I bought a bike. A Dutch bike, from a Dutch guy. A stolen bike, supposedly. So, theoretically, a stolen Dutch bike from a Dutch thief. In Berlin.
Ja, walking is healthy, but it’s slow. Within a few days of my immigration, there was a longing to ride, even short distances around the city. In due time – three days – a cycle-savvy colleague invited me to “Fahrradflohmarkt Saisonabschluss“. (Want to speak German? Just put a potato in your mouth and say angry words.) It means “the season’s last bike market”… bike flea market season close… duh. Bargaining at markets not being my forte, on Saturday, I stepped out of my comfort zone, adventuring to Neukölln past some of the grunge and grime of Berlin’s weekend club scene.
I heightened my anxiety along the way, withdrawing some big bucks from my checking account and depositing the Euros into my new German account via a grocery store cashier. As an online bank, that’s how N26 operates: I started on their website and confirmed my identity over a video chat via an app on my phone, then scanned a custom-generated bar code from my phone at the grocery checkout to deposit the cash with the cashier. Let’s all say “Hallo” to personal finances in 2017.
With the bank account settled, I walked a few blocks to the bike market, meanwhile imagined haggling for used bikes with a potato in my mouth and Euros in my wallet. Instead, I scouted around the hundreds of cycles lined up throughout the neighborhood park, found a bike that I thought looked good, then dodged back and forth between bikes until someone asked if I needed help. (I’m usually fair game to ask for help, but I had no clue who was working which areas of the market.)
Enter tall bald guy with a slight pot belly. (The Dutch guy.)
He offered to help me, responding to my passive curiosity by recounting details about this bike: the second most popular brand in Holland, with a lock and lights, both wheels have new tires and were recently replaced, and it’s probably about 15 years old. I lent him my drivers license while I tested out the bike on the street, then returned to confirm my purchase. Should I have haggled? Probably? Would you haggle with a two meter tall German-sounding Hulk-looking Dutchman?
He wrote a receipt, which I can use to purchase bike insurance (yes, that’s commonplace), and introduced himself as Mr. Volk.
I now exit the scene, riding blissfully into the bike lane, grinning with pride on the return ride to my Airbnb.
End Act I.
I spent the afternoon packing my luggage and eagerly transporting bags to my new apartment with several back-and-forth 20 minute commutes on the street metro.
Pride is: realizing that you’ve managed to establish a bank account, keys to an apartment, and keys to a bike in the same day.
Skepticism is: wondering if that’s too much accomplishment to be true.
After moving all the bags, I returned to retrieve my bike from the apartment courtyard. As I skillfully leaned to unlock the back wheel, feeling giddy about having this kind of lock, I wondered whether I had the wrong bike. Surely my new fahrrad didn’t have a flat tire.
5:55 pm on a Saturday is not ideal timing to shop in a city with no commerce on Sunday. In a dash to either fix my flat or wait, Google Maps routed me to a bike shop about two blocks away. I arrived at Bike A-way ready to bow and plea for pre-closing assistance or to shed my honor and take the flat home. Alas, Morris and his counterpart agreed to exchange my tube, and in return, I would listen to his envy for the guy who schemes and brings stolen foreign bikes to Berlin under the cover of night and takes away Morris’ business. With an entirely friendly demeanor, Morris made it clear that I would’ve paid more for my bike if I bought it legitimately, and while he knew that I didn’t know better, he would’ve preferred my business in his shop. Don’t worry though, Mr. Volk, Morris has a plan to come after you in the spring!
That’s how I managed to establish a bank account, keys to an apartment, and keys to a bike in the same day. It came with a lesson in inter-European bike politics from an angsty Delaware expat. For some etymological relevance, ‘angst’ was introduced to English by the Dutch or German, so when you want to complain about the guy who stole your business, say it with a potato in your mouth.
End Act II.