It is in April 2020 and the pandemic of Coronavirus Covid- 19 is shaking up the world since months .
People all over the world are locked down at their homes not knowing when their governments will overcome this misery .The number of infections and death rates are rising every day.
In these days where we are stuck and not allowed to leave our houses we have time to reflect on what life means and what freedom really means .
Freedom certainly in my life means all the travels that I made throughout all the years to so many great places in the world .
Today I remembered the first trips that I experienced in my life which have a very special place in my heart as these were wonderful days with Dad when he was still alive and where he taught us already what it meant to be free and to travel and to enjoy life .
Dad was my great love and I admired him a lot – he was smart , he was courageous , he was wise , he was attractive and fearless. He loved his freedom and life and tried to live it as deep as possible . He loved the sea , the nature , his family – he loved to travel , to explore , to go far – he loved his music , his concerts , his friends – he simply was really a great person .
In the 1970s in summertime when the schools were closed for the summer holidays , the next day everybody was on the road to drive to some vacation in the south . Since in those days the weather in West Europe was very cloudy , rainy and cold and usually people preferred to go to the south , either to France , Italy , Spain , Greece or Turkey as everybody was looking for sun and for the sea to spend a few weeks with the family at the mediterrean .
It was the same for our family . In those days flying was very expensive and there were just very few flights to some destinations every week . On the other hand to go by car was always fun and you also needed the car at your holiday destination .
So what we did was to leave school and working stations on that Friday . All the suitcases and belongings for the 6 weeks that we had ahead were ready and Dad was stowing everything in the car trunk on Friday afternoon . Dad and his cars – this was a separate story – he loved his cars and he understood their language very well which helped us a lot during these long road trips . His cars for sure were also a symbol of freedom for him.
His favourites were the Ford cars in those days and he was driving a white 17 M Ford with red leather seats and he did everything to check and secure his car for the forthcoming trip some weeks ago – taking care for everything as he knew that it was crucial for our safety during the trip . His car was super precious for him.
Our route was from North Rhine Westfalia from Dusseldorf to Istanbul – a trip of about 2500 km and was passing by the cities of Dusseldorf – Frankfurt – Munich – Salzburg – Graz – Maribor – Zagreb- Belgrad -Nis -Sofia – Edirne – Istanbul. The duration of the trip was about 3 full days while the driver usually was just sleeping for few hours in the night and driving very long .
In the 1970s you were passing 5 countries which were West -Germany , Austria , Yugoslavya, Bulgaria and Turkey .Germany was not united yet and nobody could imagine that there will be a re-unification with Eastern Germany in those days . Yugoslavya was not divided into different countries yet and both Yugoslavya and Bulgaria were part of the Iron Curtain Countries which were under the hegemony of the Soviet Union . Glasnost did not take place yet.
It were the times when the Cold War was ongoing and the World was divided into two blocks – The Western Block and the Eastern Block .
For the trip Mom also did her own preparations – she was preparing fried meatballs , her great spring rolls filled with cheese , wine leaves filled with rice , some fresh vegetable such as tomatoes, cucumbers , carrots , fresh fruit , some cake and biscuits – everything was stored in her picnic baskets . She had her thermos for tea or coffee for Dad and some juice for the kids with her and some chocolate . So we were really fully equipped when we started our long trip .
We, as kids , were always super excited and this trip was an event that we were awaiting for a whole year . We loved it to be on the road with Dad and to drive through the different sceneries of the countries . We were not alone when taking this adventure . There were thousands of families with their cars leaving on that Saturday and usually we were also following the big convoy to the south .Internally we were organized with a group of 3-4 families with their kids and their cars driving altogether southwards as this was always more fun and also more safety as the roads were totally different then what it is today .In those days we had no mobiles and there was no way of communicating with each other during the road .But it was like a miracle that we never lost each other in this little chaos . We just tried to follow each other and defined the next station to stop and to gather which was usually a petrol station. On each trip we had some issues with one of the cars in the convoy – once our car key got broken , another time water was boiling in one of the cars ,once the wheel of one of the cars got off . But Dad always knew how to manage and sometimes with small tricks he could solve the problem and we could move on and our friends were so happy to have him in the group .
The first part of the trip which was from Dusseldorf to Munich was always the easiest one as the highways and the arrangements on the highways in Germany were very advanced while the following countries became more and more complicate during the grand tour .
We could pass by the borderline easily to Austria – in those years there was also no EU nor a Schengen area .
