Doug and I clambered aboard the train and Doug explained a bit about Jim. He was American but not the college type who had a four week Euro trip all planned out with lists of things to tick off. He was basically cruising around, checking things out and getting into the vibe of a European summer. We changed trains at Koln and made it to Bingen. We went into the main station and Doug went off to find Jim. Be buggered if he didn't pick him out, first up. A surprising chap was Doug. They'd planned the time and place and were spot on.
"G'day Jim, how are ya?" I stuck out my hand,
"Getting thirsty, Nick. I've figured out where the Youth hostel is." He seemed pretty switched on.
"But not in Bingen. I'm fine for Dusseldorf!" Then he and Doug cracked up and I soon joined them. The ball-bearing plant in Dusseldorf was a standard Hogan's Heroes gag and Doug and I had played it out a few times. Jim had obviously done the same. We hoisted our packs and moved out. My main memory of getting to the hostel was Jim asking people "Vo is der Jugendherberge" and getting no response. On the way we pointed out a couple of likely venues for the evening's frivolities.
After checking in we sussed out the curfew time and did a recon of the ground floor windows. The idea was that on our way out we'd prop one slightly ajar, hence giving us an in to the hostel after hours. The Hostel Kommandant had obviously done his research and installed proper latches with key locks. Bastard, he had us worked out. We checked the first floor but it was the same. The whole place would be secured at night; no good having the prisoners come and go when they please. We ran a book on the name of the jugendherbergoberfuhrer being Major Hochstetter. Waht it boiled down to was the enforcement of a relatively early night. .
We started our night with a meal at a pizza joint accompanied by a nice drop of Schoftehoffer beer. Then we hit a local beer garden which was okay but more tourist class than anything. We wandered around checking places out and ended up in a small bierhaus which was more like a pub than a beer hall. Jim again tried out his German on the locals but got nowhere. I gave him points for persistence. Each time he tried Doug would crack up with laughter and that would set me off. Poor old Jim had no chance. We settled in for a few hours, piecing together each others' journeys and laughing at our combined misadventures. Jim thought the Crazy Belgian was the funniest episode and was appalled that I couldn't convincwe both Ann and Leina to share my bed. He and Doug had seen a bit of Germany together and told some tales of messy times.
Fifteen minutes before curfew we realised we'd be having to get back to the luftstalag before the gates were shut. Nothing for it but to take some pubness back with us. This ended up being a stack of beers. Where in the hostel would we drink them?
"How about the kitchen? It has a fridge." I thought my idea was good.
"No, Klink's room is next door. He'd wake up for sure and plug us with his Luger." Jim was right and then Doug settled the matter,
"The locker room. It has sinks where we can stash the beer."
When we reached the hostel the main lights were out, with only the night security globes still lit. Well that was enough light for us to get into the locker room. So it was there that Jim showed me how to do those complimicated homey hand shakes, we practiced some hip hop moves and generally went silly, laughing at the idiocy of it all. At one stage I ran out of cigarettes and retrieved a pack I'd bought in Russia. The others were impressed until they lit up. We finished off our last beers at around two in the morning and crashed our way to our bunks.
The Fruhstuck was bearable and necessary the next morning but we needed to supplement the bread roll with some grease. This time we munched out on bierwurst hot dogs. As we munched on these we saw a Rhine cruise boat pull in. On we hopped for a cruise up to Koblenz. We wandered around, saw a laundromat and decided we needed to get our clothes into order again.
Once we'd finished we went to the station and headed off for Koln. During the short trip we looked at our guide books and maps, picking out places. Doug had been in Brugges a week or so back and was keen on revisiting. We sttled on a place called Namur because one of the guidebooks said the hostel had bikes we could hire and the scenery was great. Jim called them and sked them to reserve a few bunks and told them we'd be in around 11.00 p.m. After that we grabbed a six pack for the train and headed off. There were a couple of lay offs on the way so we bought some food for our proposed bike trip the next day.
