Nonni In Germany: The Bike, Episode #1

I know that I’ve told you about our trip to Germany, but I want to give you a little bit of an insight into the highlights of the week. This story is about me on a bike.

Oh, yeah.

This old Nonni is one badass chick, lemme tell ya. I rode a bike!


Here’s how it happened.

We were getting ready to make some dinner at Katja’s house in Berlin. I was in my element, chopping veggies and thinking about spices. Confident, secure, smiling as I diced the onions.

Suddenly Katja realized that we were missing a few key ingredients, and asked if I wanted to go with her to the local grocery store. Of course I did! I had gone shopping with her the evening before, and I was looking forward to another adventure in a store filled with both bargain priced booze and ten thousand versions of “wurst.” We headed outside.

It took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on, but eventually I realized that Katja- tall, thin, marathon running, 15 years younger than me Katja- was taking out two matching bicycles. Two large, scary, bikes.

She expected me to ride one of them to the store! Pedaling with my own two legs.  And, you know, balancing my big old butt on that pointy seat.

My first reaction was to run for the hills, but I was trying to be a good guest. Also, I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t ride a bike. I’m an idiot.

I told my friend that I hadn’t been on a bike in at least 20 years. I reminder her that I’m a lot older than she is. I brought up my fibromyalgia. I coughed. I squinted my eyes. I sort of hoped that she’d decide to go by car, but I sort of hoped she’d push me.

Katja just stood there, regal and gorgeous, holding her bike. “You can do this,” she said. What could I do?  I climbed onto the infernal machine and pushed off with my left foot. And kept pushing. For at least 50 feet. I couldn’t get my balance well enough to peddle. Finally that left foot found its way to the pedal and I wobbled down the street.

We made our way through the leafy streets of Katja’s Berlin neighborhood. I was feeling pretty good as I peddled my way along. I started to feel confident. I started to enjoy myself.

I imagined how athletic I must look. I let the wind sweep back my silvery hair. I could feel my butt muscles working.

Oh, yeah, I thought, I still got what it takes.

Then we came to a narrow dirt path, heading downhill, and around a sharp curve.  Katja went down without effort, swinging her bike easily to the left to head across a narrow metal bridge.

I felt my heart seize up as I tried to follow her. My front wheel wobbled to the left, then wibbled to the right. I tried to slow down, but those hand brakes kind of scared me. To my horror, I saw that a woman on a bike (thin, muscular, graceful. Bitch.) was coming up the hill toward me, passing Katja with a jaunty wave.

I was heading downhill fast now, desperately trying to control both the wibble and the wobble. I squeezed the handbrakes, hoping to control my descent without hurling myself over the handlebars. As I got to the bottom of the hill and managed to pass the other rider, I realized that there was no freaking way I was going to be able to make the sharp left turn onto the bridge.

I had a choice. I knew that I was going to crash. I could either fall to my right and risk knocking myself unconscious on the railing, or I could fall to my left and land in a thick patch of bushes.

I had just enough athletic skill to choose the bushes. I squeezed the brakes, closed my eyes and lurched off the seat. Into the weeds.

Katja rushed back to me, afraid that I was hurt. A man who happened to be riding past us stopped to help. (Have I mentioned that everyone in Germany constantly rides a bike all over the place? Have I mentioned how athletic they all are? I hate them.) My face was red with embarrassment, but I was otherwise unhurt.

I laughed easily and brushed the leaves out of my hair. “I’m fine, no problem, no worries,” I chirped in my best American cheerleader voice. I carefully climbed back onto the bike and used my left foot to push myself along for another 50 feet before wobbling on across the bridge.

All was well until we got to the store and I started to feel the welts rising  on my left arm and all over the left side of my face. I felt like I was being stung by a thousand bees all at once.

“Um, Katja?” I asked tentatively. “What were those bushes that I landed in?”

She looked a little worried, and cleared her throat. “It was Brennessel.”

I just stared.

“It is called stinging nettle in English. Don’t worry. It only lasts for a few hours.”


I should have just kept chopping veggies.


10 thoughts on “Nonni In Germany: The Bike, Episode #1

  1. So brave! I applaud your seizing the day in spite of your reservations–wise or foolish as it may have been. And you did have one great success before your spill! You avoided the skinny bitch!! Look forward to your next biking adventure. There will be another, right? This sounded like the first of a series.


  2. I too started bike riding again after more than 20 years. But I don’t do dirt paths or sharp turns — just straight paved streets near my house. Sometimes I have to get off to turn around at the end of the street! And I wouldn’t think of getting on the bike without putting my helmet on first. But it’s fun, and when I’m on the bike, I feel very young, remembering riding to class when I was in college.


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