It Was Not Possible to Leave Riebau
The next day was a lazy one. Agata and Andrzej had been claiming to be leaving ‘the next day at 6 AM’ everyday. On that day they were ever firmer.
Agata: Yes, this time we are really really leaving! Going to start hitchhiking at 6 AM tomorrow so we can reach our destination!
We: Oh yeah yeah, for sure! Everybody believes you.
Then we all laughed. They were not the only one claiming to be leaving but simply stayed, stayed and stayed. Agata was a resourceful Polish girl. She grew up in Poland and Ireland, fluent in both Polish and English. She was a full-time student, doing an across-Europe Erasmus program in Astronomy. Basically during her 2 years master study, for every semester she would move to a new country. She was our chef. There was no obligatory cooking agenda, but she was almost always the one trying to find food and cook for everybody, everybody. She was always busy with something solid. If she was not cooking, then she was knitting. If she was not knitting, then she was washing. With her small study allowance, a mere 500 Euro per month, she managed to support herself and a friend who was living with her. More than that, like every experienced hitchhiker, she was full of spirit and was truly concerned about the society.
There was a plan that after this gathering many hitchhikers would go to West Germany to support a protest against coal mining industry. You see, those gatherings, either Hitchgathering, or rainbow gathering were not simply ‘let’s get together, make friends and have some fun’, there was some serious ideology behind it. I was hanging out in the big room where Agata, Andrzej and some other hitchhikers slept. As I was falling asleep on the top of the bunker bed, I heard Agata and Andrzej discussing their next destination.
Agata: So shall we go to the protest? They were cutting down the forest for the profits of the multi-national corporations.
Andrzej: I don’t know. Most people who go there are not really concerned about the real issue. They went there because the organizers of the protest promised free food and accommodation. It’s a bit fake.
Agata: That’s true. So you are saying we are not going there?
Andrzej: I don’t know, we will see.
Clearly, although on that day they claimed extra firmly, they were not leaving.
The atmosphere in the gathering was so full of love, understanding and peace that many people were not able to leave. We were simply trapped by its tenderness. It was the sweetest trap. I felt I could live there forever, provided that there was a proper library. Mind you, most of us were not understood by the society. We were seen as dangerous hippies while in fact we were all sensible people with above average education. We stepped out of the ‘average good citizen of the society’ trap because we saw greater things elsewhere. We could feel so lonely in a normal society. However, the hitchgathering was our HOME! It was where we all belonged! There was no need to explain why you decided to travel or why you hitchhiked. You could be who you were and everybody accepted that. You could be bisexual, queer or want to be single forever and nobody would frown upon you. This place was FREEDOM to us.
The Last Arriver
In the evening, we heard from Daniel that there was a dinner going on in a commune in a village not far away. That commune did it every year, they prepared pizzas by themselves and everybody was invited. There was no price tag and one could just pay as one would like.
I went there with Stevie, Sven, Ozge, Tatjana and other hitchhikers. It was in a beautifully decorated old building. When we got there, the yard was already full of people. You see, not every commune was a hippie commune. That commune was with married people with kids and regular jobs. They simply liked living together like a real community. There was even one refugee guy from Guinea living with them.
So…… basically speaking, all of us were broke except Tatjana. We did not pay shit except Tatjana. I know you are thinking we were terribly freeloaders. Nope! We offered to do the dishes for them after the dinner and we cleaned up the whole kitchen, which took more than one hour.
For once, we did not return at 3 AM. To everybody’s surprise, a newcomer arrived, a young German dude named Max. Everybody was excited to see the new guy.
I had deiced that the next day I would leave, seriously leave, otherwise I would probably never leave and I had decided to look for a serious job. Then I would have some decent income to finally help those in need instead of just getting help from others.
The next day was supposedly the last day of the hitchgathering, but by tradition the hitchgathering really ends only when the last hitchhiker leaves. Many people, me included left the next day, but the last people, William and Max stayed for another week. They posted a photo of the two of them on our Facebook group, titled ‘the last men standing’. Ten days later, they both left. The hitchgathering officially ended.
It was without any doubt, the most awesome gathering I have ever been to. It was not great, or awesome, it was EPIC. Those people I met there are legends, are the coolest travelers we have on our planet! Those stories we shared, those adventures we laughed at and those lovely people there, were more beautiful than words could describe. I hope even after I settle down, even when I become old and have family, I can still come to the hitchgathering every year. I hope this legend will go on and on, forever.
To me, that was the perfect ending of my big journey. Although I still had to hitchhike to the Netherlands, but in my heart, my journey ended there, in Riebau, in the deserted military barracks with the smoked kitchen and the food found in garbage bins.
The Final Leaving
I packed my stuff and hitchhiked first to Salzwedel, visited the house where Jenny Marx was born. The historical houses in Salzwedel was really in a bad shape, but the people there were very friendly. As I saw Salzwedel already at night when I went for dumpster diving with others, it felt totally different to see it during the day, like it was totally a different place. I wondered again and again: did I come to the same Salzwedel? or during the nights it would transform?
My plan was to hitchhike to Brauschweig (Brunswick in English), then to Hanover, then to Osnabruck, visiting those historical cities and slowly moving back to the Netherlands.
When I left Salzwedel to hitchhike southwards, it was already late in the afternoon. I stood for about one hour when a tall thin young dude with a shabby car and very long hair like those of the fairies in The Lord of the Ring stopped for me. He liked underground music and was playing it all the time. He never took hitchhikers before but simply stopped although he ‘doesn’t know why’. He drove me to the edge of a small city and within minutes a lady took me. She used to teach in a school with a lot of immigrant and refugee kids. She told me of their difficulties and she was sympathetic.
She drove me directly to Braunschweig. My couchsurfing host was not at home but her flatmate opened the door for me. The next day I went to visit Braunschweig. Like many old German cities, this city was famous because somebody famous was born, lived or was buried here. Braunschweig was essentially the city of Henry the Lion, the cousin of Barbarossa the Holy Roman Emperor. In a church I found the grave of Carl Friedrich Gauss, the ‘Prince of Mathematics’. Two elderly women who were having a religious gathering there gladly showed me around and even pointed me to the skull of Gauss, which was on display in a glass cover.
However, his birthplace was much more difficult to find. It took one hour to find it and when I finally found it, I was utterly disappointed. It totally disappeared and was now the site of a modern apartment block. There was only a plaque indicating his birthplace.
I met an American girl who was working there and she invited me to eat some Kurdish food. I heard from her that there was the oldest Fachwerkhaus (the typical German house with stripes) in the whole German, here in Brauschweig. I searched and searched and found it at night. The pronunciation of Fachwerkhaus in German sounded quite like fuck-work-house, but hey, it was not the same.
The next day I would hitchhike to Hanover.
To be continued