Friendly Tassie Ozzies

 When my daughter was twelve she started using the Internet. One day she told us that she was really looking forward to going back to Japan that summer “Why?” I asked.

“So I can meet my new friend!”

“What new friend?”

“A new friend I met in a chat room.”

“What is this friend’s name?”

“Mr. Tanaka.”

“That’s nice. And how old is Mr. Tanaka?”

“I dunno. Twenty or fifty or something. But he is a very nice man.”

So we sat down with her and explained that the Internet is filled with axe-murderers and even though Mr. Tanaka probably seemed like a very nice man the chances were good that he was a bloodthirsty killer and therefore not only would she not be meeting him that summer but henceforth she would follow The Rule: Thou shalt never make physical contact with a virtual friend.

On my way to Berlin I received an invitation from a stranger via my blog to meet up and go for a bike ride once we got there. He seemed like a very nice man and I had completely forgotten about Mr. Tanaka, so a few days later I emailed him.

“Hey, Ben, I’m in town and if the offer’s still good let’s go ride. Signed, Seth.”

He immediately emailed back. “Who is this?”

“The blogger dude you invited for a ride, but no worries.”

“Oh, it’s the world-famous Mr. Wankmeister. I was thrown by the name and the law office address in your email. I had no idea you were a lawyer, I thought you were unemployed. Yeah, let’s ride, mate.”

We squared away the details, then this came: “Is it okay if one of my mates joins us?”

“Sure. The more the merrier.”

“He just got here from France where he’s been doing a bit of riding and I told him about you and he checked out your blog and thought he’d have a go. He’s a super nice guy, great rider too, absolutely doesn’t feel pain.”

Suddenly the “merrier” prediction didn’t seem so apt.

“Okay, but you guys might be riding by yourself as I’m on a mountain bike with flat pedals and am very old and slow.”

“No worries,” he replied, to which I replied, silently, “Worries.”

I got lost en route to the meeting place and was mightily disappointed to find they had waited.

As I’d feared, they had the grim look of Internet axe-murderers, and the label on Ben’s cap that said “SUICIDAL” failed to instill confidence. “I’m Ben, this is Tristan, but we just call him ‘Assassin.'”

“Shocking,” I said. I had broken The Rule and was getting ready to pay. Dearly.

They were both from Tasmania, and if you think Australians are friendly, wait until you meet a Tasmanian. By the time we’d finished introductions they had offered to buy me dinner, treat me to some new beers, help me sell my bikes before leaving Berlin, take me to the airport, let me borrow their girlfriends, and give me a place to stay if I’m ever in Tasmania.

Then we started riding and they tore my legs off.

I spent the first hour doing sprint starts at each traffic signal as Ben bolted away. I spent the second hour clinging to Tristan’s wheel on the forested rollers around Wannsee. My age, heavy bike, wide tires, and flat pedals only encouraged them to twist the knife, even as I remarked on my recent AARP membership.

We finally stopped for coffee, then remounted and did it all over again. They were a bit disappointed that they hadn’t been able to dislodge their dad–they were both 23–but they had a solution.

“Let’s ride again Tuesday. I’m a bit tired today from my 250-km workout yesterday,” said Tristan.

On Tuesday I got up at 4:30, ate black bread with butter, had a cup of instant, and crossed the city for our 6:00 start. I got to Ben’s but no one was waiting out front. I checked my phone to see a message from Tristan sent late the night before explaining how he suddenly couldn’t make it.

I was relieved and it crossed my mind that, after our previous ride, perhaps he was, too.

I spent the morning doing a perfectly slow tour of the city’s monuments, uncrowded, beautiful, peaceful, serene.

My own private Brandenburger Tor.

Memorial pond for Sinti and Roma victims of WW2.

Reichstag viewed from Memorial Pond.

Ostentatious Soviet WW2 memorial.

Government buildings along the Spree.

Off-the-hook modern and beautiful Berlin Station.

Bundestag with Reichstag in the background.

Moabit Prison, right around the corner from the government. A different kind of revolving door.


18 thoughts on “Friendly Tassie Ozzies”

  1. 1. Californians pls notice, there is at least one palm tree in Berlin!
    2. Beautiful pics of empty streets in Berlin, especially the Brandenburger Tor!

    1. As a gesture of international good will, I propose that we send the deprived Germans all of our palm trees.

  2. Barbara Radnofsky

    O’Henry quality story with hauntingly beautiful photos that carry the twist. BTW: did you write “Suicidal” on your Tasmanian friend’s hat? Your photos tend to make this blog entry appear to be….. true.

    1. The Suicidal cap is a hallmark of Tassie cycling crew Bottles ‘N Chains. Originally a fixie crew, they’re mostly too old for that shit now and are more into road and gravel. Still a few of us young ‘uns around though that grew up sniffing at their coattails and dreaming of fixed crits naked in the moonlight that we were too young to partake in back then.

  3. virginia eubanks

    i wondered whether the realism of the architectural photos, devoid of humans, but soaked such clean morning light, suggests that the tasmanians were the fictional lump that fell into the writing, giving liveliness and fun to the story? (no need to answer. guessing is part of the fun, right?)

  4. Proving once again the world is smaller, albeit more “suicidal” on the bike. Loved the photographs!! “Wanky’s Travel Blog” well worth the €2.99 ~ where is the button to abonnieren?

  5. Glad to hear someone was tearing off your legs for a change. Since that’s something you’ve been doing to me every other Tuesday on NPR for the last year or so!

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