All this happened on Wednesday the 17th of May, 2023. We kissed Moritz goodbye after catsitting him for two weeks in Freiburg im Breisgau. We walked to a hitchhiking spot to travel from Germany to Switzerland. Jonas hadn’t been to Switzerland before and we were both excited to go hitchhiking to Bern.
Doing the Research for Hitchhiking to Bern
During our stay in Freiburg, Jonas and I had to decide how to get from the catsit of Moritz in Germany to the one in Switzerland. I really wanted to hitchhike and I really wanted to visit Switzerland’s de facto capital city Bern. Though I had hoped we could spend more than a day in Bern, there was only one day between the end of one catsit and the start of the other. I looked at the size of Bern and decided to make a plan for a half-day visit. Jonas found a hotel in the city center. The following day, we’d simply travel by train to Geneva to start catsitting Willie. So as long as we’d arrive in Bern on the 17th, there wouldn’t be an issue.
I researched how to travel from Freiburg to Bern by hitchhiking several times, starting of course with HitchWiki. The distance between the cities is less than 170 kilometers, which is very doable. But getting from our residence in southern Freiburg to a hitchhiking spot was a bit tricky. We basically had to walk to a bus stop in Sankt Georgen (47.980536, 7.790887), a roundabout a bit further west (47.980333, 7.775837), or all the way at the on-ramp to the A5 highway (47.980306, 7.733117). The last one would have been a 6.7-kilometer walk from Moritz’s house.
I wanted to get up at 6:00 and leave at 7:00 in order to maximize our time in Bern. But we woke up at 6:30 and eventually left at 8:15 because look at that little smooch face:
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Walking to the Hitchhiking Spot in Freiburg
It was a beautifully sunny morning and not the cloudiness the forecast had predicted. The walk through Sankt Georgen came past several vineyards and ducked under the train tracks. We arrived at the first hitchhiking spot, which was a bus stop at Sankt Georgen cemetery. And though it was a good place to safely stop a car, it didn’t include one road where other cars joined in, so we stood a little further back (47.980467, 7.789766) to also catch that bit of traffic to the A5 highway. We used my Basel hitchhiking sign.
We tried there for fifteen minutes and then walked to the next spot beyond the Bundestraße 3, which also goes north-south but passes through more towns. The real goal was to get onto the gas station called Raststätte Bad-Bellingen. But where I thought we could hitch from was actually impossible due to the high grass, elevated ramp, and lack of safe stopping for cars. It’s truly difficult to do research for hitchhiking in Germany because there’s no Google Streetview. That leaves Google Satellite, which is generally good but insufficient for these details.
So we continued walking on the bike path parallel to the B31 until there was an exit to a sanatorium. We tried there for a bit, but the cars were too fast and the pullover opportunity was suboptimal. Then Jonas found a parking rest place on this same road a bit before the last option of the highway on-ramp. It’s called Freiburg Süd Pendlerparkplats (P+M). So we walked the last bit on the bike path which was also being cleaned up by two guys in a maintenance truck. All around, everyone gave us good vibes, just no rides (yet).
This P+M place was good. Though there were many cars, there were no people. A bit eerie. But the ramp of the parking was suitable to stop a car and most importantly: traffic here was slow.
It took us just two minutes with my Basel hitchhiking sign till a car stopped.
Hitchhiking to Bad-Bellingen Service Station with Andreas
The man told us to put our backpacks in the trunk and get in. Jonas sat in the passenger seat and I hopped into the back. Our driver’s name was Andreas and he was traveling to Lörrach, just before the border with Switzerland and Basel. We told him we were going past Basel to Bern and asked if he could drop us off at the service station in Bad-Bellingen.
We conversed partly in German, partly in English. Andreas had just come from a company activity in Freiburg and was now driving back home to the German area near the Dreiländereck (triple frontier: France, Germany, Switzerland). He asked us what we were doing here hitchhiking and Jonas told him we had just completed our first catsit in Freiburg im Breisgau and were about to do another in Geneva. He found it hilarious and interesting at the same time and told us about this meme he saw:
Tagging along with Andreas was a fun first hitch of the day. He took the exit at Raststätte Bad-Bellingen and dropped us off at the restaurant.
Waiting for a Ride at Bad-Bellingen Service Station
We immediately spotted two other hitchhikers who had just arrived. They looked like they were part of a hitchhiking competition by the way they were dressed in reflective and rain gear despite the sunny day. Jonas talked to them for a bit. Their final destination is Barcelona.
I had to visit the bathroom at the service station and asked Jonas if he had a €0.50 coin for me since in Germany that’s the price. You receive a ticket of the same value to buy a consumption. Charging for toilet use has always irritated me about hitchhiking in Germany and certain gas stations in Hungary and Austria, but I knew in advance.
But things have gotten worse since the last time I hitchhiked in Germany; Jonas read some sign where it said it now costs €1 to visit the bathroom. Now costing double, perhaps we can use our bathroom tickets to buy a snack or a drink later.
We tried hitchhiking from the end of the gas station where all the traffic converges for about an hour. We also ate our sandwiches there while holding up the Bern hitchhiking sign. Though it often works to stand at the end of the gas station where private vehicles and trucks alike pass by, it’s not always the best approach. There were loads of truck drivers who would have been willing to pick us up, but in this part of Europe, it’s illegal for truck drivers to pick up more than one because we all need a seatbelt. Usually, one of us sits on the bed in the middle, like we did last in Turkiye in 2021.
Eventually, we returned to the restaurant area and asked the people directly while missing out on some of the traffic. There was a very happy guy who said he was going to Bern, but not directly. Jonas asked if he was going past Basel and could drop us off at the next gas station, but it was difficult.