We were passing by Salzburg and Graz – the scenery in Austria was so beautiful – the sky became more bright and the green of the nature , the cows , the beautiful houses with their flowers on their balconies and the friendly people were so nice .
In the evening it was a must to visit the Wienerwald Restaurant in Austria which was very famous and a very important milestone on our excursion to take a rest and a good meal – the fried half chicken with the fried potatoes was a marvellous gift for all of us after having spent so many hours on the road already .
It was always super delicious .
The night we slept in the car while Dad was continuing to drive for some more hours and to use the cool and fresh air of the night .
The more difficult part started on the 2nd day as we all started to become tired . The sun was getting more intense .
We were passing the border to Yugoslavia and immediately the difference between a Western Block country and an Eastern Block Country became visible . The wide and modern highways were left behind in Austria and Germany , now the narrow and more simple land roads started . The roads were very crowded and all the international trucks were also using this path .
It was just one way that you could drive and it was quite risky for the driver to overtake the next car as there was always serious counter traffic and no space .
This is why our eyes were always on the road tracking what the situation is .
We were passing by hundreds of kms of corn fields and little villages .
Sometimes we could observe the workers on the roads who were all dressed up with the same uniforms and working for the local government .
The petrol stations were becoming also more moderate and in the 70s there was often the problem that the petrol for cars was running out of stock in Yugoslavia so that you needed to find a petrol station that could provide petrol and then you needed to queue up in a row of hundred cars maybe to have the opportunity to get some petrol and you were happy if you could get some .Half a day sometimes was passing by in this queue under the hot sun .
Also the colours of the surrounding were changing – the colourful gardens and the bright colors of the green spaces in Austria were left behind while here the surrounding looked somehow grey .It was the grey colour of the communism in those days .
There was nothing that could be colourful .Even nature looked somehow dusty and monotonous .When we were passing some little towns or small villages they were often looking also greyish and the people were very shy . The atmosphere of the communism in the country was somehow felt heavy in the air .
Yugoslavya always took a whole day on the road under the intense sun and was very tiring .But when you arrived at the end of the country you knew that 2 third of the journey was done .
The last petrol station before the Bulgarian borderline was always also a milestone for a stop to gather and to get the tank filled as in Bulgaria you were not allowed to stop at all – not for any kind of reason .
So we got our petrol and got ready for Bulgaria as this was the most difficult country on our road . It took us about 5 hours to pass the country from one end to the other but the fact that you were not allowed to stop anywhere for any reason which means you could not bring your kids to the toilet in case of need , you could not buy any petrol or other needs as they were not taking any foreign currency was making the transfer quite difficult and tense .You were not allowed to talk to the people and in case you stopped somewhere for some reason you could be pretty sure that in a minute the Bulgarian police was standing at your side and blaming you why you stop and do not allow you to explain anything . You felt that the police was also under high pressure and wanted to avoid any problems .Once you had some argue with the police you could get in trouble as they often tried to get your passport and then it was an issue to get it back .
For this reason Dad , Mom and us and all the people passing the country were alerted and stressed and everybody tried to be very careful . The worst case was to have an accident in Bulgaria as then you should be ready to have some serious challenges . It was really difficult .
Sometimes it was also an event that made you smile on the roads – often there were traffic controls or generals controls on the route and I remember one officer asking us with his hand to stop .
Dad did not know what was wrong and he stopped . He never got nervous and was always so sovereign to the situation whatever happened . He had some communication with the officer to find out what his issue was . But in fact there was no problem .
The officer had just realized the Wrigleys Spearmint Chewing Gum package in front of the car ‘s window and asked Dad whether he could get some chewing gums .
In those days for them it was like gold to get some European or American stuff.
This was actually a very easy problem to solve for Dad and so the officer got the full package that he was super happy about .
