Somewhere near Hanover, I stood at a petrol-station, hitch-hiking, my cardboard sign reading ‘BERLIN’. To be more precise, Sunday the 31 of December 1989 . Strangely, it had been the bright idea of my mother to send me to Berlin for New Year’s eve. She gave me money for the return fair by train, I would hitch a ride from the Netherlands to the city that had captured our imagination when the Iron wall cracked a month earlier.
A family car drove up to the station, stopped, the doors opened. A woman behind the steering wheel, a basket with drinking cups, sandwiches, towels spread out on the passenger seat next to her, a man holding a baby swaddled in a blanket sat in the back seat. They hastily filled up the petrol tank, paid and reorganised themselves in a calculated nervous manner ensuring their baby would not be disturbed. The woman called to me, ‘do you have a driving license?’.
Before I could even show my license, she asked if I could drive them to Berlin.
My small bag containing a sleeping bag, my 35mm camera, a water proof liner and dried fruits were put in the boot. We shifted seats, the man came to sit next to me, the woman and baby moved to the back seat to nurse. And I set the car into motion towards Berlin with the young parents and their baby. At checkpoint Alpha, the Helmstedt-Marienborn station some 170km from Berlin I gave our passports to the guards for inspection and then drove the last hours on the corridor like autobahn, the grey DDR on either side. At each bridge that we passed under we were greeted by waving children and adults in the fading light. The woman remarked, ‘a few months ago they would be taken to jail for waving at us.’ We followed the road to Berlin that had changed its way.
Close to the Großer Tiergarten of Berlin I stopped the car, I thanked my family for the lift and they thanked me for the drive, ending a most remarkable exchange of trust.