Renee und Servas

* contributed by Renee Chinquapin, Austria/USA *

I am a 68-years old, transsexual American woman of Jewish heritage, currently living in Vienna with my Austrian partner. As I have time and good enough health to do some exploring and because I speak German I set off on a 6 week bicycle tour through Bavaria in late June, 2016, mostly staying with Servas hosts. I had previously traveled extensively in Germany both with Servas and Couchsurfing and found German hosts to be extraordinarily considerate and generous. This is a teaser story to encourage you to consider attempting something of the sort.

Unlike other long-distance bicyclists, I care not how far or fast I travel. I simply wish to enjoy beautiful landscapes, art, and architecture as well as get to know other open-minded travelers. I only planned a week or so in advance. I purchased a smart phone after a decade of diehard resistance because it allowed me to instantly access the German Servas Host list as well as email them on the road, which the phone’s GPS allowed me to more easily navigate. I did not take along a bicycle map nor load fancy apps on the phone, relying on tourist information cycle maps as I went along, traveling by the motto: „Less is More.“

I followed the Danube up to Regensburg, then the Regen to its source and on to Hersbruck, then the Pegnitz down to Nuremberg, the Danube-Main Canal up to Bamberg. I then biked on to Ansbach, Lichtenau and down the Altmühl to Eichstätt, then over the hill to Ingolstadt, Moosburg, Weissenburg, Rosenheim, Siegsdorf, Salzburg then finally back to Linz through the Salzkammergut and down the Traun.

I stayed with ten heterosexual, christian, well-travelled, well-educated mostly older Servas hosts, many of whom could vividly recall WWII. One fellow was bitten by the Mongolia bug and went horseback riding there across the steppes every summer … in his late 70’s.

Another childless couple lived in a mixed-age, purpose-build urban community where they constantly entertained and assisted their multicultural neighbors. One host worked forty years with handicapped adults. One couple collected memorabilia from all their travels; their home was a museum of knick-knacks from everywhere, astounding actually. One hostess told me stories about her childhood in occupied Holland and all about the evolving reconciliation between the Dutch and the Germans.

I did stay with a few middle-aged hosts as well and was struck by how uninterested in my background, my various identities they were in comparison to older hosts, one of whom told me that my androgyny irritated her. Yes, I always had a lot of explaining to do with old hosts, whereas younger ones seemed much more grounded in the present.

Visiting so many homes I was struck by how important beer was to Bavarian men, really as much a culinary delight as cultural marker. Food was generally a down-to-earth practical matter rather than a pleasure or shared ritual. Hosts were extremely indulgent of my particular dietary limitations, for hosting someone who cannot eat sugar, wheat or potatoes—in Germany, no less—is no simple matter. I always had my own bedroom and bathroom and a key to the premises. I generally stayed three nights though in a pinch someone put me up for five nights. Hosts always provided me with maps and brochures on local attractions.

I was unable to stay with Servas hosts in Austria, where everyone vacations in August. Thus, all my observations were of German hosts only.

All in all, I found my hosts engaging, heart-felt, admirable human beings with good boundaries and great comprehension of the human drama. All of them wanted to know my opinion of Donald Trump and what it was like to travel by myself, something I cannot recommend too highly: it forces one to reach out to strangers, take social risks, and challenge oneself constantly in all sorts of ways. It also allows for immense flexibility and freedom.

The only difficulty I want to mention is that old-fashioned village inns and family bed and breakfast places have almost all closed down, due to Air B&B and ever increasing demands by travelers for fancier and more modern accomodations. When and where I could not find Servas hosts, I had trouble locating modest lodgings.

I am happy to answer any questions you might have at:

reneechinquapin@gmail.com

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