Transit Oriented Living: Berlin vs Calgary

I have a new appreciation for both transit-oriented living and Google Maps after spending a month in Berlin where everywhere we wanted to go was EASILY accessible by transit.  I was amazed how easily we could get to hundreds of museums, tourist attractions, parks, shopping and even IKEA by transit in a totally unfamiliar city.

One key to transit oriented living is a transit system that offers 5 minute or less service.  It can be buses, subways, trams or LRT as long as it is frequent. 

One key to transit oriented living is a transit system that offers 5 minute or less service.  It can be buses, subways, trams or LRT as long as it is frequent. 

Google Maps Is Great!

I simply typed in where I wanted to go in Google Maps and it told me the route and how long it would take to drive, cycle, walk or take transit. In almost every case, transit was the best option.  The station (or bus stop) was always less than a pleasant five-minute walk and when we arrived, transit was there in minutes. 

Though, Google Maps tells you when the next bus, train or tram will arrive at a particular stop, I just ignored that information, as transit was so frequent, it didn’t matter.  It also didn’t seem to matter if we needed to take couple of trains or a train and bus, as connections were seamless. 

Note the differences in time between driving, cycling and transit. When you add in time to get to your car and find a place to park driving becomes even less attractive. 

Note the differences in time between driving, cycling and transit. When you add in time to get to your car and find a place to park driving becomes even less attractive. 

Lessons Learned

Berlin transit offers a number of different payment options – single fare, daily fare, weekly and monthly passes (with even a non-prime time option for those travelling after 10 am weekly or monthly passes).  How good is that!

Another great thing about Berlin’s transit system is that the trains seem to drop you off in the middle of the action, not at the edge as they do in Calgary – take Stampede, University, Chinook, Anderson and even Bridgeland stations for example.

A great transit system benefits drivers too.  I was shocked when, taking the bus at rush hour, it never had to wait for more than one traffic light.  More people using transit means more road capacity for those who have to drive, which in turn means less rush hour traffic jams.

Good transit systems have good connections and attractive places to wait. 

Good transit systems have good connections and attractive places to wait. 

Too Downtown-Centric

In Berlin, transit is decentralized, to best serve the mini-downtowns scattered throughout the city.  In contrast, Calgary’s transit is downtown-centric i.e. almost all transit is oriented to get people downtown. However, only 25% of the people work in the greater downtown area and 5% live there.

The City of Calgary’s Go-Plan back in the mid-90s, actually did call for the development of mini-downtowns at the edge of our city next to new LRT Stations. Somehow they instead became big box power centres. I often wonder how different urban living would be in Calgary if late 20th and early 21st century suburban power centres were designed as walkable mini downtowns, each with a mix of multi-storey retail, restaurants, residential and recreational buildings, rather than so car-oriented retail centres.

Imagine…Crowfoot Crossing and Shawnessy power centers could each have been a mini-downtown with grid-patterned tree-lined streets, residential and office development above big box retail and a regional transit hub station.  I expect with time they will evolve more into mini downtowns but we missed the opportunity to do so from the“get go.”

It is ironic that today, Currie Barracks and University District are both being developed as mini-downtowns yet neither has or will have a LRT Station.

This map of the Berlin's Transit system illustrates not only how extensive the system is, but also how decentralized it is.  

This map of the Berlin's Transit system illustrates not only how extensive the system is, but also how decentralized it is.  

To be fair, Calgary has plans to develop its LRT and BRT service with more crosstown routes in the future. Today only the Blue and Red lines exist. 

To be fair, Calgary has plans to develop its LRT and BRT service with more crosstown routes in the future. Today only the Blue and Red lines exist. 

Transit-Oriented Living (TOL) Gurus

While Calgary is in its infancy when it comes to creating mixed-use communities next to LRT Stations, Berlin is arguably the guru of TOL.  Instead of surrounding transit stations with massive residential highrises that block the sun, create wind tunnels and dwarf pedestrians, Berlin’s transit stations are usually in the middle of a platz (plaza) that allows for various programming – usually a farmers’ market and/or flea market – but most of the time just a gathering/meeting place for locals and tourists.

I loved that each platz in Berlin has its own character and charm, its own sense of place.
Five minute service even at 10 am. 

Five minute service even at 10 am. 

Alexander Platz

A good example is the Alexander Platz.  While the history of the area around this platz dates back to the 13th century, most of the existing buildings are relatively new as the area was destroyed during WWII.  The revitalization of the Alexander Platz began in 1969 with the construction of the Berliner Fernsehturm TV tower. Topping out at 368m tall, it has a viewing platform at 203m and revolving restaurant at 207m, which is very similar to the Calgary Tower.

Today, it is a vibrant pedestrian zone, surrounded by a major subway train station, as well as several, “at grade” LRT lines. It is also home to major department stores Galleria Kaufhof and Primark, the ALEXA shopping centre and several smaller shops all facing onto the huge plaza.

It is a shopping/tourist mecca 7 days a week.
Alexander Platz is full of people at 10 am on a weekday even when there are no special events. 

Alexander Platz is full of people at 10 am on a weekday even when there are no special events. 

Alexander Platz is surrounded not only by several transit stops and a major station, but it has a diversity of things to see and do including cinemas, shopping and tourist attractions, not just condos and apartments.  

Alexander Platz is surrounded not only by several transit stops and a major station, but it has a diversity of things to see and do including cinemas, shopping and tourist attractions, not just condos and apartments.  

Calgary’s Platz Attempt

Ironically, Calgary’s downtown urban renewal project also started in the late ‘60s with a tower – Husky Tower, now the Calgary Tower. It also included Palliser Square (retail, cinemas, offices and parkade), as well as the Calgary Convention Centre, Four Seasons Hotel (now the Marriott) and Glenbow Museum complex.

Then 8th Avenue SW became the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall; 7th Avenue became the downtown transit corridor, which was followed by the opening of the Performing Arts Centre and finally Olympic Plaza, our equivalent of a platz.

Unfortunately, Calgary’s late 20th century urban renewal didn’t include the residential part of the transit oriented living equation that is critical to evening and weekend urban vitality.  As well, Olympic Plaza has never really captured the imagination of Calgarians except when hosting a major festival or event. It is not a place where Calgarians meet and linger.  It is not a place we take visitors to showcase Calgary’s unique sense of place.

It is not a mecca!
Olympic Plaza is pretty to look at but it doesn't attract people outside of special events and weekday noon hours when office workers enjoy an outdoor lunch. 

Olympic Plaza is pretty to look at but it doesn't attract people outside of special events and weekday noon hours when office workers enjoy an outdoor lunch. 

Olympic Plaza on a nice Saturday in spring is devoid of any urban vitality as most of the buildings surrounding it are closed or have limited activity. While there is a large apartment building, museum and hotels nearby, it doesn't have the everyday appeal that a public plaza should have.

Olympic Plaza on a nice Saturday in spring is devoid of any urban vitality as most of the buildings surrounding it are closed or have limited activity. While there is a large apartment building, museum and hotels nearby, it doesn't have the everyday appeal that a public plaza should have.

Last Word

Berlin’s platze seem to be busy all the time and without any special programming.  Berlin’s planners, developers and politicians seem to understand how to integrate transit, residential, commercial and public space to create lively and liveable urban places. 

Instead of focusing on Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Calgary and other North American cities should be focused on Transit Oriented Living (TOL) i.e. what makes living next to a train station or transit hub a great place to live? Too often the current focus in on creating high-rise and mid-rise condos next to the station, but TOL is more about “diversity of uses” than density.  Density without diversity is sterility.

If you have a chance, visit Berlin and experience transit-oriented living for yourself.

Note: This blog was originally published in the New Condos section of the Calgary Herald on Saturday July 16, 2017.

Transit Oriented Living allows you extra time to relax and read.  I was amazed at how many people I saw reading books on the trains in Berlin.  

Transit Oriented Living allows you extra time to relax and read.  I was amazed at how many people I saw reading books on the trains in Berlin.  