It was after eleven when we got to thehostel and found it was fairly empty. A few of the staff were still up, and they seemed pretty cool, basically just told us to sit down and chill out. There was one guy behind the counter fiddling with a stereo and we asked him should we dump our packs in the dorm room. He said,
"No, relax. Want a beer?" and he reached down and pulled out four beers and popped them open. We handed him some francs which he looked at and put on the counter,
"I'll figure that out later." His name was Dave and he was American. Karen was Australian and Betty was American.
We'd managed to find the coolest youth hostel crew ever. Dave acted DJ and played mainly sixties classics like Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Doors. When we launched into our second beers we asked them about where we should sleep. They pointed in the direction of the dorm rooms but didn't seem fazed about when we crashed. We told them about some of what we'd been up to and who we'd met, including the Crazy Belgian. They claimed not to have known him but we weren't convinced and Doug and I did our best CB impersonations to jog their memories. No dice but we got a few laughs. At two in the morning our packs were where we'd first put them when we walked in, there was a pile of empty beer bottles in a crate and it was time to for beddy-byes.
Around 10.00 I got up and found the others stumbling in the fog of the morning. Freshly showered and wearing clean clothes from the previous day's laundry detail I felt up to speed. Cornflakes and toast were dished up by the crew and I added a toast thing I'd seen in Italy. I toasted bread with a slight drizzle of olive oil under the grill and topped it with sliced tomato, another slight drizzle of the olive stuff and cracked pepper over the top. It went down well.
We then sat arpund the big table of the main room and discussed what we'd do. It wasn't long before Dave got busy with the beers. He told us he could fix up a couple of the bikes for us. We asked about the possibility of rain and he reckoned it was a slight chance.
"Decide later, the offer's still there." he added.
I started writing on a pad of paper about a couple of my experiences. "How to Meet Crazy Belgians" was the first, then Doug had a look and started scribbling his own. Jim grabbed a sheet of paper and chimed in as well. We then started talking about a title for our anti guide book.
We settled on "Let's Go Home" after the popular "Let's Go" series aimed at the backpacker market. It wasn't long before others asked us what we were up to and a Scot and a couple of Brits added their own tales of dodgy events. Dave wrote us off as a bunch of messes, told us he didn't expect us to go bike riding and concentrated on keeping the beers up and the music spinning. The only sour note was a couple of brainless Californian girls. They were impressed with our efforts. We encouraged their interest as normally we'd be going for the vacant types, but these two were simply too punishingly stupid. And their voices were horrendous. During a post mortem on the day Jim told us that on behalf of the U.S. he was deeply, deeply sorry. The fact that out of three young male backpackers full of the juices of life who had had some success with travelling romances, none of us followed up on these bints says something about them. One of them even suggested we put pictures in the little tome of ours. "Let's Go Home" became our pet project for the day and we ended up with a pile of pages of helpful travel advice. We'd worded it like other guide books and thought we were on a winner. We even theorised on how to get the "Let's Go" publishers on side to avoid legal wrangles. Basically the book explained the worst places to visit and the worst people to meet in Europe. Guys from England and Scotland offered tales of really sorry industrial towns they'd been through in Italy, the worst dives in Spain and other assorted place to be avoided. We convinced everyone it was a genuine project and the became the cause celebre of Namur youth hostel for a day.
We also really liked the crew of the hostel and made promises to meet up at the Oktoberfest on opening day, in the Hofbrauhaus Tent at midday. We didn't know where it would be but at least it was a plan. Jim would miss it because he'd be back home in the land of the Big PX by then, but the rest of us were keen. We'd discovered kindred spirits. Karen and Betty also appreciated our efforts in deflecting the inanity of the Californian girls. We asked the two airheads to write about Yugoslavia and Greece and that kept them occupied (and not )for half an hour. So Diane and Teri of Torrance, CA 90504 USA, bad luck girls. Your writings were discarded by Doug at the first opportunity which presented. I believe that may have been just after dinner when he belched, shook his head and announced,
"Bye bye space cakes!", throwing a screwed up piece of paper into the bin.
If anyone wants their full names and an old address, I'm not giving. Seriously, you have better things to do. Like seeing how many nails it takes to fix your ears to a wall.