Hitchhiking in Poland in Communism – A fridge for a lift

When hitchhiking in Poland during communism, drivers who picked up hitchhikers could participate in a lottery. Prizes included, among others, a refrigerator.

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Hitchhiking in Poland is easy to this day. I have been on the road through Poland several times now. As a driver and also in the past often as a hitchhiker myself. One legend has fascinated me every time I heard it. Many Polish people told me that in the communist era, people taking hitchhikers were given coupons from a state organization. With that, you then participated in a lottery. The main prize: a refrigerator. But is that really true? I did some extra research on this. And I was surprised.

Autostop-friendly Poland

Many hitchhikers tell me a story again and again during my travels through Poland. The story is as simple as it is ingenious. At the time of communism in Poland you could win a refrigerator if you picked up hitchhikers. It is said that there was a kind of stamp book in which the hitchhikers signed in and in return the driver had the chance to participate in a lottery. The main prize of the lottery was a refrigerator. I think this is a great idea. But a communist state that promotes individual freedom?

Researching the car stop lottery

Several times I searched on Google. And with various keywords, after about 10 minutes I came across an article in the Dispatch newspaper from Lexington, North Carolina. The whole thing is mentioned there only as a paragraph, but I had my lead, so I wanted to research the story in more detail. I already called the Polish Cultural Institute. They outright declared me crazy.

After meeting a Polish hitchhiker in Lithuania who told me the story again, my incentive was rekindled. So this time I called the Polish embassy in Berlin and asked one of the press speakers for help. She, too, couldn’t imagine communism and a hitchhiker’s booklet. But she was hooked on my story and promised to help.

Inspiration from the US

Hitchhiking in Poland

Shortly afterwards, I received an e-mail. Mrs. Szlosarek had found something about it after all. “Only after Stalin’s death did the situation loosen up so that students could carry it out. They copied it from the United States. Their names were Boguslaw Laitla and Tadeusz Sowa. With the permission of the police, they carried out this initiative in the summer of 1956,” she writes in the mail.

Coupon book for taking hitchhikers in Poland

But the best is yet to come. Not only did the drivers have an extra booklet. In it, the passengers could sign in with the name and data of the traveler and the number of kilometers taken. Also the rules of what is allowed and what is not allowed were stated. The driver of the car, after sending the coupons to the newspaper “Around the World” ( “Dookoła Świata”, for young people and tourists), could win prizes. The last take-home book was issued well after the end of communism, in 1994.

Prizes for taking hitchhikers

The first thing to win was a car. These were Polish brands like Warszawa, Syrena or Mikrus. “Because there were too many drivers who wanted the main prize, after a year they changed it to multiple, smaller prizes: A TV, a motorcycle, a scooter, a photocamera or a refrigerator” were provided, Dominika Szlosarek said. So it’s true. For hitchhiking, with a little luck, you used to be able to get a refrigerator in Poland. Incredible, isn’t it?

A perspective for the mobility of the future?

Why doesn’t something like that exist anymore? It would be a great idea to make hitchhiking more popular again. And it could even solve many mobility issues, not only in Poland, but also in rural Germany or the US, for example. With apps and registration, you could check people for any security issues and confirm their identity. You could check in when starting the ride, check out when getting off and the drivers would even automatically enter a contest and could win prizes. I think the idea is not only fun, but even easily implementable. Are there any volunteers?

Thanks to Dominika Szlosarek for assistance in the search and for the final clarification on the topic!

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Peter Althaus is a journalist, author and blogger. In 2011, he founded the travel blog Rooksack. But his real love has always been Eastern Europe. He now lives in Lviv, Ukraine, where he runs a tour operator. But since he still loves to write, today there is Wild East – the Eastern Europe travel blog.

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1 year ago

Me and my friend Guy noticed the state sponsored hitch hiking system when we hitched from Warsaw to Gdańsk in 1990. One further detail – the system was supported by official ‘hitch stop’ signs by the sides of roads which were represented by a steering wheel set against a yellow background. Next to each sign you would invariably see people waiting with their thumbs out waiting for a passing lorry driver. Sadly while we took lots of photos on our trip we managed to take none of either the signs or the hitchers. And we hitched a ride the whole way in a private car so did not take part in the scheme either! What a missed piece of history!

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