Birdhouse vs Nest Box

Why are birdhouses called “birdhouses?” Think about it. The birds don’t live there year-round, or even all summer in our climate? In fact they only use them as nesting sites. Hence, the correct term should be “Nest Boxes.”  I learned about this recently when I was “schooled” on the science of birdhouse (whoops, nest box) building.

My new nest box hanging in the studio.

My new nest box hanging in the studio.

Back Story

Shortly after posting my blog “White House Garden: Up Close & Personal,” I got an email from Cecila Gossen, an avid “Everyday Tourist” reader and visual artist who not only noticed from the photos that I was missing a signature nest box in my garden, but offered to give me one of hers. She was obviously not impressed with my three-storey backyard one that is literally falling apart. 

We arranged for me to drop by her studio, located in the funky Burns Visual Arts Society building in Ramsay. Not only did we catch up on what was happening with her art (a future blog) and at the BVAS (the oldest artist's cooperative in Canada), but I was schooled on the rationale for calling her funky folk art inspired birdhouses“nest boxes” and all of the dos and don’ts of building and positioning them.

I was doing it all wrong.  It was the stuff of a horror movie, given sparrows yearly use ours.

Entrance to Burns Visual Arts Society is plastered with invitations and poster from exhibitions over the past 30+ years, including Judy Chicago's Dinner Party that was at the Glenbow Museum in 1983. 

Entrance to Burns Visual Arts Society is plastered with invitations and poster from exhibitions over the past 30+ years, including Judy Chicago's Dinner Party that was at the Glenbow Museum in 1983. 

Gossen's new art is inspired from obituaries.  When she reads an interesting obituary she creates her own quirky caricature of the individual along with incorporating a sentence from the obituary on the frame.  

Gossen's new art is inspired from obituaries.  When she reads an interesting obituary she creates her own quirky caricature of the individual along with incorporating a sentence from the obituary on the frame.  

Nest Boxes 101

  • My birdhouse was in full sun, which would bake the young babies. It should be in the shade, ideally hung from a tree. 
  • I had only cleaned the house once in probably 20 years. You are supposed to clean it out every year.  If you don’t, fleas invade and eat the young. 
  • You should have an open area under the roof to allow for air to circulate. Mine didn’t have that.
  • The floor should also have some open space to allow water to drain out.  “Oops” again.
  • You also shouldn’t have a perch under the entrance hole as it allows other birds and squirrels to perch there and snatch the babies.  Mine did. Who knew?
  • If you don’t get any birds to nest in your box after two years, I was told to move it to a new location.
Label that accompanies each nest box.

Label that accompanies each nest box.

Back Back Story

Turns out it all started after Gossen entered the Calgary Herald's "For The Birds" birdhouse contest in 1995. While she didn't win her friend and fellow University of Calgary art student Linda Hodgin saw the popularity of the contest and potential to make some money.  So too did the owner of Nichrista House and Garden shops and soon they were flooded with requests for funky nest boxes. They named their business ICARUS who, in Greek mythology, was the son of the master craftsman Daedalus.  It became so successful that it paid for tuition and parking for both of them. That’s entrepreneurship!

Today, she knows the measurements by heart. Each box has 14 parts, and they used to make 30 at a time, which meant 420 pieces had to be cut, painted and left out to dry before assembling.  Today, she makes six at a time as it takes almost as much time to make six as to make one.

Gossen still makes a few nest boxes each year and donates them to fundraisers.  Funny thing – the bidding always stops at $120 she says regardless of what the charity is.  Her nest boxes can be found as far away as Virginia, Florida and London, England.

My New Nest Box

My colourful and cheerful new “nest box” is now proudly hanging from a tree in our front garden (actually it is on the neighbour’s tree) where it can be enjoyed by all the children being dropped off and picked up at the Honeybee Daycare across the street, as well as our four young neighbours.  FYI, is sent Gossen, a photo of her nest box it in the garden and she approved its location.

I wonder how long it will take the neighbour kids to discover it.  Will I get any nesters this year?  And yes, I promise to clean it out in the fall and every fall, if I get tenants.

I also wonder if the nest box qualifies as public art, as it was created by an artist, is a unique design and has been installed in a public space?

Last Word

As for my old nest box, I am in a quandary. A family of sparrows (the second this season) is still using it.  Do I take it down, clean it out and retrofit it now, to meet the new “nest box code” or wait until the fall? I can’t imagine what it is like in there in 30+ degrees temperatures.  Or, should I simply retire this nest box after this year?   

Stay tuned….

My death trap nest box.

My death trap nest box.

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Calgary: Luxury Condo Living Beyond The City Centre

This past May there were two important ground breaking events in the evolution of Calgary’s condo culture AVLI on Atlantic in Inglewood and The Residences of King Edward in Marda Loop.  While both communities have seen their fair share of new condos and infill homes over the past 10 years, are the first truly luxury condos to be built outside Calgary’s City Centre. 

Luxury Living In Inglewood

AVLI on Atlantic by Greenwood Developments was designed by one of Calgary’s most respected architects - Jeremy Sturgess.  He was part of the design team for the Bow Tower, Water Centre, in Manchester and the redesign of downtown’s 7th Avenue Transit Corridor.  He is known for his contemporary design that goes to the edge but never falls into the school of “wacky architecture.”  Sturgess has been creating interesting condos since the early ‘90s - his Connaught Gardens, completed in 1991 listed on the Alberta Association of Architects’ Chronicle of Significant Alberta Architecture.

For AVLI on Atlantic, Sturgess and his team seems to have been inspired by the renowned 20th century prairie architect Frank Lloyd Wright whose signature was flat roof homes with strong horizontal lines (inspired by the horizon line that dominates the prairie landscape), large windows and commitment to craftsmanship.

The 7-storey AVLI has a cool white South Miami Beach look, with large triangular balconies that seem to float off of the building.  It has the look of a modern piece of sculpture and will contrast nicely with the contemporary warehouse look of the Atlantic Avenue Art Block across the street with its wave roof.  Together, they will create a contemporary 21st century sense of place synergistic with the Inglewood’s historic Main Street from the early 20th century. 

The “AVLI on Atlantic” name is derived from the fact it is located on 9th Avenue whose historic name is Atlantic Avenue, with “avli” being Greek for courtyard and the developers are Greek. 

AVLI condo in Inglewood will enhance Atlantic Avenue aka 9th Ave SE as Inglewood's historic Main Street with its contemporary architecture and retail at street level.  Photo credit: Sturgess Architecture

AVLI condo in Inglewood will enhance Atlantic Avenue aka 9th Ave SE as Inglewood's historic Main Street with its contemporary architecture and retail at street level.  Photo credit: Sturgess Architecture

The King Is Back

“The Residences of King Edward” is the next phase in an ambitious redevelopment of the iconic sandstone King Edward School site that has been vacant since the ‘90s.  Earlier this year, artists and other creative types began moving into the studio/work spaces and in May, the Alberta Craft Council moved into its gallery space.  Later this year, a multi-purpose 150-seat theatre space will open.

As part of the site development, the land on the east and west sides of the site has been set aside for residential development.  Award-winning Rockwood Custom Homes has teamed up with Dan Jenkins, another experienced and respected Calgary architect, to create 19 uber-luxury homes called “The Residences of King Edward.”

Jenkins cleverly designed the building’s façade to look like a series of attached infills, allowing it to visually fit nicely into the community’s existing single-family home streetscape. In reality, it is a 3-storey condo building, with units ranging in size from 1,400 to 3,600 sq. ft. It is “bungalow living” in a condo. 

There is also a sense of craftsmanship in the combination of materials that includes sandstone, stucco and zinc cladding, giving it both a contemporary and traditional look.  Jenkins too has employed Frank Lloyd Wright’s strong horizontal lines and interplay of different materials to create a building that has character and charm.

The Residences of King Edward are located along 17th St SW, from 29th to 30th Ave SW.  The scale and design is very compatible with the new infills homes that are transforming the neighbourhood into a vibrant 21st century community. 

