Leipzig: First Sunday Magic

If you find yourself in Leipzig, Germany on the first Sunday of the month and if you love urban surprises, you could be in for a magical day. 

First, I should tell you on Sundays most stores aren’t open so the City Centre is like a ghost town in the morning so it is good to make sure you have something other than shopping planned. 

After a relaxing breakfast in the Motel One Lounge (FYI. Motel One is not some tacky motel but a funky design hotel that has a lively breakfast lounge and fun eggs) we headed out for the day. 

Our destination was the first Sunday of the month flea market at the old fairgrounds. We had read it is one of the biggest and best in Europe.

Link: Best Flea Markets In Germany  

We caught the train at the Market station and just three stops later we got out in the middle of nowhere. The first thing we see is an abandoned building that looks like it might have been bombed out in WWII.  As we turn to walk in the direction of the flea market there is a huge strange-looking building with two breast-like domes that looks a bit shady.

Yikes what have we got ourselves into.

We walk along a major road (as per Google maps instructions) and soon we see a sinister looking building; this time new, but with no signage just some words and dark reflective so you can’t see in. 

We still hadn’t seen any sign of life, but we did notice some movement at the end of a large green space so we decided to walk in that direction.

Eureka

Sure enough, we arrived at the flea market and that seems to be where everyone is hanging out this Sunday morning, as there were thousands of people and hundreds of stallholders. 

I had read this was a curated flea market with professional collectors doing the selling, but it sure didn’t look like it to me.  

Rather, it was full of what looked like garage sale stuff, which is just what these treasure hunters love. 

However, I did questioned if we were in the right place as it didn’t look like a fairgrounds and the iconic mid century fairground sign was nowhere in sight.

What we didn’t realize was we were only seeing half of the market there was more on the other side of the building. 

 

We had a great time digging for treasures for over 2 hours. B did manage to find a nice made in Germany white mid-century vase for her collection, but was frustrated she couldn't take home more due to suitcase limitations. 

These albums were full of stamps.

These albums were full of stamps.

Hidden Leipzig

It was now about 11:30 so we decided to head back when we saw somebody come out of the strange building we had passed earlier with the black reflective glass. Turns out it is the German Museum of Books and Writing  and the shape is suppose to resemble the spine of a book and inside were three very interesting exhibitions. 

We both shook our heads, how is anyone to know this is a museum and that it is open? Obviously many don’t, as we were the only ones there for the entire 45 minutes of our visit. 

Loved this display tracing the history of different fonts. 

Loved this display tracing the history of different fonts. 

Magical Surprise

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One of the things we love about urban exploring are the surprises.  We decided to checkout the Ukrainian/Russian looking church a block away before heading back. 

The door was open but you could only get into the lobby as the church us under renovations. 

We left, but I notice what looked like a community garden at the back.  We had learned the day before that these are in fact summer cottage/garden communities in the middle of the city (tiny homes before tiny homes were trendy, urban farming before it was trendy also). 

The Kleingartenveerein Siegismund with its restaurant, garden and summer homes was a delightful flaneur find. 

The Kleingartenveerein Siegismund with its restaurant, garden and summer homes was a delightful flaneur find. 

Walking a little further we came upon a sign with a beer logo and thought perhaps there is a restaurant close by. Sure enough in what looked like a clubhouse of a small rural golf course was a restaurant called Siegismund. 

 

While the server spoke no English we managed with some charades. She flapped here arms like wings for chicken, snorted like a pig for pork….the other diners in the restaurant were laughing – but in a good way. 

Then the cook who spoke some English came out and recommended the schnitzel - we quickly said yes.  Soon we had a beer and glass of wine (best wine in Germany) and settled in to dine with the locals.

Stopping To Smell The Flowers

After a great lunch, we decided to stroll the gardens as the sun had come out and it was a lovely spring afternoon. There were are few people around, but those who were there were friendly. I was surprised that the magnolia trees were in bloom in late March.  We soaked up the wonderful peacefulness.

It was magical.

Link: Kleingarten Wikipedia

Three In One?

As it was a lovely day we decided to keep walking through the nearby Friesdenpark over to the Grassi Museum, which was on our way back to Motel One and the City Centre.  Grassi is in fact three museums – Applied Arts Museum, Musical Instruments Museum and Ethnography Museum.  You could easily spend hours exploring its many galleries.  We loved the Applied Arts Museum in particular.

