Viva con Agua Hitchhike Race 2008

On the 23rd of August in 2008 twelve people in five groups made their way hitchhiking from Hamburg to Saragossa for the Open Network Viva con Agua de Sankt Pauli, a charity movement from Hamburg-St.Pauli. This movement provides villages in Latin America and Africa with clear drinkable water resources. The hitchhikers called attention for the worldwide drinkable water problems with 5,000 flyers in different languages and through the media. This is the story of how this all came about.

Unforeseen competition in Corsica
It was someday in 2006, when I and my best friend Marcel decided to hitchhike the first time a bit around Europe. We had no idea how to hitchhike, just got some information on the internet and a couple of days later our thumbs were shining the first time in the sun on the road direction south of Hamburg, destination Corsica to do the circle around the island. Our first ride in a foreign country was probably one of the most amazing till now, but for sure unforgettable. The rusty car with low air was full of bad sprayed graffiti animals - a bunny and a cow and something we never figured out what it was - and the three principles of the french constitution: Egalite, Liberte, Fraternite. So far, so good...low air, heavy heavy rain, already some cars beside the road and a freaky guy who proudly called his home this car, provided with moss in the front of the steering-wheel and some plastic figures, a bunch of some 50 parking and speed tickets in the glove box ("hehe, they can't catch me, i live in this car and have no address - who cares") and a clothesline from window to window on the backseat with some more or less freshly washed shirts. Wow, this is crazy, if every driver who picks us up is like this guy, we'll never stop hitchhiking we thought. After the 30 minutes ride he dropped us of somewhere and we still wondered how this car survived even this short trip in such a fucked up condition...we were even more excited when he told us he's heading back to the harbor now to get a ferry to the French main land and then continue driving to Thailand - without money, a working car and we would not even wonder if had no proper map...this has been our first hitchhiking experience outside of Germany - there is no better way to start we agreed standing in the rain waiting for the next lift!

After a couple of days spending time on the beaches and the beautiful mountains of Corsica we discovered another pair of hitchhikers standing with a sign on the road. Sometimes we saw these two guys twice or three times a day, always hitchhiking, always the same route we did, because there is only one good main road in Corsica. And here the idea of a hitchhike race was born. We never met the two ones personally, but always overtook them somewhere on the road and they for sure did the same with us, so we had our little competition on the island of Corsica - always celebrating the moment we saw these guys standing below a tree with a sign in their hand and sticking their thumbs out. We imagined some great evenings and stories if we only had met these guys once to share some time together on a bonfire...Too bad we didn't...

Hitchhiking and Viva con Agua
2 years later in 2008, after some time of traveling, working and studying we decided to organize a hitchhiking race for two weeks to a certain destination somewhere in Europe. We heard about this charity movement from Hamburg-St.Pauli called 'Viva con Agua', which was known to raise money for social projects in another way we know it from big organizations. We liked the idea of an open network, where everybody has the option to move, organize or participate in something, with own ideas and influence. We also liked the idea, that Viva con Agua doesn't just ask people to donate money on a simple bank account but involving them in every project they run. Organizing parties, concerts, cultural and sport events or arrange 'Water Days' in schools with a charity run afterward, so the kids know what they're running for. They also walked 1000km from Hamburg to Basel with a wooden bicycle from Kongo to the European Football Cup opening game in 39 days to call attention for the worldwide drinking water problems and collected deposit cups on every bigger festival in Germany the whole summer long. A crazy crew of young people willing to move something, open for new ways and ideas. Behind every of these activities stands one simple idea: to combine fun and social engagement.