The Residences of King Edward are located along 17th St SW, from 29th to 30th Ave SW.  The scale and design is very compatible with the new infills homes that are transforming the neighbourhood into a vibrant 21st century community. 

Original concept for King Edward School redevelopment school being transformed into a cultural hub with residential on either side.  The Residences of King Edward are on the left side, with seniors' housing on the right.  Link: cSPACE 

Original concept for King Edward School redevelopment school being transformed into a cultural hub with residential on either side.  The Residences of King Edward are on the left side, with seniors' housing on the right.  Link: cSPACE 

Last Word

The fact two experienced Calgary developers are moving forward with these luxury condo projects at this time is strong evidence Calgarians are embracing condo living.  It also shows Calgary’s economy is stronger than some may think.

This blog was commissioned for my Condoscapes column in the July 2017 edition of Condo Living Magazine.

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Canada 150 Reflections

This year we spent Canada Day with friends in Canmore, Alberta (26 km from Banff or 95 km from Calgary) an old coal mining town that has become a lovely international recreational resort town since the 1988 Olympics.  

While many cities and towns endeavoured to create a special Canada's 150 anniversary celebration (for example Calgary's fireworks was 10 minutes longer than Ottawa's), Canmore has a long tradition of celebrating Canada Day. This year's celebration included a block-long artisan market, parade, live music in their Centennial park and fireworks in Millennial Park.   

One of the first things that impressed me while flaneuring downtown Canmore before the parade were the unique and intriguing storefront window reflections. 

The (Candy) Canada Day Parade

We were treated by our friends to ring-side patio seats at Mountain Mercato for the colourful Canmore Canada Day Parade, which allowed us to enjoy lunch and beverages while watching the parade.   The 45-minute parade was perfect with lots of kids dancing and riding decorated bikes, a few bands and event a float by the local thrift store (pick-up truck with lots of stuffies). It doesn't get more authentic than that. 

One of the features of the parade was lots of candy being handed out to the kids - often by older kids.  There was a lovely sense of play near the end as almost every float had young adults with super soakers playfully shooting at the audience on a warm summer day.  

The parade was fun for everyone.....

Fashion Fun 

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 4.24.15 PM.png

Last Word

In Calgary, Canada Day is like a pre-season game for the "Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth" the Calgary Stampede, which starts with one of the largest parades in North America and ends every night with fireworks.  Every year, the 10-day Stampede starts the Friday after Canada Day.

In fact, the Calgary District and Agricultural Society (precursor to the Stampede which still includes a major agricultural exhibition) held the first exhibition in 1886, making it almost as old as Canada.  

Colourful Calgary Stampede Postcards

Yahoooooo! Its Stampede time in Calgareeeeee!

These postcards have been curated to document the Calgary Stampede's sense of place and pageantry.  They are meant to show the Stampede is more than the rodeo, chuckwagons and pancake breakfasts. Rather it is a unique Calgary cultural statement that includes a multitude of music, dance, arts and crafts programming.  While the Stampede doesn't appeal to everyone, nor should it, it does appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.

They are also curated to document Stampede Park is indeed a park with a river running around it an various trees, pathways, green spaces and plazas.   

The sky is the limit....

The sky is the limit....

Not everybody at Stampede is doing the two-step. 

Not everybody at Stampede is doing the two-step. 

Stampede Park is home to one of the best and most unique children's playgrounds in Canada. Link: Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground

Stampede Park is home to one of the best and most unique children's playgrounds in Canada. Link: Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground

You can never have enough stuffies. 

You can never have enough stuffies. 

Wish you were here.....

Wish you were here.....

Not everybody at Stampede wears a cowboy hat!

Not everybody at Stampede wears a cowboy hat!

Fashion fun is everywhere at Stampede. 

Fashion fun is everywhere at Stampede. 

You can get up close and personal with the animals.

You can get up close and personal with the animals.

There is a rare history lesson in the parade of posters (100+) along the elevated concourse (+15) from the LRT Station to Saddledome. It is fun to look at how the Stampede has evolved over the years and the famous people who have performed. Link: Flaneuring Calgary's Stampede Poster Parade

There is a rare history lesson in the parade of posters (100+) along the elevated concourse (+15) from the LRT Station to Saddledome. It is fun to look at how the Stampede has evolved over the years and the famous people who have performed. Link: Flaneuring Calgary's Stampede Poster Parade

Stampede Corral built in 1950 may not last until 2020 as the Stampede has plans to tear it down to make way for an expanded BMO Trade Show & Convention Centre.  Inside is a modest sport museum that is not to be missed. Link: Stampede Park: Art Gallery or Museum?

Stampede Corral built in 1950 may not last until 2020 as the Stampede has plans to tear it down to make way for an expanded BMO Trade Show & Convention Centre.  Inside is a modest sport museum that is not to be missed. Link: Stampede Park: Art Gallery or Museum?

Calgary Canadians?????

Calgary Canadians?????

The Calgary Stampede has a distinct sense of place, history and pageantry. 

The Calgary Stampede has a distinct sense of place, history and pageantry. 

These symbols represent the Five Nations who signed Treaty 7 on 22 September 1877: Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee). Link: Stampede's Iconic Entrance

These symbols represent the Five Nations who signed Treaty 7 on 22 September 1877: Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee). Link: Stampede's Iconic Entrance

Just one of the many murals that grace the walls of several Stampede Park buildings. (link: Calgary Stampede Public Art)

Just one of the many murals that grace the walls of several Stampede Park buildings. (link: Calgary Stampede Public Art)

This is suppose to be fun right??????

This is suppose to be fun right??????

Stampede foot fun...

Stampede foot fun...

Does it get more colourful than this?

Does it get more colourful than this?

Stampede still life...

Stampede still life...

The judges gave this budding cowboy a 7.6

The judges gave this budding cowboy a 7.6

Clean up! Clean up! Everybody clean up!

Clean up! Clean up! Everybody clean up!

Stampede is more than just mini donuts...

Stampede is more than just mini donuts...

I never miss getting my $2 milk & cookies.  

I never miss getting my $2 milk & cookies.  

Pageantry preparation...

Pageantry preparation...

Form meets function...

Form meets function...

Contemporary western art showcase...

Contemporary western art showcase...

While it may be crowded around the midway, there are quiet spots like this at the edge of the Stampede Park. 

While it may be crowded around the midway, there are quiet spots like this at the edge of the Stampede Park. 

Yes Stampede Park is indeed a park at Stampede time.

Yes Stampede Park is indeed a park at Stampede time.

Last Word

I have taken thousands of photos while flaneuring Stampede Park over the past six years.  I pride myself in finding the strange, the absurd and the everyday as I wander streets, parks and festival sites around the world.  The Stampede is truly a one-of-a-kind community festival.  It combines an agricultural fair, with a music festival, contemporary art show, midway, musical grandstand show, rodeo and horse racing. 

For those of you who have attended the Stampede many times I hope this will give you different perspective on the "Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth" and for those who have never been, I hope it will motivate you to add it to your bucket list.

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Flaneuring In Berlin: Everyday street photography

Street photography is most often associated with provocative black and white images of urban streets.  The lack of colour often creates a starkness and dreariness, which I think is unfair to the modern streetscape.  

In this blog I have tried to capture a sense of Berlin's everyday street life I experienced  while wandering the city's streets for the month of March 2017.   This photo essay includes everything from fun garbage trucks to people with boxes on their heads, from reading books to public art. 

I have included a few black and white photos so you can compare with the coloured images. You tell me which ones you like the best.

Marda Loop Madness?

If you haven’t been to Marda Loop for awhile, you will hardly recognize it.  Like downtown Calgary in the late ‘70s, construction is seemingly happening on every corner. 

While some might not like all the gentrification that comes with all the new construction, Calgary historian Harry Sanders, a long time resident of Marda Loop is “delighted with the expansion of the business district. I like the densification in principle, but I'm always sorry to see old houses disappear. Mine is from 1950, and it's getting to be a rare oddity! Living in a hilly neighbourhood with retaining walls made from fieldstone and recycled bits of concrete make for a delightful neighbourhood with many surprises, including some beautiful and eclectic gardens.”

