Cycling home across Austria on a stolen bike: ‘ somebody’s looking after me’

How did I get home? That’s a long story … A farmer gave me some clothes so I could get rid of my uniform.  I was sitting outside and a bloke came along with a motorbike and a gun.  His motorbike didn’t go properly, so I said ‘What’s the matter?’ and fixed it so he was happy. He said ‘ Where are you going? What are you doing? Where do you come from?’ He wanted to know a lot, so I told him a lot of nothing. Then he said ‘ Do you want some work? I’ve got a bloke down there in the valley, a farmer, he needs some people.’  So I said ‘Alright’ and he took me down there and I just started work on the farm.  It was hard, I didn’t know anything, I’d never done it before. It was anything, from the stables to the fields, cattle farming. The farmer only had one arm, he had got his arm cut in a saw so he couldn’t use it, so he needed help. I did what I could. I felt safe. He was a freedom camper, an anti-Nazi partisan. He gave me the job so I was under his protection. I was lucky. Like I said, somebody looks after me. It was hard but I was still young. I couldn’t go home because the Russians were in Grazen and because of my past in Hitler Youth I would have been in danger. So I was quite happy there. I worked through the summer, and then when the harvest was on I had a falling out with someone.  I was doing my best but one of the workers was running me down all the time because I was slow. It got my back up, so I quit.  I went back to the famer and I said to him ‘I’m not going to stay anymore.’  So he gave me some money and his wife gave me a loaf of bread, and I took the few things I had - rags really- and I said to myself ‘Let’s go.’ 

I was still fuming because of the way the bloke had run me down. I went past his house and there was a lonely bike. I told myself ‘You don’t need that anymore’ so I hopped on that bike and off I went. I stole his bike, and I didn’t feel bad either.  So I set off, back to my aunt, in Feldkirch. I pedalled all the way through across the top of Austria through Salzburg, through Tyrol all on that bike. That’s about 500 km. No gears. And mountains!

When I came down to Salzburg I was in trouble. An American was there, he saw me coming on the bike, he just lifted the boom, I kept going. But a hundred metres further down, the French. He didn’t lift the boom, so I stopped. I didn’t have any papers, so I said to him ‘ I live over there, I just come back here for work, I’m going to go home.’ It took me half an hour to convince him, but he let me through, it must have been too hard for him to keep arguing.

I remember I slept in a stables with the animals. I slept on the street… For food I bought  something where I could, and asked for something, and people gave me food. I had a few marks, I got a little bit here a little bit there. And then I went to Arlberg across the mountains – it’s another twenty kilometres up. It’s up and up, it never finished. I was more on my feet than on my bike. I had to sleep on the way up. And then the other side, at Arlberg it was all the way down the hill to my aunt, I never stopped.  I knocked on the door, and there’s my aunt and uncle there, they were surprised, they didn’t know what had happened or where I had come from. The only thing they knew was that I was in the army. So I explained to them what had happened and my uncle said ‘I have to see that bike’. We went to look at it and he said ‘ You know you’ve got a flat tyre.’ It had held until I got there!  That bike- I was lucky! I believed in my luck because many times it got me out of many things.