Nonni in Germany: The Bike Episode #2A

When last we met, our intrepid heroine (me) had just face planted on the bike trail. If you need to find out what on earth this grandmother was doing on an e-bike, you can read that part right here.

The afternoon was passing, and we still had about 18 kilometers to ride before we got back to the hotel. The weather was perfect, sunny with a cool wind and gorgeous passing clouds. It had been a really memorable day, and I didn’t want to ruin it for everybody by being a wimp.

So we pedaled on, up and over the dunes of Sylt (look it up). Paul kept on checking back, to make sure I was OK. Katja and Jorg, our hosts, were riding ahead of us, but more slowly than I knew those two healthy, annoying Germans could go.

Lucas, sweet young man that he is, stayed more less beside me, making sure that I wasn’t about to have a heart attack or anything.

For the first ten minutes after my ignominious spill, I went really slowly. My knee ached, and my shin was all scraped up. My right hand hurt, and I was still sure I was going to get a black eye.

And I was scared. REALLY scared. My legs and hands were shaking as we rode along, and I kept fighting back tears.

I mean, come ON. I’m 60 years old! I’m overweight! I have fibromyalgia! I fell off a freakin’ BIKE!  I wanted my hotel bed. I wanted that hot shower. I wanted the spa.

I wanted a big big glass of wine.

But I was a trooper. I chatted with Lucas, and slowly everyone sort of relaxed. I pedaled mostly with my left leg, which spared my sore right knee, but which I knew would give me serious left buttock ouchies the next day.


The beauty of Sylt.

As I looked out at the dunes all around us, and the lovely pale heather that covered it, I decided to take out my cell phone and make some little videos of the ride. This would accomplish two things.

It would let me make a record of this magical place, and it would let everyone know that I was a tough old bird who wasn’t about to fall apart after one ass-over-teakettle maneuver. So I reached into my bra and took out my phone.


See, Katja had talked me into buying skinny jeans, because my old baggy Levis were so unsightly. I was wearing said fashionable skinny jeans that day, meaning that my pockets were too small and way too tight for a phone. So….I had stashed mine in my bra, which has plenty of room, thank you.

Now I pulled it out, checked it quickly to make sure it was on video, and started to record. Please keep in mind that I was riding an e-bike, now with only one hand, along a path through the dunes, and into a strong wind. I held out the camera, narrating as I went.

“To my left you can see the majestic dunes, with the North Sea churning beyond.”

You get the idea. I guess I was aiming for something along the lines of the Discovery Channel meets Masterpiece Theater. I thought I did rather well.

We passed through a flock of sheep, went up and over the dunes, and came back into the town.

And so, at last, after riding the distance of a marathon, my sore knee, my scraped face and my bruised hand got back to the hotel. We hugged our hosts, thanked them profusely for a day we will honestly never forget, then made plans to meet for dinner in an hour.

Up to the room we went, Paul and I, for a good hot shower and a short rest.

I headed to the shower first, given my various scrapes and bruises. I undressed slowly, carefully.

And here I have to explain something to you. For reasons which my doctors can’t seem to explain, I bruise like an overripe peach. Bump the edge of a table, I’ll have a black bruise for two weeks.

So I stripped. Huh. My knee looked fine. Sore, but no bruise. A tiny scrape on the shin. My face was completely unmarked. What a relief!

Next I took off my shirt and bra and let out a howl that brought Paul running.

My right breast was sporting a baseball sized, dark purple bruise. There was a matching one under that breast, and a slightly smaller one just above my navel. I looked like I had been beaten with sticks. It was grotesque, I am not kidding!

After the shock wore off, and I realized that they didn’t really hurt that much, I relaxed and took my shower. At least I had figured out where the handlebars ended up when I crashed.

As Paul took his shower, I decided to look through my photos and videos. I mean, it had been a pretty humiliating afternoon, what with the splat on the bike trail. Now the huge ugly bruises on my flabby self made me feel even worse.

At least my videos would make me feel more competent. I thought about my talented narration. Booting up the video clip, I smiled to myself.

And I saw this:

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 1.58.55 PM

Ahahahaha! I have four video clips of my own jowls…..and none of the narration even recorded…


Anne Frank, and history’s lessons

When we were in Germany, we were both struck by how present the past remains. There are images, buildings, museums, memorial to all that happened here in World War II.

Berlin still shows where the wall once stood. There is an entire museum dedicated to recording what happened when the city was cut into pieces by those bricks and that mortar.

The city has a huge, somber, stark memorial to the victims of the holocaust, too. It’s both beautiful and haunting.

They bear the guilt of what was done in their country decades ago. They do not want to forget it. They talk about it often.


I think because so many people in Germany are afraid to let it happen again.

One thing that we noticed on our trip was how often people asked us about Donald Trump. What was going on in the US, they asked us. Didn’t Americans learn anything from the story of Hitler?

I didn’t have an answer. I never knew what to say.

Now we hear that Anne Frank, the young girl who wrote about the beauty of life while she was hiding in an Amsterdam attic waiting to be murdered, was denied asylum in the United States. Her father, Otto, applied for a refugee visa. He went through his brother in law, who was living in Boston.

The family was highly educated, well connected, ready to come to the US.

Their application was denied.

When I read why, every hair on my arms stood up in horror. It was as if Donald Trump had been in charge of the application.

I wrote this article, published in LiberalAmerica. I hope you’ll read it. I hope you’ll think about Anne Frank and about her family. I hope you’ll think about all of those modern Germans, asking why Americans have failed to learn from the terrible lessons of Nazi Germany.