Marda Loop 101

The origin of Marda Loop’s name is two-fold.  It references the 490-seat Marda Theatre at the corner of 33rd Ave and 21st Street SW (later, the Odeon) that opened in 1953, closed in 1988 and demolished in 1990. It also pays tribute to the streetcar line that ran along 33rd Ave SW and “looped” back at 24th St (now Crowchild Trail.)

The completion of the hugely successful 161-acre Garrison Woods development by Canada Lands in 2004 was a turning point for Marda Loop.  This master planned community pioneered new urban planning principles for more diversity and density for inner city communities with 1,600 homes (including extensive row housing, small condos and luxury homes on small lots), as well as new retail including a modern Safeway store was hugely successful. 

Since then, new infill homes have become commonplace in the neighbouring Altadore and South Calgary communities while the retail along 33rd and 34th Avenues SW has been evolving with the community’s changing demographics.

Then in 2010, Marda Loop got its first real mixed-use urban building when Cidex Homes and Ronmor teamed up to build the six-storey Treo at Marda Loop at the corner of 33rd Ave and 20th St. SW. It consisted of ground floor retail, one floor of offices and four floors of condos above that.  The street retail was anchored by a Shoppers Drug Mart and a Phil & Sebastian flagship café.

Recently Completed

Garrison Corner is a three-storey retail/office building at the NW corner of 34th Ave and 22nd St SW withDAVIDsTEA, Village Ice Cream and COBS Bread as street anchors with level a daycare and offices above.  

At the NE corner of 33rd Ave and 20th St SW, the Odeon, has only recently been completed with Blush Lane as its anchor street tenant and offices above. 

Today, Marda Loop has 130 shops, boutiques, restaurants and professional services –  with more to come.

Under Construction

A block east of the Odeon Avenue, 33 by Sarina Homes is under construction at the corner of 33rd Ave and 19th St SW.  It will add 36 flats and lofts geared to young professionals, as well as new street level retail.

Just a block south of Avenue 33 will be Infinity at Marda Loop, a 38-unit condo project by the SNR Group. In addition to the condos, it will include multi-tenant ground floor retail anchored by Good Earth Café.Last but not least, Rockwood Custom Homes broke ground in May for its 19 uber-luxury Residences of King Edward project at the King Edward School site along 17th St. SW between 29th and 30th Aves SW.  This Dan Jenkins’ designed project, with its high-end finishes and larger units (1,400 to 3,400 sq.ft.), will definitely appeal to empty nester.Speaking of the historic sandstone King Edward School, it is nearing its completion as cSpace, a creative hub with studios and workspaces for artists and other creative types as well as a 150-seat theatre.

Last Word

While some will see all the construction in Marda Loop and say, “stop the madness,” it always amazes me how long it actually takes to revitalize a community. 

You can walk along 33rd Avenue (i.e. Main Street Marda Loop) today and still find pre-1950s cottages homes, ‘60s single storey suburban retail with surface parking at the front and small walk-up apartment blocks. 

One block over, on 34th Avenue just east of 20th Avenue, is a lovely stretch of small, brightly painted cottage homes that have been converted to retail.

When I explored Marda Loop recently, I immediately thought of the late Jane Jacobs, renowned North American community activist who said, “community revitalization should be evolutionary, not revolutionary.” 

I think she would be pleased with how Marda Loop is evolving.

 

If you want to check out what is happening for yourself, a good time might be this year’s Marda Gras Street Festival on Sunday August 13 from 10 am to 5 pm.  This year marks its 33rd year making it Calgary’s oldest street festival. And, unlike the infinitely more famous New Orleans Mardi Gras, this is a fun family-oriented street festival. 

White House Garden: Up Close & Personal

In celebration of the end of spring, I thought I would do a blog about the White House's spring garden.

I love spring time. It is not only the beginning of another golf season, but also the beginning of the gardening season.  I love watching the snow melting and the perennials struggling to come to life.  

Also it is when the days get longer...

One of the things I love to do in the spring is grab my morning coffee and wander the White House garden and see what has changed over night. Yes, sometimes it seems that while I am sleeping mother nature is at work.  

I also love saying Hi! to the kids who are being dropped of a the Honey Bee Daycare across the street.

It might only be 10 or 15 minutes, but it is a lovely way to start the day....

The White House garden is not that big as we live on a 30 by 120 foot lot, so most of the space is taken up by the house and the garage.  

However, the neighbours have been very generous and allowed us to let our garden grow onto their property.  You could say we are invasive gardeners.

So we have a front garden that spans three homes, a patio garden in the back yard and the secret garden between two garages.

The garden is also not very diverse as Calgary's climate is limiting in what will grow here.  

But even so, springtime brings some brilliant colours, beautiful shapes and strange juxtapositions.  

Mother Nature is the best artist!

I also love taking photos of the garden and then manipulating them into artworks.  

I am always amazed and surprise when I take close up photos and then magnify  them even more what interesting forms and colours come to life.  It is like a different world.

Back Story: Perhaps my interest in magnification is a result of many years as a university biology student looking down a microscope.   

Painting vs Photography

I love the softness that happens as the focus of the photographs begin to breakdown and the foreground and backgrounds blends. I see parallels with the art of Claude Monet, Lauren Harris, Georgia O'Keeffe and Emily Carr or any of the Fauvists.  I often wonder what kind of art they would produce in the 21st century, given new technologies.  

Would they still be painters?

I also think of Calgary photographer Neil Zeller and his stunning sky photographs, especially the northern lights and wonder what he might create if he was to turn his attention to gardens. 

Bold, Brilliant & Beautiful

I thought I would share some of these up close and personal images from the White House garden and get your feedback.  I hope you enjoy this exhibition titled "Bold, Brilliant & Beautiful" from the White House garden and have a great summer....

 

Elysian

Mysterious 

Mysterious 

Eerie

Eerie

Plume

Plume

Lavish

Lavish

Emerging 

Emerging 

Crinkle 

Crinkle 

Reaching 

Reaching 

Chroma

Chroma

Nebula

Nebula

Dichotomy

Dichotomy

Celestial 

Celestial 

Voluptuous 

Voluptuous 

Purity 

Purity 

Passion

Passion

Ethereal 

Ethereal 

Tinge

Tinge

Bleeding

Bleeding

Ruche

Ruche

Emerging

Emerging

Mystic 

Mystic 

Enchanted

Enchanted

Last Word

After posting this blog, I had a request for a photo of the White House Garden.

Berlin: Street Collages

One of my favourite things to do these days is to combine photographs to create fun and sometimes strange collages using the UNION app.

Over the past few weeks I have been playing with photos from streets of Berlin which has resulting what I think are some very visually intense and interesting images / artworks. 

Here are some samples. Love to get some feedback! 

On-It Canada 150 Calgary/Banff Regional Bus Service launches this weekend

For immediate release

June 13, 2017

On Saturday June 17, the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP) is launching the second phase of its vision for a comprehensive regional transit system with a NEW weekend service to Banff from Calgary and surrounding area.

"The Banff / Calgary pilot is part of our longer-term vision of a seamless transit system connecting the entire region to jobs, recreation and services in any of our communities,” exclaims Colleen Shepherd, Executive Director of the CRP.

Tickets for the Calgary / Banff service are on sale now for a special Canada 150 price of just $10 each way and children 5 and under ride for free.

Tickets can be purchased online at onitregionaltransit.ca. E-tickets may be downloaded to a smartphone or printed and scanned on the bus.

Seats are limited and are expected to sell quickly so purchase your tickets online now.The service runs weekends and holidays from June 17, 2017 to September 4, 2017.

In October 2016, CRP launched its first regional commuter pilot, On-It, with service connecting Calgary, High River, Okotoks, Black Diamond, and Turner Valley. CRP’s next step is to consider the feasibility of providing regional transit services connecting Calgary, Chestermere and Strathmore. 

