a 10-week course in accounting. We don’t achieve that flexibility by having our largest member state branding its 11-year-olds as university-material or non-university-material.

My drivers (both decent alfa-people) weren’t as emotional as me about this and changed the subject in the same way I try to do when I’m stuck in a car with a high mouth-to-brain-ratio-person. We stopped and had a look at the alpha-men sailing boats on the the Bodensee and then they dropped me off at the Swiss-Austrian border.

I walked across the border, showed my passport and concluded that Switzerland was a prime hitchhiking country:

Ratio Ride-offers/Cars-waved-at

  1. Switzerland 10 / 270 = 3,7%
  2. Spain 28 / 1188 = 2,4%
  3. France 15 / 1222 = 1,2%
  4. Portugal 3 / 1516 = 0,2%

Ratio Minutes-waited/Ride-offers

  1. Switzerland 45 min / 10 offers = 5 min/offer
  2. Spain 413 min / 28 offers = 15 min/offer
  3. France 237 min / 15 offers = 16 min/offer
  4. Portugal 192 min / 3 offers = 64 min/offer

Proportion of trucks:
Switzerland 0/10 = 0%
France 4/15 = 27%
Spain 8/28 = 29%
Portugal 2/3 = 67%

Switzerland Male: 8/10 = 80% Mixed: 1/10 = 10% Female: 1/10 = 10 %
France Male: 13/15 = 87% Mixed: 1/15 = 7 % Female: 1/15 = 7%
Spain Male: 21/28 = 75% Mixed: 6/28 = 21% Female: 1/28 = 4%
Portugal Male: 3/3 = 100%

I know I’ve told you a 1000 times, but let me tell you again how much I love borders. I always try to be picky when hitchhiking in these prime locations, but after only 4 sunny minutes and 18 cars I got in with a car to Nürnberg. The driver had dyed his hair a bit reddish and drove us through a city known for its lingerie production after which we were in Germany. We talked about stem cell technology and I joked that “since Christians are against it it must be good”. He smiled but told me that one shouldn’t bash religion. At one point, where he had lost his job, his wife and his father within a short period of time, he had been desperate for answers and had found comfort in Dalai Lama. I asked him if I should buy a Lama book to my stepbrother who recently lost his legs in Thailand, but he said that Lama was something one should find oneself and not to be applied by relatives. Personally I found Lama grossly overrated after reading one page from his autobiography that was all about his first Rolex watch. But maybe the explanation was on the next page that I didn’t read, maybe he there analyzed his material pleasure of the watch and came to some great conclusions.

Anyway, I don’t know if it was Lama who told him or if it was his own idea, but eventually he reacted to his new life situation by selling his house and all his stuff and got ready to move to Africa and just start over. An excellent plan if you ask me. But before taking off to Africa he went on a short tourist trip and there he met a Swiss woman and moved to her little village in Switzerland. Not as far South as Africa, but still a change. Now he was doing accounting for a minibar company and was really happy about his life, which didn’t just include Swiss love and cats, but also a big room full of toy cars. It wasn’t just any minibar company, it was the minibar company, the one that invented the original “Minibar”. “What’s the difference between a minibar and a small fridge?” I asked. “A Minibar makes no noise” he replied.

We had a very nice conversation till he dropped me off at the largest raststätte before Nürnberg. There I thumbed for 8 sunny minutes and 20 cars and then my friend red-haired minibar friend stopped for me again and offered to take me to the next raststätte, which was smaller but closer to Nürnberg. It felt better somehow so I joined him there.

It was just a gas station and it was at some distance from the autobahn, so I walked back to the onramp. After 15 sunny minutes, the man in car 48 stopped and offered me a short ride. This was kind of a good spot that might have been worth more than 15 minutes, but I was impatient and got in.

At the next onramp one man stopped and offered me a ride to Nürnberg city, but I preferred to stay on the autobahn of course. After 8 half-cloudy minutes a woman stopped who was going to the other side of town. I was happy to pass Nürnberg and got in and she asked me if my mother wasn’t worried about me hitchhiking.

On the other side of Nürnberg I stood for 44 sunny minutes and 17 cars on a highway-to-highway road till a young Turkish man stopped. He was working in a car factory in Amberg and had a Turkish girlfriend in Göteborg in Sweden and was saving money to go home to what he said was “the perfect country” and start a business there; his father already had a gas station. He got all excited when I said I was going to Turkey and he made me write down a lot of phrases and made me promise to visit Kapadokia.

After he let me off I stood at a good old onramp again. It was 18:42 and the sun was shining, but not for much longer. After 37 minutes and 17 cars I started eating my last almond cookie from that gas station outside Lyon, but I threw it away when two women picked me up and took me to a small village. The onramp from there was a real “desert onramp” and I got the feeling that I would stay here till dark. A sign said “Theuern 1 km” and I decided to have a hell of a night in Theuern later on.

For 51 sunny but depressing minutes I started thinking again about what an outrageous waste of time it is to hitchhike. I spent another whole hour of my precious life smiling when there are cars and throwing stones when there are no cars. I really need to get an MP3-player with language learning files or something so I can use all this time.

Car # 10 stopped. It was a man who took me to where the new highway ended and there was an onramp to the old highway. He wasn’t going in the Czechia direction from here and it was now completely dark. I had three options: I could sleep in the forest, I could walk along the old highway to see if I there was a gas station or other lit up area or I could thumb here, in the dark. Since the cars slowed down so much before getting on the old highway I figured it could be worthwhile to stand here for a while although it was kind of a crazy place. After only 9 dark minutes and 13 cars a car stopped. I said “nach chechien” and he said “ok” and I got in. He was a small freight driver, driving little stuff all across Europe. He had had an accident this morning in Holland, which didn’t feel too assuring.

