The Sound of Music

Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?
—George R R Martin

My plan was to hitchhike from Berlin through Bavaria, Austria, and Slovenia to Croatia. This didn't work out for a couple of reasons, but most of them are that I am a guy and was soggy wet and Germans did not want me in their BMW.

Hitchhiking in Germany is relatively safe and common, although not so much in winter. Still, I wanted to try. Last Saturday I picked my route -- the Autobahn 115 goes all the way from the western edge of Berlin past Potsdam, through Liepzig, to Munich in the south of the country. I shaved so I looked like less of a bum, then unfolded my map of the labyrinthine Paris Metro and wrote München on one side and Potsdam on the other with a permanent marker.

Then I watched the passing license plates and looked for Munich's M or Potsdam's PM. Germans are very orderly with their license plates and put city codes at the front. They're generally a very orderly people. This worked in my favor in one of the spots I picked.

It was a busy intersection next to a busy onramp onto the A115 and A110. The traffic lights did not work, and German drivers did not know what the fuck to do.

There's a point where courtesy becomes an obstacle. It's when everyone wants to hold the door open or bend down to pick up the same object, or when all the Germans stop their cars in the intersection to let the other Germans pass and it just becomes a polite standstill of people waving each other through.

Well, they were going really slow when they came out of it, and there I was smiling and flipping my Paris Metro map back and forth. Most people just glared at me and the people from Potsdam and Munich looked away. After an hour at two different onramps, when it started to rain, I gave up. Nobody wants to pick up a wet hitchhiker.

I went to an Internet café and sought a Plan B. Here are my Plan Bs:
  1. Go back there and hitchhike like a man.

  2. Walk 10 miles through the wilderness to a rest stop on the A115. There, get a map of the Autobahn and ask people for rides. They will like you because you are American and adventurous. If you fail, walk another 10 miles to Potsdam. Also, it will be raining.

  3. Meet someone from the German ride-sharing site and drive with them. Only available driver is Ivan, maybe Russian, who is driving to Munich with his friend at 10 tonight. "Meet me at Zoo station. It will be good."
Actually that one sounds awesome. That sounds like it should have been Plan A. But Ivan, like most of the ride-share drivers, wanted €30 for the trip. And it was kind of sketchy. I'm pretty sure hitchhiking is safe, and that I wouldn't have arrived in Munich in pieces, but I don't want to test the limits of that theory. Or even just have my camera stolen.

I could have also stayed another night in Berlin and went with a less dubious ride-sharing German in the morning, like Florian or Romeo Love. Instead, I went with Plan C: I totally copped out and bought a train ticket. The overnight to Munich was a little more than ride-sharing, but much less than another day in Berlin. (On night trains in Germany: the seats all smell like beer, and the bathroom lights are a charming blue that keeps addicts from finding their veins.)

I slept on the train, dreaming of the fair-weather hitchhiking adventure I would pursue in warmer climates, and cursing the Germans, who are fascists. Even at that busted intersection, the pedestrians refused to jaywalk. They just waited like the light would come back on.

This is why I was so anxious to go to Bavaria. Bavarians are no more Germans than Texans are Americans. If you ask a Texan where he's from, or if you see a Texan and ask an American, "Where is that guy from?", neither of them will say America. They will say Texas, only one will shudder and one will tip his cowboy hat and shoot his guns in the air and ride off into the sunset.

Bavarians are the same way. People in the rest of Germany hate Bavaria. When outsiders think of Germany, they don't think of the hard-working industrious volk, they think of red-faced Bavarians in leiterhosen laughing with a beer in each hand, and the other Germans hate that stereotype almost as much as they hate the French.

Despite my excitement, I only spent one night in this part of the country. I got in at noon last Sunday and it was cold and raining. I saw the Dachau concentration camp, then went to an Augustiner beer hall for dinner, which was a weird combination. I listened to German polka, drank homemade beer served by an aproned frau, and hung out with a Bavarian who looked like Gary Oldman. He spoke English, but his only way of communicating was to yell and wave his hands around and slide around on his bench with a beer.

After my flash tour of life in Bavaria, I met a group of High School students from Ohio at the hostel, who were so impressed with my traveling that I was impressed with it, too, until I remembered that High School students don't know anything. I told them I was going to Salzburg, and they were going there as well. Their teacher chaperone offered to let me in on a group ticket. I accepted, and got cheap passage to Salzburg and entrance into the overbearing castle there: the Festung Hohensalzburg.

Salzburg is the hometown of Mozart and the place where they filmed The Sound of Music, and one of those things draws really annoying tourists. I saw the house from the movie and the gazebo where Julie Andrews danced around. The Austrians recently had to encase the thing in glass to keep out tourists after precarious emulation led to an 80-year-old woman breaking her ankle.

Luckily, Austrians are pretty close to Bavarians culturally. They are friendly, can cross the street by themselves, and want to talk to everyone. The valley was beautiful. There's a hill above the town with nothing but cedar trees and hiking trails between beer-producing monasteries. Everything was misty and covered with snow, so it looked more like The Lord of the Rings than The Sound of Music.

All of Salzburg is painted in pastel colors that would better fit a nursery room -- robin egg blue, puke yellow, acid-washed pink, etc., under salmon tiles and long gables with white windows. There are Döner stands and German beer and Mediterranean cafés. The gardens were nice, even though everything was dead, and the sun came out on Wednesday. That was my last day in the city. After two days in Salzburg, I took the slow trains to Vienna.

Check here for pictures of Cologne, Berlin, and Dresden.


  1. Thanks for speindng time on the computer (writing) so others don't have to.


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