For the Calgary/Banff service, there are two routes:

1) Calgary / Banff Express running between Calgary’s Crowfoot LRT station and Banff

2) Calgary / Banff Regional with additional stops in Okotoks, South Calgary at Somerset- Bridlewood LRT station, Cochrane and Canmore.  

Detailed information on routes, maps and schedules are available at onitreginaltransit.ca

Passengers will enjoy a relaxing hassle-free ride to Banff on a luxury coach bus where they will be able to transfer onto Banff’s Roam transit system or take one of Parks Canada free shuttles to Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Tunnel Mountain and other popular park destinations at no cost. 

“With Canadians taking advantage of free admission to national parks this year to celebrate Canada 150, Parks Canada has been working with partners to make sure visitors have the best possible experiences while being environmentally friendly,” said Dave McDonough, Parks Canada Field Unit Superintendent for Banff.“ Our team is excited about the launch of the Canada 150 Calgary/Banff service that allows visitors to experience Banff National Park car-free this summer.”

“The Canada 150 Calgary/Banff service is the result of a successful and first of its kind collaboration between the Calgary Regional Partnership, Parks Canada, and the towns of Banff and Canmore,” says Shepherd. “With the launch of our second pilot project to Banff, we are one step closer to fulfilling our vision of developing an integrated regional transit service throughout Calgary Region,” says Shepherd. “We are committed to bringing transit to our region and this second pilot bus service to Banff brings us one step closer to this reality.”

The Calgary Regional Partnership is a collaborative network of 11 municipalities in the Calgary Region who work together to ensure growth occurs in a sustainable manner. CRP the only voluntary regional organization of municipalities in Canada. Collectively the partnership represents more than 1.2 million people and is preparing for an increase of 1.8 million people over the next 60 years. 

-30-

Media Resources:

For additional photos/media resources see this Drop Box link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/7wg3t4oesi6lfxf/AABBW0SwId2x6gxJFNiEbPwua?dl=0

For more information contact:

1)    Calgary Regional Partnership

Colleen Shepherd, Executive Director

Email: colleenshepherd@calgaryregion.ca

Cell: 403-809-1720

2)   Calgary Regional Partnership

Ettore Iannacito

Regional Transit Program Manager

Email: ettoreiannacito@calgaryregion.ca

Cell: 403-968-9954

3)   Parks Canada

Christie Thomson

Parks Canada, Public Relations and Communications Officer

Email: Christie.thomson@pc.gc.ca

Office: 403-762-1502

 

 

A Sunday Walkabout In Hillhurst!

When asked by visitors, “what is there to do on a Sunday in Calgary?” I often suggest a walkabout in Calgary’s tony Hillhurst community.  

All of shops, restaurants and cafes are open Sundays.  There is definitely some Sunday window licking fun to be had. 

All of shops, restaurants and cafes are open Sundays.  There is definitely some Sunday window licking fun to be had. 

Established in 1914, Hillhurst is one of Calgary’s oldest communities and still has a small town atmosphere with quaint cottage homes mingling with new infill homes with a few mid-rise condos thrown into the mix. As well, it boasts two Main Streets – 10th Street NW and Kensington Road – both lined with cafes, restaurants and shops.

But what I love about wandering Hillhurst are the things that are a bit off the beaten path – up the hill, across the park and down 5th Avenue NW.

The SAIT campus offers a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and new. 

The SAIT campus offers a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and new. 

Riley Park is a great place to sit.

Riley Park is a great place to sit.

Hillhurst Flea Market (13th Street and 5th Avenue NW)

Early birds can check out the Hillhurst Flea Market, which opens every Sunday between 7am, (but doesn’t really get bustling until about 9 am) and 2 pm.  Located in the Hillhurst Community Association building, vendors fill two gymnasiums, the small food court and even spill outside in the summer. 

Like any good flea market, you will find a hodgepodge of things to see, touch and potentially take home.  It is mostly smaller household items, records, books and collectables that are easy for tourists to pack in your suitcase. There is a good chance you might find a piece of authentic Calgary memorabilia as a unique souvenir of your visit.

Give yourself 30 to 45 minutes 

One of two gyms full of collectables for those who like the "thrill of the hunt." 

One of two gyms full of collectables for those who like the "thrill of the hunt." 

A flea market collage. 

A flea market collage. 

Riley Park / Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden

Just east of the flea market is the lovely Riley Park with its popular summer wading pool.  It is also home to one of Canada’s oldest (1908) cricket pitches in the middle of the park, don’t be surprised if there is a game going on or some guys practising.  And on the east side, sits a small garden with benches for contemplation while just and then just up the 10th Street hill is the Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden.

The rock gardens were created in the 1950s and named after Senator Patrick Burns who was a successful businessman (Burns Foods), rancher, politician and philanthropist. He was one of the four investors in Calgary’s first Stampede.  The gardens incorporate over 20,000 pieces of fieldstone taken from his 18-room mansion that was across the street from Memorial Park (4th St SW and 13th Avenue) when it was torn down.

Plan for 30 to 45 minutes to wander the park and gardens, unless you decide to watch some cricket.

The wading pool is very popular on Sundays.

The wading pool is very popular on Sundays.

Batter up?  Are they called batters? 

Batter up?  Are they called batters? 

You never know what you will encounter in Riley Park.  Those millennials are always having fun.

You never know what you will encounter in Riley Park.  Those millennials are always having fun.

An oasis in the middle of the city.

An oasis in the middle of the city.

SAIT Campus

Murals above doorways in Heritage Hall. 

Murals above doorways in Heritage Hall. 

It is a bit of a hike up the hill to SAIT Campus, but you are amply rewarded with spectacular views of Calgary’s stunning skyline.

The SAIT campus itself has a wonderful mix of old and new architecture.  The signature building, Heritage Hall completed in 1922, is an excellent example of the Collegiate Gothic architecture - twin towers with parapet, gothic arches and gargoyle stonework. (FYI: The twin towers of this building are repeated in both the Stan Grad Centre and Clayton Carroll Automotive Centre.) If you can get inside, check out the stairwell with its collection of vintage murals and the terrazzo flooring. 

The Johson-Cobbe Energy Centre, with its goblet-like entrance, is perhaps one of the most futuristic looks of any building in Calgary.  Not to be outdone next door is the Aldred Trades and Technology Complex with its massive wavy roof and glass façade.

SAIT parkade's futuristic entrance with playing field and downtown skyline in the background.  

SAIT parkade's futuristic entrance with playing field and downtown skyline in the background.  

Speaking of glass, seek out the entrance to the SAIT Parkade (Vancouver’s Bing Tom Architects and Calgary’s Marshall Tittemore Architects) with its intersecting acute triangular glass shapes that seem to be taking off like a futuristic plane.

In reality, the glass “sculpture” functions as a huge sunroof, allowing sunlight into the parkade. This unique parkade even has a playing field on top and the façades on the east and south sides are an incredible work of art (modern mural) by Vancouver artist Roderick Quinn. 

Backstory: The parkade’s metal façade, with its thousands of holes resembling opened tabs of a beer can, each strategically punched, create a giant (560 feet long for the east wall and 260 feet for the south wall) landscape artwork titled "The Ombrae Sky" inspired by the dramatic prairie clouds and skies. The “functional artwork” not only changes throughout the day with the changing light, but also allows natural light into the parkade.  

Give yourself at least an hour to tour the campus. Bring a camera as it is very photogenic.  Link: SAIT Campus Map

SAIT Parkade's ever changing cloud mural titled "The Ombrae Sky." 

SAIT Parkade's ever changing cloud mural titled "The Ombrae Sky." 

Kensington Village

Just south of Riley Park and Burns Rock Gardens is Kensington Village, one of Calgary’s best pedestrian-oriented streets with shops, restaurants and cafes along 10th Avenue and Kensington Road. It is home to two of Calgary’s oldest cafes - Higher Ground and The Roasterie if you want to experience Calgary’s café culture.

