Hounslow East to Berlin in 5 lifts
I’m sitting at a desk in front of two bay windows. It’s cold but dry outside and this flat overlooks a park. It’s owned by a lesbian couple. They’re married and grown up and fulltime jobbed which means during the day their incredible place is ours.
I’m travelling, for now, with Jess – who can’t read a map, make a fire or speak foreign languages but still’s just about the best person to be with on the road. With her the side of the freeway is a place to feel brave, roll cigarettes and laugh through nervous anticipation. It’s not boring, intimidating or anything other than the beginning of an adventure. She knows to rely on the kindness of strangers, and she’s got good philosophical chat to match.
We left Hounslow East with a man who had got in touch over Gumtree and had promised to drive us to Mannheim, a small town in South Berlin. We’d give him cash for the ferry crossing but he waved his hand at anything more. I don’t remember his name but he had a big 4×4 and told us we could sleep the whole way. You definitely feel safe in one of those cars. Hitchhiking etiquette steered me clear of all topics ‘green’ but he did have a moan about the fuel bill.
At 6am we arrived, bleery eyed we made our way to the freeway, via a coffee stand where we made our sign. When we asked the waitress where to stand for a lift to Berlin she laughed. ‘But it’s over 600k away…’
An overgrown stone path took us onto the side of the freeway. Average car speed – 100km/hr and after our first lift we learnt that what we were doing was illegal, dangerous and could mean a 500euro fine and loss of license for the driver. Amazingly a woman took pity and gave us a lift after 10 minutes of thumbing.
Two lifts later and we were beside the freeway again (there’s not a lot you can do about where people drop you, especially when they don’t speak English) thumbing nervously and on the watch for cops. Tomas – hero of the day – stopped. He took us 300k to Hannover and a motorway service station that connected with Berlin. He also took us for fruit tea and biscuits with his sister, who he’d travelled down south to see.
Our last lift came 50km outside Berlin. We’d been waiting for a while (the longest while yet) at a fairly lonely petrol station. It was almost six and we were running late for our appointment in Berlin at YAAM at seven. A man who had said no came back and lifted us to the train station. Forty minutes later and we were drinking white russians and hemp beer on a sand beach by the river in Berlin. We have two more days of this bliss and then forwards to the freeway again.