Freizeit- The Kindness of Strangers

It’s a little weird.

Hard to get used to how far you can get on the kindness of strangers, with only the tiniest bit of language ability. It’s also terrifying.

I have been weirdly isolated at times, but it’s pretty much all in my mind.

Currently the biggest problem is that this keyboard has a ä in the ‘ place. That kind of brain programming isn’t easy.

Also the z and y is all muddled.

But zou probablz didnät come here to hear me talk about german kezboards.

That was on purpose by the way.

So where to begin.

Now.

I’m in the beautiful Stadtbucherei (town library?) of Münster. This is a beautiful town, full of cyclists and students and oldness and newness. It’s strange and laid back, but in what I assume is a very German way.

I spend my entire time saying please and thank you, and occasionally the more unwieldy sorry (bitte, danke und es tut mir leid, for the curious). I still feel I’m being really rude, except the locals seem even ruder and it just seems to work out fine for them.

Oddly my brain is switching to German in loads of tiny ways.

Like I keep on being about to type zu, instead of to.

The weirdest thing about it is that I’m not speaking much German. There’s a weird crisis of confidence. I keep on thinking about the grammar too much so that I can’t formulate the phrases before the conversation has moved on or become awkward.

But I’m putting off getting to the good stuff.

Basically, hitching across Europe is crazy. Boring. Exhilarating. Amazing. Unreal. Terrifying and satisfying.

All in random orders.

The main emotion that stays with me though is that feeling of progress whenever there is even a tiny bit of moment.

And amazement.

I’ve not done the maths in miles, but we’ve crossed countries in days. We set off at 6ish on Wednesday morning and were in France by lunchtime, and in Belgium by the evening.

For free. Nothing but asking strangers for a little kindness.

There’s lots of rejection to.

After getting two thirds fo the way across Belgium, we found ourselves stuck in a small service station near Liege (60 miles from the Belgium German border). We camped for a night, and then got up early the next day. And we put our thumbs out.

And we put our thumbs out.

And we wrote signs. With destinations creeping slowly closer and more general.

And we put our thumbs out.

And we danced. With our thumbs out.

And we talked to a million people. (well, mostly Josh and Skozl).

They found out a hundred ways of being told no, sorry.

But that afternoon, about three or so, after what felt like a lifetime of baking, baking sun and smelly toilets and the sound of the motorway. Someone picked us up.

We went forwards. The guy was buying a car nearby.

For a while we went backwards. And ended up on a slightly nicer service station just outside liege.

But this was a better one.

And before too long, the loveliest lady in Belgium (a certified Iron Woman Triathlete) took us up to the German border.

That feeling of satisfaction. That feeling that people will help you. Is amazing. Laurie was on her own, there were three of us. pretty much her first words were ‘I hope I’m not being stupid, and that you won’t aggress, violence or murder me.’

You understand why people don’t pick you up, even as it frustrates when an empty SUV drives by.

But it just makes it better when you get somewhere new.

Bivouaccing in Germany. Meeting geologists, Navy officers and ex army doctors. Awkward joking between kind people with no language shared with us.

Fear on our part. A lack of control.

But then you’re closer. Someone offers another hand and you’re in heaven again. Floating on air as you realise how amazing life can be. How far you can get with nothing.

With the help of friends and strangers.

It’s been a week of miracles, to my mind, but just the simple miracle of community and trust.

Josh used hospitality club to find us someone to stay with in Munster, and Chris has been the kindest most generous host you could imagine. Just for the opportunity to meet with new people, she has put us up and given us a bed and delightful food.

It makes you want to be more generous with everything.

It proves the notion of karma.

If you do kind things, then miracles like this can happen.

The more kind things people do. The more everyone can feel happier and trust to chance and the wind to carry us forward.

It’s hard not to get carried away. I feel the negativity in my spine and my eyes. Even at Chris’ lovely house, I’ve found it hard to sleep (too hot? too quiet? too comfy? too amazing?).

But when I think for even a moment about what I’ve already achieved. About what I’ve seen and learnt. And what I can now imagine in the future. It’s amazing. The support of Josh and Jo and the strangers that have got us here is the best birthday present I could ever have. (And thanks to Mum for helping pay for the passport and the preparation).

And I think I want to learn German and maybe one day move to Münster for a while. It feels like Brighton without the sea (but with a beautiful canal, not like an English Canal). The cycling is incredible. Literally seas of bicycles in every direction. And if Chris and Hermanne are anything to go by das Münsterisch are the loveliest people in the world. It’s another half tourist half student town. And there’s lots going on here, judging from the things this weekend. From exploding scaffolding ships, fireworks, harbour festivals, markets and just the most beautiful countryside.

And a cycle network that actually works.

It’s , miraculous.

I’m running out of time, so there’ll be more detail to come. And photos when I get home. Perhaps that’s an entirely different story in itself.

Final thoughts?

Thank you. Thank you to everyone who has helped me get here, where I am today. And that’s not just in Münster, but in my life. Thank  you to my mother for giving birth to me exactly 26 years ago, and everyone who has made me who I am, to get here today.

I think there’s an argument that you’re always hitch hiking. Relying on the support of the people around you. The kindness and patience of your family and the strangers you meet who may become your friends, but really, whoever they are, you may never see them again.

But they all moved you somewhere, and in some way.

So thanks to the strangers.

Thanks to the kind.

And I hope I never forget that I am constantly, permanently in debt to the strangers and friends and loved ones around me. And I hope I never stop paying them back with kindnesses like these.

Tschuß,

Vielen Dank,

Alabaster Auf Allemands.

(Some assonant creole there? Optimistically.

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7 thoughts on “Freizeit- The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. A wondeful post Alex. I’m so glad that people have been so kind and giving. Happy Birthday xxxx

  2. I am so pleased you have enjoyed your travels and you are having a memorable birthday. Love mum XX

  3. You need a supersmartphone so you can post from the road more easily. Did you know that WordPress has a “phone your blog” feature that lets you literally phone the blog, and it uploads a post which is an mp3 of your call? I haven’t tried it, but apparently it’s slick. If you have Skype, you could presumbably do this for free.

    1. @raincoaster
      Not sure how well my tendency to ramble, coupled with my less than perfect speaking voice would suit audioblogging.
      Although I do feel it would take me out of the experience itself than stopping to write. I did actually miss out on the best chance to explore Munster I had when I was there to go to the library and write this post, which already seems a bit weird. Of course, the writing itself was a reward, and sending a message out to people I love and care about was pretty important on my birthday, as I would normally have spent my birthday with a large number of them.
      Swings and roundabouts, I guess.

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