It also home to Calgary’s signature art house cinema, The Plaza. While it isn’t an architectural gem, the place has lots of charm and a great schedule of movies.  I totally recommend a Sunday matinee.

Right beside The Plaza is Pages, perhaps Calgary’s best independent bookseller with a great selection of books on Calgary’s history and by Calgary authors. 

Plaza art house cinema with Pages books store next door. 

Plaza art house cinema with Pages books store next door. 

Street performers make for a lively pedestrian experience.

Street performers make for a lively pedestrian experience.

Food For Thought

Kensington offers a wide spectrum of cuisines from a Ramen Bar to classic Italian. Here are a few recommendations.

  • Best Brunch: Vero Bistro Moderne
  • Best Pizza: Pulcinella
  • Best Burger: Flipp’n Burgers
  • Best Patio: Container Bar
  • Best Pub: Oak Tree Tavern
  • Best Takeout: Chicken On The Way (a Calgary icon)
Squeezed into a side yard between two buildings this patio makes for a intimate place to hang out.

Squeezed into a side yard between two buildings this patio makes for a intimate place to hang out.

Street Art

It ‘s also worth a visit to Calgary’s grittier side – the alley behind the shops on the east side of 10th Street. It’s numerous street artworks combine to create a fun outdoor art gallery.  Don’t miss the most ambitious piece under the patio deck of the Oak Tree Tavern, near where Kensington Road meets 10th Street NW.

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 9.17.13 AM.png
Entrance to Pixel condo at 235 - 9A St NW is very cool.

Entrance to Pixel condo at 235 - 9A St NW is very cool.

Streets of Hillhurst

Fun can also be had by wandering the residential streets of Hillhurst and its sister community Sunnyside (east of 10th Street), where you can still find quaint 75+ year old cottage homes, side-by-side with contemporary two storey infills.

FYI: Calgary might just be the “Infill Capital” of North America.  Each year hundreds of older 20th century inner-city homes are replaced by modern single-family and duplex homes.  In some cases the 50-foot lots are divided into two lots for the new houses, in other cases the 600 square foot cottage homes are replaced by 2,500+ square foot mini-mansions. Either way, the new infill homes help to revitalize Calgary’s inner city communities, as they are very attractive to young families.

Too me, the interesting juxtaposition of old and new, reminds us of just how much urban living has evolved over the past century.  

Tiny, tony cottage home.

Tiny, tony cottage home.

Trendy infill homes are popping up like dandelions in Calgary's inner city communities. 

Trendy infill homes are popping up like dandelions in Calgary's inner city communities. 

Where to Stay:

For visitors looking for a recommendation on where to stay or perhaps Calgarians wanting a romantic weekend, I recommend The Kensington Riverside Inn with its luxury rooms with fireplaces, patios or balconies that overlook the Bow River and views of the Calgary’s stunning downtown skyline. Homemade cookies are served all day and Callebaut chocolates are part of the turndown service. 

It is also home to the Oxbow restaurant serving up a creative menu with things like rhubarb ice cream-topped shortcake and duck wings with crushed cashews and Saskatoon berries along with a carefully curated wine list. It is no wonder this boutique inn has the coveted Relais & Chateaux designation.

Last Word

Calgary is made up of 200+ communities, each with their own distinct charm and character. One of the things I love about Calgary is that we all live in “small towns of 5,000 to 15,000 people.”  It truly is a big city with small town charm.   

Calgary/Banff Transit: It is about time!

Yahooo…Calgary’s Regional Partnership is piloting a Calgary/Banff bus this summer. It’s about time….

It has always amazed me that there isn’t a regular Calgary/Banff bus or train service for that matter.  Twenty years ago I was in Bali and experienced how they picked up tourists in small vans from various hotels and resorts took us to a central bus station where coach buses then drove us to our various tourist destinations.  It was a great “hub and wheel” system that I thought Calgary could learn from. 

I was reminded of this again recently when in Berlin and wanted to go to Leipzig, a popular tourist destination about 200 km away.  We had our choice of several trains a day, as well as an hourly bus service.  We booked a bus seats online for $15CDN/person each way.   It was easy to use local transit to get us to the Central Bus Station, where we boarded a comfortable coach bus that took us directly to Leipzig’s city center  - just a 5-minute walk to our hotel. 

It was very slick.

On-IT Calgary/Banff Transit Pilot

I was very excited to recently learn the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP), a collaborative network of 11 municipalities in the Calgary Region who work together on a volunteer basis to ensure growth occurs in a sustainable manner, has taken the initiative to pilot an On-IT Calgary/Banff bus service on weekends and holidays from June 17 to September 4.

There are two routes:

  • Calgary / Banff Express running between Calgary’s Crowfoot LRT station and Banff
  • Calgary / Banff Regional with additional stops in Okotoks, South Calgary at Somerset- Bridlewood LRT station, Cochrane and Canmore.  

From the looks of the schedule they have tried very hard to create a schedule to accommodate a variety of needs. 

I was also pleased to learn you are not just dropped off in the middle of Banff, but your fare (Special Canada 150 pricing of $10 each way; kids under 5 ride free) includes free transfer to Banff’s Roam Transit and Parks Canada’s shuttle, the latter gives you access to get to many different hot spots including Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Tunnel Mountain and other popular park destinations.

Kudos to CRP & Partners

Kudos to CRP for initiating this regional transit service pilot project.   I admire their ambitious goal of creating a seamless regional transit system that will offer increased mobility for locals wanting to get to jobs or recreational activities, as well as to enhance regional tourism.

Kudos also to Parks Canada, Banff and Canmore for partnering with CRP to test the idea of a seasonal bus service for tourists and locals.  I expect the information gathered this summer will be very useful in determining the need for a seasonal bus or perhaps even a train from Calgary to Banff in the future.

Last Word

Perhaps one of the legacies of Canada 150 will be the development of a permanent Calgary/Banff regional transit system in 2018. 

More information & purchase tickets at: onitregionaltransit.ca

If you like this blog you might like:

LUV IT: On-It Calgary Regional Transit

Everyday Tourist's Tall Transit Tales

 

Leipzig's City Centre is mind-boggling!

It is mind boggling how Leipzig, German (population 580,000) fits so much into its tiny City Centre – just 800 meters by 800 meters (or eight fields by eight football fields).

Leipzig Fun

The entire City Centre, about half the size of Calgary’s East Village, is home to six major museums, two major concert halls, two historic churches, five major department stores, three large shopping malls, University of Leipzig City Center campus, two large plazas (actively programmed with farmers' markets and events), a few small park spaces and a small skatepark to boot.

 

In addition, hundreds of restaurants - many with huge patios, perfect for people watching - and dozens of five and six-storey mixed-use buildings. 

It also home to the second largest train station in Germany, with 19 platforms housed in six iron train sheds, a multi-level concourse with towering stone arches, and a 298-metre long facade.

All of this and yet there is only one highrise - a 36-storey office tower. How could this be?

 

Pedestrian Paradise

One of the things you first notice when exploring Leipzig’s City Centre is there are no buses, trains and only a few cars.  Even bikes are walked more than ridden. 

That is because there is a major ring road around City Centre for cars, trams and buses. Entrances to parkades are from this ring road; all transit users get off on the edge of the City Centre and walk in. There are no surface parking lots, no street parking taking up valuable space anywhere in the City Centre.  Deliveries all seem to happen in a few hours before the stores and museums open.

Also buildings are not set back from the street, meaning no useless decorative green spaces or plazas in front of buildings and no wasted space between buildings as they are all attached to each other or the building encompasses the entire block.

Classical Music Paradise

Leipzig has perhaps one of the richest musical histories of any city in the world.  The Gewandhaus Orchestra dates back to 1743 when sixteen merchants decided Leipzig needed an orchestra. Today it plays to an audience of 500,000 per year. 