It never ceases to amaze me how many cities around the world have amassed collections of indigenous artifacts from around the world.

It seemed totally out of context to see a Blackfoot buffalo hide or Mexican Day of Dead ceramic figure in Leipzig.  On the other hand, to see the collection of historic musical instruments in a City that has centuries of music history seemed most appropriate. 

If you go to the Grassi Museum, be sure to visit the abandoned cemetery at the back it was a wonderful urban surprise. It also has a quiet café if you want to have a late lunch or coffee and treat.  

Give yourself at least two and probably three hours to tour the museum.

Link: Grassi Museum Exhibitions

Link Grassi Museum History 

The door handle exhibition was impressive. I developed a whole new appreciation for the design of door handles. 

The door handle exhibition was impressive. I developed a whole new appreciation for the design of door handles. 

Last Word:

While there is lots to see and do in Leipzig’s City Centre, exploring beyond the centre has many rewards. 

Obviously you can’t do the flea market every Sunday, but you could easily add in the Botanical Gardens in Friedenpark which is between the Kleingartenverein Siegismund and Grassi Museum for your magic Sunday. 

We weren't the only ones who had to stop and watch these two boxers working out in Friedenpark.

We weren't the only ones who had to stop and watch these two boxers working out in Friedenpark.

Diversity Beats Density: Montreal vs Calgary

While Calgary’s downtown density looks similar to Montreal’s with hundreds of high, mid and low-rise buildings, the diversity of building uses is significantly different. In Montreal, especially near the St. Catherine Street, every block has is a good mix of office, retail, residential and hotel buildings while Calgary's downtown is a sea of office buildings.

Typical Montreal City Centre streets are cluttered with small shops, cafes and restaurants with apartments above creating a vibrant pedestrian environment. The streets don't have any banners or fancy furniture and the sidewalks are often cracked and uneven, but that just adds to the urban patina.  Pristine streets too often are sterile streets. 

Typical Montreal City Centre streets are cluttered with small shops, cafes and restaurants with apartments above creating a vibrant pedestrian environment. The streets don't have any banners or fancy furniture and the sidewalks are often cracked and uneven, but that just adds to the urban patina.  Pristine streets too often are sterile streets. 

Office buildings kill urban vitality

Calgary’s downtown is dominated by a 50+ block area - Centre Street to 8th Street SW and from 9th Avenue to 2nd Street SW) that is almost exclusively office buildings. There are 135 of them in fact (Source: Building Owners Managers Association Guide, 2016). Some blocks having three and four office towers.  Even, in Montreal, the streets next to their major office complexes were dead on evenings and weekends. 

It was only where hotels, residences and shops are located next to each other that you find urban vitality in the evenings and weekends. Montreal’s downtown benefits from having 75 hotels (including five 5-star) compared to Calgary’s 14 (with no 5-star hotels).

In addition, unlike Montreal, almost all of Calgary’s urban residential buildings sit are on the periphery of the downtown core, each with their own pedestrian streets to eat, shop and hang out on evenings and weekends.

The streets around Montreal's office towers are devoid of people and animation, as they are in every city. 

The streets around Montreal's office towers are devoid of people and animation, as they are in every city. 

Huge Student Population

Another huge difference is Montreal’s City Center being home to several major universities (Universite du Quebec, 66,000 students; Universite de Montreal, 55,000 students; Concordia University, 44,000 students and McGill, 32,000 students) that is more students than Calgary has office workers. Many of these students also live in and near the city centre, making it their place to “live, learn and play,” not necessarily in that order and not just weekdays from 7am to 7pm like office workers in Calgary.  Montreal’s downtown cafes and shops are full of students all day, everyday.

In comparison, Calgary’s City Centre has just two post-secondary schools - Bow Valley College (14,000 students) and University of Calgary’s downtown building offering primarily non-credit general interest and professional development courses.   Neither has a student residence, as most students leaving the downtown to homes in the suburbs at the end of the day just like the office workers.

Crew Collective & Cafe in the historic Royal Bank headquarters building is a commercial cafe and shared workspace but in reality, it is a huge study hall for students seven days a week. This was taken on a Sunday. 

