Sebastian and I were having dinner at Transit, a trendy Asian restaurant in Mitte. Our date was going fine. Sebastian was capable of answering questions, although he didn’t ask many, and he’d already suggested an area to check out some interesting architecture typical of Berlin. But we were cut from different cloths: Sebastian struck me as a guy who likes and lives simply, without much fanfare. I, on the flip side, wear a lot of sequins. Of the two of us, I was definitely chattier… Meaning I spoke more than one sentence at a time. To be fair he had probably seen the American flag emoji in my profile, and the promise I was passing through Berlin, and didn’t bank on much conversation. (Need to catch up on Part 1? Click here!)
In a move typical of my first dates, I was the first one to bring up ISIS. This is a shitty habit I’m unapologetic for: if something is on my mind and I suspect you may have an unexpected opinion or foreign perspective, I’m asking. Even if it’s over Thai food and you’re gauging how easy of an American I am. I want to talk about beheadings!
For the first time that evening, I could see the wheels churning. He clearly had something to say but I kept my expectations low. A man of few words, I gave him a moment to pull some together. Then:
“I had a neighbor who joined ISIS.”
His tone was blasé, like he was filling me in on that shady older guy in the frat who lived in the basement, like “oh that guy, yeah he’s a mess, told him not to do so much angel dust. Now he’s in ISIS.” I, however, was thrown and super excited. I know it’s rude, but I didn’t expect something so interesting to exist within Sebastian's personal sphere. I also didn’t expect a contribution so specific and personal. This is not normal dinner chitchat, now tell me everything.
Sebastian explained his neighbor was a writer, but not very good at it. When that didn’t pan out, he did what most failed writers do: he became an MMA fighter. He was small and not very good at that either and was getting his ass kicked, so quit. Next obvious phase was becoming Muslim, so he supposedly converted to Islam. Sebastian figured he met some guy on the internet or something because eventually the neighbor packed up his apartment to go join ISIS.
By the way, how the fuck does that hallway conversation go?? You’re on your way to the supermarket and notice your neighbor with moving boxes:
“Yeah, heading to Syria. Joined ISIS.”
"Cool. Good luck with that, man."
My brain exploded constructing a profile of this guy: a ne’er-do-well who couldn’t find his place in the world, he was an easy target to solicit with promises of belonging to a "greater" cause; or even just revenging the rage of feeling like a failure. He’s Hitler, he’s Dylan Klebold, he’s all of the things we’re warned extreme bullying will lead to.
Not really, Sebastian said. He was just lazy. He said his neighbor never really gave 100% to the things he engaged in, whether it was learning to fight or bothering to research the group he was joining. The hapless ISIS recruit in for a surprise, like the Private Benjamin of terrorism. It was perfect to me that Sebastian saw the situation so plainly, eschewing motivation and psyche. The efficiency of an East German. At most he seemed to get a kick out of the one-degree of separation, like he fancied himself a Kevin Bacon of violent extremists.
We left the restaurant and he asked if I’d like to grab a drink. Maybe it was the lack of chemistry, maybe it was the terrorist cell in his apartment building, but I was ready to call it and go home. He, on the other hand, still pressed for more. He continued suggesting ways to extend the evening: a night driving tour of GDR architecture, a ride home. His insistence was transparent. It was like if he could drag the date out, the tides might change and I’d fulfill the falsely-presumed slutty promise of an American flag emoji overseas instead of just questioning him about homegrown terrorism.
In his favor, a ride home on a wet night can be tempting. It’s one of those moments where you’re using Spidey sense to gauge whether he’s being nice and generous to a tourist, or he’s sizing up if you’re into butt stuff or how much ransom he can get. If something bad happened, in retrospect it would’ve been stupidly obvious. Like, “Well, I was feeling weird about him… so then I got into his car. But I’m still so shocked that he stole all my credit cards and left me in a ditch.”
I’m being harsh. At worst he probably would’ve tried to kiss me and I wouldn’t be into it and would’ve had to deal with awkwardness. But by bowing out now, I was quitting while I was ahead. The night had been a win: I’d been surprised with an ISIS anecdote, learned some local stuff I hadn’t read about in any of my guidebooks, and trumped any bullshit nerves of a blind date in another country. Plus, a bar owner’s number in your phone can come in handy.
We walked a block or two together before I told him I had fun and it was nice meeting him and yes, I’d definitely check out Kreuzberg and [insert pleasantry here]. Did I want to see him again? No. Did I walk a few blocks so he couldn’t see me hop into a cab when I told him I felt like walking? Yes. But I didn’t regret a second. I was in possession of interesting dinner conversation, all of my credit cards, and was walking the streets of a Socialist dream come true.