The Opera House is the third oldest in Europe and is linked to several famous composers – Wagner, Telemann, Marschner, Lortzing and Mahler. The St. Thomas Church is linked to Bach and the renowned St. Thomas Boys’ Choir.  

It is not surprising Leipzig has perhaps one of the most unique urban trails in the world.  The “Leipzig Music Trail” is a 5 km signposted route connecting 20+ sites of relevance to the city’s 500 years of musical history.  There is even an audio guide allowing you to listen to audio clips from the composers as you arrive at houses of Mendelssohn or Schumann or Bach at the St. Thomas Church.

While Calgary has the wonderful new National Music Centre, there is really no link between it’s collection and the history of Calgary.

Architectural Paradise

While Leipzig is one of the oldest cities in Europe, (it was a major trading center in Roman Times), it has also embraced new architecture. 

Within just a few blocks you can see lovely examples of Baroque and Art Nouveau buildings, side by side with modern ones.

One of the most unique urban design features of the City Centre are its 24 historic mid-block Hofs, i.e. wide, mid-block passageways full of shops, cafes and restaurants that link streets.

The most famous Hof is the Madler-Passage with its luxury shops, plush blue carpet and historic Auerbachs Keller restaurant (where famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used to hang out).  

 

The Barthel Hof is one of the city’s most notable buildings and the last remaining trade court from the trade fair period of the 18th century.

In the interior courtyard, the cranes used to hoist goods up to the storage rooms are still visible as is a Renaissance bay window from 1532.  

Exploring the Hofs is a lovely walk back in time. There is even a festival in September celebrating the history of the Hofs.

FYI: The map of the Hofs looks amazingly similar to a map of Calgary’s +15 walkways. Should Calgary start thinking about a +15 Winter Festival? Perhaps in 500 years, if we embrace our +15s, they too will become a tourist attraction.

While Leipzig is blessed with many historic buildings, there are also several noteworthy modern buildings.  The 1972 City-Hochhaus tower designed by Hermann Henselmann, East Germany’s most famous architect, resembles a huge open book. 

There is also the monolithic 40 meter high “glass cube” designed by Hufnagel Puetz Rafaelian architects for the Museum of Fine Arts, which unfortunately will be hidden by four L-shaped buildings around it.

Across from the Hauptbahnhof, sits the uber-modern Hofe am Bruhl or “Tin Can” as some call it because of its aluminum façade. Designed by Gruntuch Ernst Architects, this huge North American-style shopping center, with two floors of parking above and residential floor at the top, in fact has four different facades that reflect the history of the buildings that were there before. Inside the design creates a sense of in passageways and arcades that pay homage to the past.

In the foreground is the popular skatepark, which is combined with a small plaza that is used for markets and other events and in the background is the "Tin Can" shopping centre. This was one of the few times the area wasn't bustling with people.

In the foreground is the popular skatepark, which is combined with a small plaza that is used for markets and other events and in the background is the "Tin Can" shopping centre. This was one of the few times the area wasn't bustling with people.

The Paulinum at the University of Leipzig stands where the Paulinerkirche church stood until 1968, when it was unnecessarily torn down by the communist regime of East Germany. 

The Paulinum at the University of Leipzig stands where the Paulinerkirche church stood until 1968, when it was unnecessarily torn down by the communist regime of East Germany

Lessons Learned

Calgary has a long way to go before its City Centre becomes tourist destination like Leipzig.  Essential to attracting urban tourist is having a history where famous people have lived and worked and where important world events have happen.

FYI:   Leipzig’s City Centre is where Martin Luther Reformation happened and where the Monday Demonstration happened in 1989 that led to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Leipzig has an amazingly rich history.

Visiting Leipzig made me reflect on Calgary’s 100+ history - what really distinguished, renowned, influential individuals have lived or worked here and what world-changing initiatives or events have originated here. I couldn’t think of any.

When visiting cities like Leipzig, I am reminded of how young Calgary is.  And how it takes centuries to create great cities and not every city becomes great.

If you go:

We stayed at Motel One which has two locations in Leipzig's City Centre.  Motel One has modern rooms with colourful decor. The staff and lobby were very welcoming and we especially loved the lively and tasty breakfasts, in the very contemporary lounge with huge windows over-looking the street.  Link: Motel One

Berlin is definitely quirky!

Every city has its quirks – some more than others. Yes, Austin and Portland have their fair share of quirkiness, but they are small potatoes compared to Berlin. 

To prove it, I’d like to share with you some of the quirky charms we discovered in Berlin.  

How about Berlin's mailpersons who ride these quirky yellow mail bikes along the sidewalk?

How about Berlin's mailpersons who ride these quirky yellow mail bikes along the sidewalk?

How about a candy floss transit station?

How about a candy floss transit station?

Or a banana slide....

Or a banana slide....

Pedestrian Light Icon

What city turns its “walk” and “don’t walk” pedestrian figure into an icon that even has its own stores?  Berlin.  Who knew there was such a thing as a traffic psychologist? Turns out Karl Peglau, a traffic psychologist created the Ampelmannchen (little traffic light man figure) in 1961 for East Berlin’s traffic lights.  The perky, playful cartoon-like character quickly become popular with locals, achieving cult status after unification as a symbol of East Berlin. Today, the red and green figures have become so popular with tourists that they have their own stores devoted only to Ampelmann-branded merchandise. Not only do they sell the usual tee shirts, pens, cups etc., but you can also purchase your own traffic signal.

Hmmmmm….could Calgary turn its +15 character into an icon for tourists?

Link: Ampelmannchen Story

S&Q Flea Markets

I am not sure if Berlin is the flea market capital of Europe, but it must be a contender.  We went to a different one every weekend and each has their own sense of the strange and quirky.  While some are more upscale the ones we like the best had boxes and boxes of items for treasure hunters to explore.  For me each box was like still life, each box had a story to tell if you looked carefully. 

Link: Berlin Flea Market Story

Photo Booths

On our first day we noticed a photo booth in an outdoor bike rack area, thought it was strange, but didn’t give it much more thought.  Until we saw many more. A local told us that photo booths are a big thing in Berlin, especially for millennials.

Turns out The Photoautomat project, founded in Berlin in 2004 and has inspired a world-wide revival of the black and white analog photo booth. Just like 60 years ago, each photo strip is analog-developed, making every piece an original that stays lightfast for 100 years.

Link: Photoautomat Project Story 

Water Pumps

While walking the streets of Berlin, don’t be surprised if you encounter five-foot tall, green cast iron water pumps. There are 2,107 of them to be exact and they are regularly maintained.  Go ahead, pump them; in fact you’re encouraged to do so to help keep the system running well.  You will get cool drinkable water for your water bottle. The water is from independent emergency wells provide a backup in case the regular water supply collapses. 

Link: Berlin Water Fountain Story 

Cemetery Cafés

Berlin has an amazing café culture. They are literally everywhere and come in every size, shape and design. However, to find one Café Strauss in a cemetery was very cool.  The serene and beautiful park-like setting in the midst of the urban environment is simply lovely.  Slow living at its best – so was the coffee and cake.

Link: Cemetery Cafe Story

Pink & Purple Straws

I first encountered these strange straw-like pipes near Check Point Charlie, i.e. best-known Berlin Wall crossing from East to West Berlin during the Cold War.  I was shocked that a city like Berlin would have basic infrastructure above ground.  Later, I learned Berlin is built on a swamp and so construction projects must create these temporary water pipes to remove water from the site while they work until the permanent infrastructure is in place.  Kudos to whoever decided to make them fun with their candy-floss like colours.

Link: Pink Pipes Story

Food Couriers

Mail couriers were a common sight in the downtowns of many cities in the ‘70s and 80s but they have largely disappeared with the advent of email. However, in Berlin food couriers are a common site with their magenta bikes and big warming oven boxes.  They just add to the fun of the sidewalk ballet.  Did I mention that Berlin’s mailpersons also ride big yellow or (green bikes) along the sidewalks?

