That Time I Went To A 65th Birthday Party in Spremberg

After successfully getting out of bed in time and unsuccessfully trying to hitchhike the wrong way out of our starting location, we plumped for Plan B: Walk2Prague. There’s something quite depressing about starting a hitchhike with a four-mile walk, only to end up where other teams had been dropped off that morning. However, from then on in, getting down the country was almost too easy. Seeing as there’s only so long I can draw out a narrative about sitting in cars where we explained for the umpteenth time that, yes, St Andrews is the university that Wills and Kate went to, here are some pictures to amuse you:

Hitchhiking is serious business..

No one can accuse us of being fussy hitchhikers.

Talking our way onto the Ski Trip Bus…

An Abba-solutely fabulous end to day one – leaving the Ski-Trip Bus and blagging our way through London and the train network to Dover.

Ultimately we found ourselves in Dover and managed to convince someone driving to Poland to take us to Dresden, not a bad little hop. We successfully passive smoked our way across France and Belgium with our new Polish friend and entered Germany feeling pretty good about our pan-European hitchhike. After getting really too confident and sending some rather smug and ironic-hash-tag filled texts to the Race2 safety team we were brought crashing down to Earth by the car we were riding in breaking. And by breaking I mean it was braking, at 140km/hour, on the autobahn. This being quite an inconvenient thing for a car to be doing our driver got quite distracted and missed a turning.

Thankfully, the Satnav redirected us… nearly 200km further north. After a tour of the many toilets and Burger Kings that the Autobahns of Germany has to offer we were dropped off at a place where, our driver assured us, we couldn’t possibly fail to get a lift. It was a place so good, that he’d often been there himself and knew exactly where to drop us off. Having abandoned us in this supposed Mecca for hitchhikers I sent the following text…

“We’re in Cottbus. Nope, we didn’t know it existed either and we’re not keen on staying… “

I was also wondering if perhaps the word ‘hitchhike’ had got a bit garbled in translation when we were dropped off in a place that didn’t seem to have anywhere we could conceivably catch a lift from. Having tried, and failed, to persuade the German Police to help us (read: take us somewhere warm) we ended up on the side of the road in temperatures somewhere below minus 8. We were rescued by a man who offered to drive us to Prague the next day, on the condition that we accompanied him to a birthday party. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse and so we accompanied our rescuer, Stefan, to his father-in-law’s 65th birthday party.

Half an hour later we found ourselves at a birthday party in a tiny town called Spremberg being treated to some fantastic homemade food and plenty of beer.  There was so much beer in fact, that we went down to breakfast to find that the man whose birthday party it was had gotten so drunk the night before on the party bus hire that he couldn’t remember who we were! The food was traditional German, home cooked fare and was nothing short of fantastic. After a breakfast that included cake and chocolate we were treated to morning beers with our host and his friends but not until we had fed his sheep and learned how to start a fire.

I celebrate the return of the Internet by exposing twitter to my sense of humour.

Team 5 with our rescuer, Stefan.                 

Of all the things we thought we’d be doing on a hitchhike…

Next, we were treated to a tour of Stefan’s workplace, Tagebau Nochten.

This is an open-air lignite mine, essentially an 8 kilometre long hole slap-bang in the middle of this mostly ignored corner of Germany. It moves progressively forward, eating up towns and countryside. The compensation that families are paid for their homes is so considerable that the mine makes people millionaires overnight. The local area is littered with the marble clad monstrosities that they build with the money.

The size of the houses however, was nothing compared to the machinery that digs out all of this coal. The whole mine is simultaneously impressive and utterly terrifying. It’s also, unsurprisingly, a place that is not very popular with environmental activists. Stefan was quick to reassure us about the restoration work the mine puts in afterwards, showing the new forest growing. This forest is apparently a great place to spot the wolves that are slowly returning to this part of the country.

Us next to a ‘medium-sized’ bucket digger.

Team 5 next to a giant hole in the ground.

After the tour we were treated to yet more fantastic food before being driven three and a half hours South to be dropped at the door of our hostel. We spent over a day with our German hosts and still managed to be the 19th team to finish!

So what on Earth is the point of an article like this, except to service my ego? Well, this was probably the first time in a while where, travelling somewhere new, I didn’t bring up Trip Advisor to ask where the best places to eat were, or the best places to visit. Instead, we went to a place far off the beaten tourist track, met some interesting people and let ourselves be shown around by them. Travel doesn’t have to be rigorously planned and it made a refreshing change to just go wherever we could. A Hitchhike like Race2 is, despite any negatives (especially on the temperature scale), incredibly liberating. It’s a unique challenge and an experience that I’m pretty sure none of the 76 teams will forget.

If you feel like going on your own hitchhiking adventure and can’t wait until next January then never fear Jailbreak sign-ups are this Friday (tomorrow) from 8pm online and in Venue 2!