Organization and disappointment

So our idea of a hitchhike race fitted perfectly in the philosophy of this a little bit different charity organization. A hitchhike-race, the ultimate combination of fun and the possibility to support the drinkable water-projects in countries in Latin America and Africa. We liked the idea a lot and so started to work out everything necessary. First we needed to find the route, checkpoint city's and organizing information for every hitchhiking group like maps, hitchhiking phrases, security issues, meeting points in the checkpoint city's, etc...Then we started to promote the race in the internet (not that successful) and our home towns Kiel and Hamburg in the university, bars and public places, spending nights tagging traffic jams and bus-stations with posters and flyers, talking to everybody we know, telling about our project and tried to motivate them to join. Everybody was interested, a lot excited, some said they're joining definitely - and some weeks before we planned to start from Hamburg to Saragossa we were kinda sure: we are freaks who like to spend our free time half the day on a dusty road or a smelly gas-station just to be the fun-and-fear-factor for hundreds of car-drivers. Only 1 more group signed up after weeks of spreading the word of the hitchhiking race in August, making a trailer for and informing people - all the effort for only one group?this was definitely not what we wanted...but organizing a hitchhiking race is like hitchhiking itself - you can only influence it to a certain point, than everything is going to happen on his own.It was disappointing.

Alright, we gonna have fun anyway, if with 2,3 or 20 groups doesn't matter we thought, let these boring people staying home watching reality TV-shows or getting sunburned somewhere on a fake-beach in a 4 Stars hotel in Turkey - we don't care, because we gonna have fun and a great time together! After quite some time of disappointment after all that effort we just kept on working out the last details for the race. We needed a camera to document the whole race, we contacted different radio stations and newspapers, even wrote a short message to a local TV Channel which is covering the whole north of Germany. Our destination was still Saragossa, the place where the EXPO 2008 took place with the topic 'Water and Sustainable Development' and we wanted to see this exhibition for free, so we asked the German pavilion for some support. 5,000 flyers needed to be designed and printed in 3 different languages to spread the idea of Viva con Agua on the way and we still wanted to find sponsors before the race who donate one cent for each hitchhiked kilometer. In that way we avoided to ask people for money during the race, because for us it was out of question to keep hitchhiking free of money for the whole time we gonna spend on the road.

Wow! it seems to work! - Reactions close before the start and after two weeks of hitchhiking

And two weeks before the race actually started, our project started to evolve like the rule number one of hitchhiking: you always get away. In the end we were 12 people who hitchhiked 2500km from Hamburg to Saragossa and back, always spreading good vibes, flyers and information on the road. And even the media started to become interested in our small project: 3 radio stations called us during the race for live interviews, the TV channel accompanied two groups the whole first day from the starting point on in Hamburg, a bunch of newspapers wrote about the race and its background and even one of the biggest internet news platforms in Germany wrote a long article about the hitchhiking race. In Montpellier we received the invitation of the German pavilion in Saragossa and the whole crew welcomed us with beer and bratwurst and we didn't even had to wait 4 hours like every other visitor to see the pavilion from the inside!

So 12 people reached approximately more or less 500,000 people in Northern Germany (mostly between Hamburg and Kiel), calling attention for drinkable water issues and promoting hitchhiking as a generally safe, fast and extremely interesting, funny and cheap way of traveling.

Seven of the 12 participants never hitchhiked before, not even a kilometer - and now, after hitchhiking some thousand kilometers they can't believe how easy it actually is and how they spent their time gazing out of a window for a couple of hours in bus or train. They were excited about the hospitality and friendliness of so many people and heard a dozen of different stories from all the life's ups and downs. To make it short: they became addicted to hitchhiking!

Three weeks after the race the snowball effect slowly starts moving. Showing pictures of all the different people and their amazing stories, the nice sunsets in Nice, camping in Barcelona's parks, guitar-jams in Montpellier, juggling in Lausanne and the fact, that nobody didn't pay a cent for 5000km (Hamburg - Saragossa - Hamburg) of transportation already inspired a lot of people to join the race in the upcoming year or just start hitchhiking the next bigger distance - in my opinion far the most success. Some people even sticked out their thumb the next day to visit parents and friends in their home cities and have been amazed how funny and interesting it is.

In the end our project was pretty successful: we had two great weeks of hitchhiking, we promoted the idea of Viva con Agua, we combined fun and social engagement, we called attention in every possible part of the media, we promoted hitchhiking and inspired more people to hit the road by hitchhiking - we're looking forward for the Hitch in 2009 and more hitchhiking gatherings and competitions!