Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mitfahren - Hitchhiking The Not-So-Old-Fashioned Way

When I moved from Barcelona to Stuttgart, the one-way flight cost right around 80 Euros ($100 U.S.) and it included one 22 kilo (50 pound) bag, which I thought was a really good deal. It seems now that getting TO Germany was cheap. It wasn't until I checked into getting up to Hamburg did I realize just how cheap it was. Flights were running over 500 Euros ($600+ U.S.) round trip and the train wasn't much better at like 350 Euros. We had pretty much given up hope of going as we didn't want to pay that much for one weekend.

But, Mr. Save The Day (our roommate) recommended that we try one of the Mitfahrgeligenheit (or in English here - same data, simpler grammar) websites and...

But how???

We were able to use one of the Mitfahren sites to catch a ride up and back to Hamburg. So, what's Mitfahren? Mitfahring (that'd be Deutschlish...) roughly means "to ride with". People post on one of a few different websites that they are driving somewhere at a certain time and that they have an open seat (or more) that they are "selling". Just like airbnb, people "rent out" spaces but, in this case, it's for rides to where they're already going. Sort of like a 21st century version of hitchhiking where the driver can recoup some or all of their costs for the trip.

The process wasn't all roses though. I checked the sites daily for about two weeks leading up to our trip and emailed a handful of people without any luck. We had pretty much given up going when the day before (Thursday) we wanted to leave (Friday) I text messaged (SMS) a couple of folks that were heading up that day. Within one minute of sending one of the messages, Henneng (yes, his first name) said that he was passing by Stuttgart right at that moment and that he could come get us in TEN minutes! I told him yes and went into the other room to let Diana know that we'd be going to Hamburg that weekend after all -- IN TEN MINUTES!!!

We threw a bunch of clothes, a couple of gifts, and a few other things into a bag and - about 15 or 20 minutes later - there we were on our way to Hamburg with a semi-pro ice-hockey goalie named Henneng (BTW, I love this from-the-dashboard style of photo):

We each paid 35 Euros ($44 U.S.) for a total of about $90 to get up to Hamburg. It's a screamin' deal if you ask me since we got door-to-door service with a cool guy for 20% of what it would have cost on the train AND it took about an hour or so less. But, we had thrown caution to the wind because we only had a ride TO Hamburg since he was coming back later the following week. What I learned in the process is that the system really works best almost at the last minute so I figured we'd see what happens for our return on Sunday and, worst case, we could come back on the train.

The trip from Stuttgart to Hamburg is 99% autobahn. It's the first time that I had been on an autobahn and it was interesting. Yes, the roads are in perfect condition. Yes, everyone is a really good driver. Yes, they drive fast. Very fast. We were doing about 160kph (~100mph) at one point and CARS WERE PASSING US like our grandmother was driving. Seriously, some of the cars must have been doing 140-150 miles-per-hour or more. The cars that were driving that fast were the shiznit though. Mostly high-end Mercedes, Porsches, and Audis.

Because I had nowhere else to use these photos, and I really liked them, I'm posting them here. On the way up, we passed three large trucks each carrying one wind-turbine blade:

It's hard to tell from the photos how big they are but they are big.

About half-way up, we took a break at one of the most famous German road-side restaurants there is. It's called something like Burgermeister K├Ânig and they sell a piece of meat that's cooked over an open flame and served between two pieces of bread. It's called a Whopper, which, as best I can tell, means "very large" in English.

As wrote about here and here, Hamburg was awesome. I had a great time. We were able to secure a return trip for Sunday afternoon by Saturday night. The return was with a group of late-teen and early-twenty-something kids (?) who were coming back from a religious weekend in their nine-passenger van. It also cost 35 euros per person.

My experience with Mitfahrgeligenheit was super positive. I'm sure that there are those who feel somewhat unsure about taking rides from strangers but, just like with couchsurfing and airbnb, my experiences have been 100% positive so far. The downside is that you need to be flexible and willing to wait until the last minute. We're considering going up to Berlin at the end of June to see my favorite band play and we're planning on using Mitfahring to get there too. Cross your fingers!

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