Another time we lost our way and the convoy and very late Dad recognized that he was driving towards the Romanian border instead to the Turkish border . Once he was aware it was late in the evening and our tank was getting empty . While he was looking for a petrol station it was getting darker and darker – there were no people , no civilization around , no lights . The petrol was getting less and less in the tank and we were worrying as we did not know how to get out of this misery. We arrived at a petrol station where people were sitting in a round and chatting but once the owner of the station saw our foreign car he got very nervous and did not want to help us . After Dad asking him several times for help as he is running out of petrol for the car he just added a few litres to our tank just to make us leave as the owner was fearing that the police would be around very soon .He even did not want to have any money – just us to leave immediately …
We left and were looking for another petrol station – again lost in the dark , not knowing whether we will find another one close by . There was no opportunity to check – no google , no navigation system , even no map … After quite some kms that we left behind we arrived at another petrol station . The owner was also afraid but understood our problem and what he did was very surprising for us . He filled up the tank and just asked us to leave immediately but Dad did not want to leave without having paid . He understood that the owner did not want to take any foreign cash but opened the trunk of the car . The trunk was full with newly bought presents and clothes for our holidays and Dad asked him to take whatever he likes as a kind of payment and this wonderful help given to us .Dad offered his expensive suit and his new bought nice leather shoes that he just bought for a party but the owner denied . He just took a pair of very simple bath slippers which had a value of very few Deutsche Mark and was pushing us to move immediately and he was right . All this incident took just few minutes but once Dad was sitting on his seat to leave, the police arrived .We just immediately left and were so thankful that the owner of the petrol station helped us and we could drive safely back to our route again in mid of the night .
What a stress it caused for both parties but this was the reality in the communist countries . As somebody coming from a Western Block country you really felt lost in the Eastern system and it was sometimes a challenge to behave correctly and to understand the rules .
Luckily we came back on track and in the early morning hours we arrived at the Turkish borderline . It was as if you start breathing again and you felt always lucky if you could pass Bulgaria without bigger issues and arrive safely at Kapikule .The lights at the borderline were bright , the sun was on the way to set . The people were speaking a language that was familiar and that was smooth and friendly .
We were passing the borderline with hundreds maybe thousands of other cars who were all lucky to have arrived .Everybody on the road felt relieved as 3 days on the road was nearly done .
Just 18 km behind the Turkish border there was the first city , Edirne which was always a milestone on our trip as well .
Usually we arrived early in the morning when people were still sleeping , but the morning was fresh and light – there were always melon sellers on the main roads who were selling their melons 24 hours a day . This was a kind of routine for us since years that we stop at one of the next melon seller and order some water melon , some white feta cheese and some fresh bread . Often we could also get some Turkish tea and it was akind of celebration to nearly end the drive .
We , but especially Dad , were tired and also happy to arrive safely after this long and difficult trip . The watermelons were a kind of award . We were thirsty and the watermelon and the cheese were so fresh ,energizing and so good !
Now the holidays really started and we always had really great weeks in the south and this adventurous roadtrip was always a great and exciting part of it that we will never forget .
Today when I look back I recognize that we witnessed part of history during these trips .
There is no Eastern Block any more , there is no Yugoslavia any more , there is the EU meanwhile where Yugoslavia and Bulgaria are a part of . There is no communism any more and people live a normal life . There are no land roads any more but highways where you might do the same route in maybe just half of the time but pay some toll.
There are no borderlines any more , no queues -as all the countries that you pass are members of the EU and part of the Schengen region .There are no queues at the petrol stations as there is enough petrol and there are no petrol station owners who will give you the petrol for free . You will need to pay its price . Also the surroundings have changed . The 2 countries are more colourful , more vivid , more westernized now and the grey curtain of the old system is uplifted .
Germany is not divided into East and West West any more.Since 1991 it is one nation unified and one of the strongest economies in the World .
The cars changed – there are no antique cars any more – everybody has new BMWS , Audis , Mercedes and Jeeps . You have your mobiles to have any contact to the outside world and you will not lose your way in the darkness as you have your navigation.
I just feel that the world all in all was much more wide and free in the 1970s while today you can travel 10.000 kms with a plane for 10-12 hours only but you don’t see anything from the countries you pass and you dont have the right feeling on how far the distance is that you travel .Today you are captured in highways and their toll systems ,cameras , in technology , in mobile phones , internet , navigation systems , instagram stories ,travel blogs or you tube stories.
When I look back these were the most wonderful years that we spent with Dad as in 1980 unfortunately he left us .Just the memories of those great tours were left behind . Memories of a world that was far more simple and natural and trips were very educational and differently impressive .
I think I did this trip about 12-13 times in the 1970s and beginning of the 80s and this is probably the reason why I have the feeling that I know the route by heart.
It would be great if one day I could do this trip with a suitable car and the same route again , to take my time and have a look at what all changed since then -whether there are details on the road that are in my mind that I will recognize again and to remember my lovely Dad and his love to drive with his car on these roads.