Link: Hard & Fast Life Food Couriers

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Glass Igloos

The first photo I took in Berlin was of three, large domed structures side by side on the sidewalk. They looked like some old Soviet atomic energy experiment. Turns out they are called “glass igloos” and they always come in 3s. They are for recycling bottles - one for brown glass, one for green glass and clear glass.  They are also highly sought after by graffiti artists and those sticker-happy millennials who still love to play with stickers.

Sidewalk Furniture

Berlin’s sidewalks are also where you toss out anything you don’t want and can’t fit into your dumpster.  It is not uncommon to see an old couch or chair just sitting on the sidewalk in various stages of decay.  The first chair I saw was a lovely art deco one that I would love to own; too bad it didn’t have a cushion. The second piece was a couch that I saw from across the street.  It looked like the carcass of a dead animal ravaged by Berlin street wolves. It was not uncommon to sight one or two chairs/couches per day. One day there was a lovely oriental carpet in great shape. 

Graffiti vs Street Art

Sure, Austin and Portland have their fair share of graffiti and street art. Austin even has a very funky abandoned building site that is an outdoor gallery for graffiti artists.  But neither have entire streets and communities that are literally covered with graffiti.

In Berlin’s Fridedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Neukolin districts, there a ribbon of graffiti and art on every building along almost every street from sidewalk up to the top of the doorway.  

Pretty much any façade is a canvas for art.  You would never know Berlin spends the equivalent of $50M CDN per year to clean up graffiti.  I saw one storeowner clean up the graffiti on his building and the next day it was back. 

In the Hackescher Market area there is an entire three story building (Haus Schwarzenberg) and alley is completely covered with graffiti.  

In the Hackescher Market area there is an entire three story building (Haus Schwarzenberg) and alley is completely covered with graffiti.  

Loved this empty subway station space.  It seemed like an abandoned space, with unused advertising boards that have become transformed into works of art with their multiple layers of randomly ripped posters and graffiti. It had the appearance of a contemporary art gallery.

Loved this empty subway station space.  It seemed like an abandoned space, with unused advertising boards that have become transformed into works of art with their multiple layers of randomly ripped posters and graffiti. It had the appearance of a contemporary art gallery.

Red Is Dead

In Berlin the bike paths are usually a dark reddish colour and they are often just part of a wide sidewalk (Berlin has the widest sidewalks I have ever seen).  This makes it easy for a pedestrian to wander inadvertently over into the bike lane.  We were told by a local to remember, “If you are in the red you, could easily be dead.” 

At the same time, bikes also wander onto the sidewalk. It really is a free-for-all as everyone bobs and weaves like a North American football halfback.  Oh, seems kids and families get to ride their bikes on the sidewalks at all times. Flaneuring as I do, I can’t believe I didn’t die.

FYI: Berlin has plans to build 10 super highways for cyclists, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.  They have been planning a new airport for many years and it still isn’t open.  So much for German efficiency.

Strange Playgrounds

Another early observation was that although Berlin has many children’s playgrounds, they look like they haven’t been upgraded since the ‘50s - maybe earlier. I did not find one of our Lego-like Crayola-coloured metal playgrounds anywhere in Berlin. Instead I found these strange weathered creatures that looked like something carved by indigenous people hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago. I expect some of the animals are quite strange looking and I thought would be scary looking for children, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

What's with this howling wolf on top of a playground swing?

What's with this howling wolf on top of a playground swing?

Cash is King

Most experienced international travellers are used to just bringing their credit cards and charging most of their expenses.  It is easy and convenient.  You are probably OK to use a credit card if you stay in the touristy areas of Berlin, but venture into the local areas like Kreuzberg and you will find it is cash only culture.

At the Galleries Lafayette (posh department store) there is an ATM that dispenses gold bars weighing up to 250 grams. Berlin is a great reminder of how commerce has evolved, especially over the past 50 years.

Late Night Buses

On weekends the buses and trains provide 24-hour service, but on weekdays night buses and the Metrotram take over to providing 30-minute service. There are 11 special night buses to make sure you can get home even if you are clubbing until 4 am. The night buses combine several daytime routes to make sure that all parts of the city have late night transit service.

Beer 24/7

I think one of the biggest reasons Berlin is so popular with millennials to day is that they have over 1,000 Spatis (late night stores). These tiny stores (size of a living room) open 24/7 have about half of their space devoted to beer and wine.  Not only is beer available 24/7, but it is cheap, about $1.50 CDN for .5 litres and you can drink it on the street as you wander home or to your favourite park.  We even encountered many young people enjoying a beer on the trains in the evening – not sure that was legal, but nobody seems to mind.

Many of the Spatis have bench out front that allows you to just sit enjoy your beer, chat with friends or watch the sidewalk ballet.  How civilized?

FYI: Berlin is also home to the world’s longest beer garden; it runs 2.2 kilometers during the annual International Beer Festival.

And There Is More

How about an abandoned airport that has been turned into a huge park not by design but by locals taking ownership? This is a part of the miniature golf course that has been created out of found objects including old plane parts.

How about an abandoned airport that has been turned into a huge park not by design but by locals taking ownership? This is a part of the miniature golf course that has been created out of found objects including old plane parts.

These drums at the cashiers of a Berlin grocery store are cigarette dispensers. 

These drums at the cashiers of a Berlin grocery store are cigarette dispensers. 

What about a former ballroom dance hall, that became a night club and now is a very quirky salvage warehouse store. 

What about a former ballroom dance hall, that became a night club and now is a very quirky salvage warehouse store. 

Very futuristic entrance to an office building. 

Very futuristic entrance to an office building. 

This has to be the quirkiest retail store signage I have seen in awhile. 

This has to be the quirkiest retail store signage I have seen in awhile. 

Public Poetry? Found 10+ poems taped to posts along a pedestrian bridge one evening. People stopped to read them, discuss them and some even took them.  What a lovely urban surprise? 

Public Poetry? Found 10+ poems taped to posts along a pedestrian bridge one evening. People stopped to read them, discuss them and some even took them.  What a lovely urban surprise? 

Last Word

I love quirky cities!

If you haven't visited Berlin (or haven't been there for a long time) you should move it to the top of your list of "places to go!" 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Freakn Fun in Boise's Freak Alley

Fun, Funky Quirky Colorado Springs

Mexico City: Fun Urban Surprises

Calgary: Everyday Stills (May 2017)

If every picture tells a story, what do thousands of photos say?  I thought it might be fun to share 31 street photos (out of the over 1,000 taken this month) i.e. one for each day from the past month. All of the photos were taken during everyday activities in Calgary and they are not in any particular order. 

Too add another dimension to the blog, I thought I'd play a little word association for the caption for each piece.  I'd love it if you'd play along and send me your word association for each photo and I will add them to the blog captions.  

Here we go....

uplifting. smiling.

uplifting. smiling.

billowing. shadowing.

billowing. shadowing.

patina. bronzes.

patina. bronzes.

wrinkles. cracks.

wrinkles. cracks.

feet. waiting.

feet. waiting.

telephone. red.

telephone. red.

floating. peaceful.

floating. peaceful.

swan. floating.

swan. floating.

head. technology. 

head. technology. 

landing. steel.

landing. steel.

eye. clouds.

eye. clouds.

perspective. boxes. 

perspective. boxes. 

twins. heritage.

twins. heritage.

trap. fedora. 

trap. fedora. 

mom. searching. 

mom. searching. 

build. island.

build. island.

follow. listening. 

follow. listening. 

impromptu. squares. 

impromptu. squares. 

hidden. wheel.

hidden. wheel.

pieces. manifest.

pieces. manifest.

queen. collage.

queen. collage.

crossing. blues.

crossing. blues.

Klee. cubism. 

Klee. cubism. 

journey. path.

journey. path.

under. buildings. 

under. buildings. 

flaneur. meander. 

flaneur. meander. 

innocence. fun.

innocence. fun.

vanishing. journey. 

vanishing. journey. 

challenge. night.

challenge. night.

oasis. tranquility. 

oasis. tranquility. 

beauty. heaven.

beauty. heaven.