I hope you’ll talk about this, pass it around on Facebook, bring it up at your book group.

I hope, most of all, that you will vote. And that you will vote carefully.

Anne Frank’s Tragic Story, and What We Can Learn From History


Nonni in Germany. The Segway edition.

You know about Segways, right? Those miracle movers that let you stand still and yet roll along the street without effort. Those fabulous two wheeled devices that you see tourists riding when you go into Boston or New York or Chicago or…..

Well. You know what I mean.

When we got to Berlin, I knew that there was a chance we’d be taking a Segway tour of the city. Actually, I was pretty sure we’d be doing it, because our German friends had given us a beautiful photo book full of the adventures they had planned for us. So I was ready to step onto my two wheeled chariot and head out to see the sights of one of the world’s great cities.

Except that when Katja and Jörg announced the next day’s Segway plans, it was right after dinner. Right after dinner on the day that I’d face planted into a hedge of stinging nettles while trying to take my first bike ride in over 20 years. I wasn’t feeling at my most athletic.

Or my most graceful.

Actually, I’m pretty sure that as we talked about our Segway tour, I was clutching a glass of incredibly crisp dry reisling in one hand and an ice pack in the other.

So I  thought I should just, you know, casually mention that I might not be, you know, the most graceful of Segway riders. I wasn’t scared. Exactly. I was more embarrassed in advance, picturing myself unable to get the thing to move, or having it careen out of control as I clung to the handlebars like an overweight monkey.

Katja, dear friend that she is, listened to my concerns and assured me that she and the others would keep me safe. But here’s the thing that makes her such a valuable person to have in my life. In her eyes, as she looked at me, I saw this: “You’re healthy, strong, capable. Why wouldn’t you be able to ride a Segway?”

It got me thinking.

So the next morning, after our Nespresso lattes and espressos (mmmmmm), our wurst and our bread and our (holy delicious) local honey, we headed into Berlin for our tour.

image2Yep. That’s me, second from the right. Helmet on head, feet on the platform, honest-to-God smile on my face.

That. Was. So. Much. FUN.

Seriously. If I didn’t live in the middle of the woods in rural Massachusetts, I would be saving up for one of these things right now.

It was magic! All you have to do is lean forward a bit, and it moves ahead on its own. Lean a teeny bit back (and I mean teeny bit. As in, just think the words “lean back”) and the thing slows down. It turns on a dime. It goes uphill, downhill, over bumps. No pedaling, no sweating.

Best of all, you don’t have to have the slightest bit of grace or athletic skill.

Perfect for me!

And Berlin, in all its beauty, charm, history, was right there in front of us to view and experience.


I might try one in Rome some day, if I get very lucky.


Nonni in Germany: “What’s that noise?”

One of the best things about traveling is how much it teaches you about yourself, and about your home place.

We had a few observations about our time in Germany that lead Paul and I to question a lot of what we look at as normal life in the United States.



Let me give you three examples.

The first event happened while we were walking through the streets of Berlin with our friends. It was a cool, cloudy day and we had taken a beautiful boat tour of the city along the River Spree. Now we were walking toward the Reichstag, winding through the crowds of people on the busy streets.

Berlin is very quiet. In spite of all of the traffic, we rarely heard a horn beep or a siren wail. But now a police car went by with its siren on. Paul and I both stopped, but our German friends kept walking. My heart rate had picked up and I wondered how the others were feeling.

We found out that when a police car stops in the city with its siren running, the Americans think “Is it a terrorist attack? Is it a shooter?”  Our German hosts think, “Somebody parked in the wrong place.”


The second event was late one night. We were going to sleep at our hosts’ beautiful little house on the outskirts of the old East Berlin. The neighborhood is quiet and serene, even though it lies within the city borders.

Our window was open to let in the breeze, and we suddenly heard a series of loud, percussive booms. We looked at each other, both of us slightly alarmed.

“That’s not thunder.”

Paul went to the window, looked out. Everything looked peaceful, but the sounds continued. We both thought next about guns. Was there a shoot out happening somewhere? Was it a terrorist attack?

The house was silent. Whatever the noises were, our German friends were sleeping through it.

The next morning we asked about the noise, and found out that it was most likely fireworks being displayed as part of a concert somewhere in the city.

The last event is the one that stays with me and bothers me the most. We had just had coffee and dessert at an old, typically German restaurant on the shore of small lake in Berlin. It was a beautiful morning, and the area was filled with families boating, kids chatting, and people enjoying tea or coffee on the deck.

As we walked across the parking lot to our car, we saw two men getting out of another vehicle. One of the men, probably in his late 20s or early 30s, was wearing a baggy pair of camo pants, heavy black boots, and a black vest with many deep pockets. His forearms were heavily tattooed and his ears were decorated with large gauged earrings.

I whispered to Paul, “Yikes.” Katja looked at me with slight surprise. “Are you looking at his arms?”

“No,” I said. “But that vest……”   She looked puzzled.  I explained, “He looks like he is armed.”

Katja and Lucas were both surprised. “No!” she said. “He is a worker. He has tools in the pockets.”

Lucas summed it up. “Karen, nobody here has a gun.”

So that makes me think about life in the U.S. In the country that loves to call itself “free”, I am unable to walk past an innocent young man in a vest because I am so afraid of being shot. I don’t have the freedom to enjoy a lovely morning, because my assumption is that most of the people around me are carrying guns. I’m afraid of my fellow citizens, and I’m right to be so vigilant.

I live in fear of terrorism in a country where very little has happened. Meanwhile, in a European country that is filled with refugees from the Middle East, our friends go about their lives with no fear.

Makes you think.