In conversation with Hermann Höglinger
Three days there, three days back
Hermann Höglinger has been working for Gebrüder Weiss Passau since 1994. The Austrian is a father of three. In May he will be celebrating the arrival of his third grandchild. He has driven well over fi ve million kilometers in his job in total. And for almost ten years now, he has also been running long distances – covering close to 2,000 kilometers annually.
What was the longest route you've ever driven in one stretch?
In one stretch? That was undoubtedly a relief run I had, delivering donated food on behalf of the Red Cross. It was exactly 30 years ago. At that time, we formed a convoy and drove with several trucks from the German town of Passau to Zagorsk, which is now known as Sergiyev Posad. It's a large city northeast of Moscow, about 2,500 kilometers from Passau. It took us nine days in total: three days there, three days back and three days locally to distribute the aid parcels.
Do you have any special memories of that run?
Most of all, I recall how poor the people were – it was an exceptional time. We saw people in rural areas who had almost nothing. Some who picked up donations were very old, and they dragged the groceries home on sleds. It was just before the Russian Christmas season and we had the feeling we were bearing gifts.
So, you’re saying it wasn't just the distance that made the trip so special.
Absolutely. You don't get to do something like that every day. We drivers joined up for a good cause and then headed off as a team over the horizon. That was a real experience. At the time we still had CB radios so we could talk to each other all day long. The trip was a real contrast to my normal jobs in terms of the infrastructure, too. You entered Poland and then Russia, and it was all completely different. For instance, there were hardly any snowplows to clear the roads. That changes almost everything when you're driving. That said, there was much less traffic and the highways were all but deserted. The sparse signage on the roads also took some getting accustomed to. Here in Germany, signs are planted everywhere; there, from the Polish border onwards, all you got were the bare necessities. But that worked too!
Did you have time to enjoy the scenery and meet some of the locals en route?
Yes, the landscape along the highway itself is quite unique. You drive hundreds of kilometers and hardly see a thing – just road, road and more road. This was not long after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At one point, just beyond the Russian border, we suddenly saw clouds of smoke rising up ahead. I thought something must be burning on the highway! As we got closer, I realized somebody had set a truck tire on fire on the roadside, and there were about 50 people standing around it basking in the heat. They were taking a break and sacrificing the tire just to warm up a little. Beverages were really in short supply on the trip as well. A table was always set for us of an evening, with a large jug of juice being served. Otherwise, we were each given a bottle of vodka and that was it. That seemed quite normal to everyone. The juice was always gone quickly, but the vodka was left over. There was no hot food either, with one exception: when we were invited to a monastery in Zagorsk and were offered bowls of soup. Otherwise the food was at best lukewarm. That's usually the case in Russia, and you soon learn to adapt when you are there.
So, despite driving 2,500 kilometers, you never got bored?
Absolutely not. Time flies when you are part of a convoy. I had lots of really good conversations with my colleagues over the radio. None of us had ever met, so we had plenty to talk about – like, for examples, the routes we normally covered. Until then I had spent most of my time travelling between Germany and Austria, and then, later on, to Holland or Belgium, and very occasionally to Luxembourg. It was exciting to hear about all the places the others had been. From Spain across to Italy and Italy to England. I've never worked on any routes like that.
As a young driver I would have loved to see the world, but once you have family, you don't want to be away for too long. You like to be back to base by the Saturday at the latest. Spending weekends at home has always been very important to me. Nowadays I only drive regular services, so I make it back home every evening. I haven't taken a vacation for years because I decided I didn't want to be on the road all the time. I just like being home.
Would you drive such a long route again today?
If it were for another relief delivery, I would. But I would have reservations about driving on my own, if only because of the language. Communicating on the road is just plain difficult if you can't speak the local tongue. Hats off to colleagues who travel all over Europe, I always say – those drivers who just carry on, somehow “talking” with hands and feet. And that isn't all. You need to understand the customs and habits of people in foreign countries. You have to know the traffic regulations. There are minor differences everywhere. It's easier if you are driving regular routes. Then you're familiar with all the signage and you know, for instance, that passing other vehicles isn't allowed between 4 and 6 p.m., there it is, signposted. But how can you expect a young guy from Lithuania to grasp all this straight away?
Considering your many years of experience as a trucker, what advice would you give drivers who spend hours on end behind the wheel?
Staying calm and composed is the most important thing. Stress doesn't achieve anything. If possible, take your time and relax while you are driving. And don't set off at the last moment.
Merlin Herrmann is a media spokesman at Gebrüder Weiss.
Hermann Höglinger has been working for Gebrüder Weiss Passau since 1994. The Austrian is a father of three. In May he will be celebrating the arrival of his third grandchild. He has driven well over five million kilometers in his job in total. And for almost 10 years now, he has also been running long distances – covering close to 2,000 kilometers annually.