Jonas went to the bathroom and got another €1 ticket. He tried to buy a €4.50 coffee with our €2 worth of tickets, but apparently, it’s one ticket per item you buy. Jesus fuck. That’s outrageous. Also, all items appear to be exactly €1 more expensive than is reasonable. The plot thickens.
He redeemed one ticket and got the overpriced coffee and sat down with us. That’s when the guy who is going to Bern said he’ll throw around his plans and take us with him. Jonas made sure it was not out of pity and didn’t mess up their plans completely. The man’s wife had also shown up and they introduced themselves as Thomas and Simone. They were quite happy to spontaneously change their plans and she said she’d never picked up hitchhikers before. They just wanted to make sure we carried identification since Switzerland is not part of the EU.
Hitchhiking from Germany to Switzerland at the Basel Border Crossing
After we all finished our meals and drinks, we went to their car. There was still space in the boot for our backpacks and jackets. Jonas forgot that his passport was in his jacket, so he had to open the trunk again to keep his documents on him. Switzerland will be a new country for him and he has no idea how strict it will be at the border. Meanwhile, Thomas applied the Swiss vignette to his windshield. I just googled the price, and it’s CHF 40 in 2023 (€41.07 or US$44.46). Oof!
We drove off with Thomas and Simone, who live in a town in the area of Offenburg. We only passed through Offenburg train station with the night train from the Netherlands. I realize we must have also switched trains there back in 2019 for the kayak trip since the Schwarzwaldbahn that passes through Triberg starts its journey in Offenburg. Perhaps we should go there sometime since Baden-Württemberg appears to be our favorite state in Germany.
It didn’t take long for us to arrive at the border with Switzerland. There was a bit of Stau (traffic jam) before it. That’s what you get for leaving Schengen. There were many truck parking spots next to the highway for all those truckers waiting for their papers to clear. It’s just so elegant to not have borders anymore.
Once at customs, the car with Italian plates before us was summoned for inspection. They waved us through. Though we carried our papers, it would still not have been fun. If you’re reading between these lines, yes, I am a big fan of the European Union. I unironically believe it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Hitchhiking to Bern with Thomas + Simone
Yay, new country for Jonas!
Thomas and Simone found it wildly interesting that Jonas had been to countries such as Malaysia and Mauritius, but not their southern neighbor Switzerland. When Jonas explained that from his area near Bonn, it’s just much more logical to travel to the Netherlands and its sandy beaches for a nearby holiday than Switzerland, they agreed that that made sense. Though Thomas and Simone don’t travel to Switzerland that often because it’s so expensive, they do go every couple of years or pass through it on the way to Italy.
Thomas told us he is a truck driver and often went on international trips. He remembers the Dutch people he encountered on the job as very friendly, inviting him to breakfast instead of him helping load off the truck.
We passed through many tunnels that had lighting inside that kind of matched the bright outside world. Tunneling and tunnel management is definitely a Swiss specialty.
So far, we had conducted our conversations in German and sometimes I’d speak English and all would understand it. Just when I was about to ask how they find the Swiss dialect of German, Thomas turned on the radio. Jonas could barely understand what was said on the Swiss radio in Schwyzerdütsch. Thomas told us he was once asked in Switzerland if he needs a Griffel. It took a while to understand that means a signature. I told everyone that this seems intuitive to me since in Dutch it means pencil or fancy pen and it sounds like “to scribble”. Perhaps in the German-speaking parts, I’m actually going to have the advantage and not Jonas.
Dropped off in Bern
Upon approach to Bern, we made a quick stop at a gas station Grauholz A1. Jonas and I wandered around the gas station looking for an ATM to get our hands on some Swiss Francs. No luck. But there was a Victorinox shop that had lots of Swiss Army knife models, including my own (climber) that I never travel without. To my surprise, the price of this exact same pocket knife was pretty much the same same as it was 11 years ago in Norway—CHF 35 or €35.94 today versus €35 back then, whatever that was in Norwegian Kroner.
Back in the car, it was time to discuss the dropoff point. They wanted to go into the city and we were also headed there, close to the train station to be specific. They found a parking garage at the train station. The highway descended into Bern and crossed the Aare River till we took the exit to the parking garage. They found a spot inside the building and we got our backpacks out of the trunk. This was an intensely fun ride and we thanked them a lot before saying goodbye.
We took the elevator to the exit and walked through Bern train station to the city center. After a short celebration, we looked at what we should do. Check-in time at the hotel is at 15:00 and we still had almost an hour to do something. We decided to buy some food at Lidl before checking in. It was incredibly busy at the inner city Lidl, but we got some nice food and a bottle of wine. People have talked a great deal about how expensive Switzerland is for crying out loud. But so far, the supermarket prices in Switzerland are not worse than those in the Netherlands in 2023. Perhaps this country is a bit more inflation-proof than our own.
It was a short walk to the hotel. Though it’s a dream come true for me to have gone hitchhiking to Bern, our first impressions of the city were not that great; it’s very busy around the train station and there are quite some sketchy characters walking around. But let’s check out the city after checking in.
At Hotel National Bern (€140 for one night, oof!), there was a queue of people trying to check in. The receptionist said to some other guests that it’s always this busy at this time. The Asian guest before us couldn’t figure out the ancient elevator with doors you have to close yourself and Jonas helped her. Then the receptionist said in standard German to Jonas “That happens when you don’t listen to me.” Later, a Spanish-speaking colleague came by to tell her – in Spanish – that our room wasn’t ready yet, after which she said “Jjjjjjoder!” with intensity. We laughed.
Jonas said we don’t need the room right now and can also put our stuff in a locker while they ready the room, but we’re also happy to take a better room. They took the hint and found us a ready room with a balcony on the top floor. We hopped into the funny ancient elevator and dumped our stuff and prepared our day bag.
And now it’s time to explore Bern!