Stenek was driving to Strakonice in South-Eastern Czechia. He wouldn’t cross the border where the main highway to Czechia does, but generously offered to do so anyway to drop me off in Plzen. I didn’t want that, I preferred to come to Strakonice, but he didn’t believe me. I tried to explain that if I hitchhiked from Plzen then I’d get a car to Praha and then I’d never get out of there. Starting from Strakonice and following local roads to Pardubice would be much easier. Each city has its gravity, and a city like Praha in a country like Czechia is like having the sun in your living room. But there was no way I could communicate this to Stenek, who knew as little German as I did, so he took me to Plzen anyway.

When we came to the border he said that starting from 2008, Czechia will be a part of Schengen and we won’t have to show our passports here anymore. That’s good for everyone in this world, except for the hitchhikers. I wanted to change money, but he looked at the exchange rate they offered and offered me the same. When we later arrived in a raststätte outside Plzen I gave him all my Euro and he gave me lots of Korunas back, more than I’d have got at the border. I guess it’s illegal to change money with private citizens, but since he was my driver and friend it felt fair enough. He really went out of his way to find me a ride further. He was more concerned about me than if he’d been my dad. It was nice of him of course, but I got almost annoyed. Hitchhiking isn’t about getting people worried about you and having them make sure you are alright. Hitchhiking is about joining them as long they are on the highway and then say goodbye – and perhaps change e-mails. Hitchhiking might even be about joining people home to play a board game or share a coffee and get some shelter. But when someone assumes responsibility for you, then that person has gone too far. Just drop off your hitchhiker at the next gas station or onramp and you have secured your place in drivers’ heaven. “Even if it’s raining?” Yes, even if it’s raining. If he doesn’t like rain then he shouldn’t have hitchhiked.

But Stenek stayed almost an hour at this gas station and asked about 15 people. First we asked people together, but then I stood thumbing at the exit – thumbing at cars that Stenek had already asked since he kept hanging around the pumps although we had already said goodbye. It paid out, finally he found me a guy to Hradec Kralove. In case you don’t have a map of Czechia in front of you, let me tell you that Hradec is not just on the other side of Praha, it’s also a mere 20 km north of Pardubice, my goal for today.

Vladja was like Stenek a small-freight driver. They are the best rides; in the trunk they have a few kilos of crucial electronic components or the like that they need to take to some factory on the other side of Europe fast as hell. Vladja was going to Poland and would drop me off at Hradec Kralove. Wrrrrrrrrrrooom we went. He didn’t like Poland since their highways are not as fast as in Czechia or Germany. But he liked American jeeps and we made our only break on a gas station where they had a jeep shop and there he stood and drooled for a while.

From the Northern outskirts of Hradec Kralove I started walking towards the centre. It was too late to hitchhike so I decided to wait in a bar all night. The first establishment was a shady house full of extremely drunk Czech middle-aged men. They were dancing wildly with the only woman in the house, whom was as drunk as they were.

Stolen picture that gives the feeling.

They were friendly without being pushy, but I still felt a bit odd and left after 15 minutes. The next establishment was a “herna” – a bar with slot machines and the like, and there I stayed for a humble sandwich, the first since Switzerland. Then I passed a club I didn’t dare to enter due to the entrance being packed with big guys with shaved heads and instead walked on till I came to “Bacardi bar”, a stylish place expensive for Czechia but cheap for Europe. There I talked for a while with two students from India and one from Portugal. One of the Indian guys was talking at length about in which countries people treated him politely when he called from his telemarketing company in India, and he claimed that receptionists in Sweden treated him as a human although he was a marketer.

When they left I joined a big group of Norwegian students. They were all studying medicine here and one of them repeatedly called me “snutjävel” (“police pig”), which was the only word she knew in Swedish. They were all a bit too drunk for meaningful conversation, but one of them decided to walk me to a club where he said I could wait for sunrise. On the way there I asked him why they were studying medicine in Hradec Kralove.

In Norway and Sweden the trade unions for doctors keep their salaries high by keeping down the number of students at the med schools. So in a time when both countries have a shortage of doctors, students still need the highest grades possible from high school to get into the education. Even if you got the highest grade in every subject – including that drama course in first class or that extra French in second class – you can’t be sure to get in since there are more students in the country with a grade of 20.0 out of 20 than there are available med school positions. So besides from not having a life for 3 years you need a portion of luck. If you did not get the right lottery ticket, then you get to study in Hradec Kralove.

The bad-luck Norwegian doctor-to-be told me to continue forward till there was a blue sign to the right and then he took left and said goodnight. The place with the blue sign was the same as the one I had passed before and I still didn’t dare to go in because all those big guys with shaved heads were still there. Instead I started talking to a Norwegian girl on the street and she brought me in and downstairs where she introduced me to her Norwegian friends, which included a Swede. He got really surprised to get another Swedish guy hitchhiking from Bern to his table at the night club in Hradec Kralove. I was glad to speak some Swedish too, it was the first time since Heidelberg. He proudly showed his t-shirt stating: “Jakobsberg” (NW Stockholm) and I wished I had one stating: “Fisksätra” (SE Stockholm). After a while he and all the Norwegians went to the dance floor. I didn’t join them since I wanted to watch my luggage, so I just sat by our table, leaned back and enjoyed life – the warmth and the safety of the night club and my new Scandinavian friends. After half an hour they still hadn’t come back so I left my seat and took a tour around the dance floor. It was empty, and there was no sign of Scandinavians in the whole building. They had left. Why say goodbye to the random Swedish guy who just walked up to your table like if he knew you? No, just leave him talking to the furniture.

Hello, Mr Table, how nice to meet you! Who knows, maybe we bump into each other in Stockholm one day! Wouldn’t that be cool?

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