Denmark/Netherlands 1977

[Information for readers who have only known European travel under the Schengen agreement: back in 1977 there were border controls between all countries].


I had hoped to pick up a hitch-hiker who could help me with the driving but the bearded stranger hadn’t passed a driving test. At Aarhus, in Denmark, I had spotted the sign he was holding out: ‘Hamburg or Utrecht’. He said there had been 7 hitch-hikers at that motorway entrance in the two hours he had been waiting, and he had wanted his sign to differentiate himself from the short-distance hikers. He was delighted that I picked him up: not many hitch-hikers get a lift which takes them 586 kilometres to exactly where they want to go, Utrecht in the Netherlands. We made good time: 8.5 hours including crossing two borders.

I made it clear to him that I wouldn’t carry him over the borders. For one thing, because I am a sailor, my passport is full of strange stamps and European immigration officers always looked carefully at someone with a Chinese stamp in those days. For another thing if the stranger was carrying anything illegal I didn’t want him in my car when customs found it. In the end all was fine: we each took about the same time to get through the Danish/German borders and then the German/Dutch ones.

Driving on German motorways is a real pleasure: well-maintained and no speed limit! I was in a hurry to get home. My Renault 2cv was never going to go that fast though, and I was tired, which was why I asked the stranger to share the driving. It wasn’t busy on the road (being 2am) and it didn’t matter that he didn’t know how to drive: he sat in the passenger seat with his foot on the accelerator and his hand on the wheel. I went to sleep, ready to be woken if he needed a gear change.