Anyone who’s had a look at my pages on Hitchwiki, and more in particular, the logs page may have seen a number of very similar entries, like German crisscross and xxx German Raststättes, with the most extreme example of these occurring during trip 34 in 1996.
What’s the fun of it?
As is well known, Germany is one of the very few remaining ‘civilized’ countries where, on some parts of the Autobahn, there are no speed restrictions, other than that you have to drive at least 70 km/h, so the ‘fun’ is not getting anywhere, but just getting around, getting rides with people who not just drive fast cars (like Audi’s, BMW’s and Mercedes’es and the occasional Porsche), but who are also willing to drive them like they were meant to be driven, fast. Getting rides in these cars isn’t any more difficult than getting rides in their slower relatives, and it may in fact be a (little) easier, given that few companies will give there employees an Audi TT, BMW 7-series, Merc 350 SLK or Porsche 911 as a company car, which means that they actually own the car themselves, which in turn means that they are (marginally) less likely able to claim, as many drivers do nowadays, that it’s a company car and they cannot take passengers, or that there is a problem with insurance. The insurance blah-blah is of course complete bollocks, every car in Germany must by law have a “KFZ Haftplichtversicherung” and that will cover anyone inside it. You can argue about this with drivers, but I rarely do, it’s just a waste of time, time you might just as well spend finding someone else to give you that all-important next ride.
So, assuming that you want to give this Raststätte Hopping a try, how would you go about it?
The first step is to get to Germany, or any other country that has the equivalent of Germany’s Raststättes, for example the UK, with its network of Motorway Service areas, or Italy, with its network of Area Servizio’s.
The UK is OK(ish), the police won’t really bother drivers who exceed the 70mph speed limit by 5 to 10 mph, but 75-80mph (120-130 km/h) does not compare very well with 160-250 km/h in Germany. One advantage of the UK is the fact that you will see plenty of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, but getting a ride in them is not easy, I’ve never succeeded. One disadvantage of the UK is the fact that UK Motorway Service areas serve, with few exceptions, about the most expensive Junkfood (with a capital ‘J’) you can imagine.
Italy is a bit better, in the summer it’s usually warmer than in Germany, the Autostrada along the Adriatic coast offers magnificent views, the police don’t really care about people driving too fast, there are more Ferrari’s (never had a ride in any of them either), and the food on Area Servizio’s is far better than in both the UK and Germany. (But just as ridiculously expensive)
Both the UK and Italy do have one other disadvantage compared to Germany, it’s difficult to make a loop. In Italy there are relatively few connections between the east and west coast, and in the UK there is for all intents and purposes only one motorway going up to the North from London – looping around the M25 is not something I’d advise, there are only three motorway service areas on it, South Mimms in the north-west, Thurrock in the east, and Clacket Lane (universally acclaimed to be the worst motorway service area in the UK) on the south-side. Next to that, the chance that you will not bump into a traffic-jam anywhere/anytime on the M25 is about zero.
So, let’s return to Germany. Looping is easy, Hamburg-Berlin-München-Stuttgart-Köln-Hamburg is one option, Hamburg-Hannover-Würzburg-Nürnberg-Berlin-Hamburg is another, and Hamburg-Hannover-Dortmund-Bremen-Hamburg is a third. Coming from Oostende at the Belgian coast, I usually enter Germany near Aachen, continue a bit further towards Köln and at Raststätte Frechen I have to make a choice, going towards Frankfurt(-Würzburg/Stuttgart) or Dortmund(-Bremen/Hannover). I usually just look at the plates of the cars stopping and if it looks more likely that the driver will go to Dortmund, I’ll ask for a ride that way, if they look like they’re going to Frankfurt, I’ll ask for a ride that way, and inevitably there are times when the driver will go exactly the opposite way…
However, once I’ve taken this first hurdle, things usually go quite smoothly. Oostende-Berlin – Hamburg/München are all pretty doable in a day and given that most of my Raststätte hopping trips rarely last longer than two or three days, I normally try to keep going non-stop, always trying to get rides in my preferred cars, and avoiding trucks like the proverbial plague. Yes, they may go up to 4h30m (covering, if all goes very well) around 360-400 km in that time, and yes, it may actually take me longer to cover the same distance in 3 to 4 normal cars, but I find the level of conversation in normal cars, especially of the above mentioned types, (in general) a lot more interesting, which in essence gives you the answer of the question I posed earlier, “What’s the fun of it?”.
Well, that’s the fun of it! Meeting people, being driven around at sometimes silly speeds, enjoying the freedom to go where you want, enjoying the sheer excitement of what you’re doing.