Crew Collective & Cafe in the historic Royal Bank headquarters building is a commercial cafe and shared workspace but in reality, it is a huge study hall for students seven days a week. This was taken on a Sunday. 

Tourists love Downtown Montreal

Montreal is also a mega tourist city, with much of its tourism being downtown-oriented. Its $9.2 billion tourism industry (9+ million visitors, 7.7 million hotel room nights) blows away Calgary’s $1.7 billion tourism industry (4 million visitors, 3.1 million room nights).   And, in the case of Calgary, most downtown tourists are weekday business travellers, or those enroute to Banff – they are not here to shop and play in downtown.

Montreal’s mega Palais des Congress (convention and trade show venue) was shortlisted in 2015 as the World’s Best Congress Centre for hosting the most international events of any North American facility.  It annually host 300+ events attracting over 800,000 visitors.  Calgary’s Convention Centre hosts only 41 conventions/tradeshows attracting 250,000 visits, of which only 50,000 are non–residents.

In addition, Montreal’s St. Catherine Street retains its long-standing reputation as a popular shopping street with locals and tourists, while Calgary’s Stephen Avenue is mostly an upscale restaurant row.  By nature, restaurants don’t generate the same street vitality as shops as they are used mostly at lunch and evening with patrons staying inside for longer periods of time. Shoppers on the other hand, are frequently and continuously moving in and out of the stores, giving the street more vitality.

Montreal's Quarters des Spectacles, the equivalent of Calgary's Olympic Plaza Cultural District was animated day and night over the Christmas season with shoppers, culture vultures and families enjoying the diversity of things to see and do. The diversity includes Desjardins Complex (shopping centre, office, hotel, grocery store), as well as a contemporary art museum, theatre, cinema, convention center and two Christmas Markets.

Montreal's Quarters des Spectacles, the equivalent of Calgary's Olympic Plaza Cultural District was animated day and night over the Christmas season with shoppers, culture vultures and families enjoying the diversity of things to see and do. The diversity includes Desjardins Complex (shopping centre, office, hotel, grocery store), as well as a contemporary art museum, theatre, cinema, convention center and two Christmas Markets.

IMHO

Calgary’s downtown core has limited street vitality in the evenings and on weekends not because of the +15 system (which is also empty), but because it is dominated by office buildings that are empty in the evening and weekends.   Even on weekdays street vitality is limited to noon-hours as office workers are inside working, not out playing like tourists, students and residents.

Vibrant urban streets, like those in Montreal are created by a healthy diversity of building uses - residential, hotel, office, post-secondary schools, shopping, cultural and government.

If Calgary wants to foster more vitality in its downtown core, we need to focus less on the mega office towers and find ways to encourage more projects like the Le Germain building (hotel, office, residential and restaurant at street level) or TELUS Sky (office, residential and retail at street level).

Plaza St. Hubert is a funky (some might say tacky) canopied street that offer something for people of all ages and backgrounds.  

Plaza St. Hubert is a funky (some might say tacky) canopied street that offer something for people of all ages and backgrounds.  

St. Catherine Street at 10am on a Sunday morning in December is already full of people. 

St. Catherine Street at 10am on a Sunday morning in December is already full of people. 

Old Montreal plaza is also busy on the same Sunday afternoon. 

Old Montreal plaza is also busy on the same Sunday afternoon. 

Montreal's Underground is also busy on Sunday next to St. Catherine Street. 

Montreal's Underground is also busy on Sunday next to St. Catherine Street. 

Something to think about?

Imagine if instead of two office towers - Bankers Hall, TD Square, Eight Avenue Place, Western Canada Place - each had one condo and one office tower how the dynamics of Stephen Avenue would change.  Perhaps the un-built second towers at Brookfield Place and First Canadian Centre on 7th Avenue should become either downtown’s next hotel or condo tower?  

Perhaps some of downtown’s vacant office space could be converted to a new post-secondary school for Calgary. Great cities have lots of universities and colleges.

Downtown Calgary is dominated by office buildings.

Downtown Calgary is dominated by office buildings.

The Masters Is Truly Masterful

The following is a guest blog by Jeff Trost, a Calgary millennial, who is passionate about golf and big events. 

You might call me a bit of a ‘big event’ travel junkie.  I’ve traveled to London, England just for concerts, convinced my parents we should sidetrack from our San Diego trip for a day to hit a concert in Los Angeles. Often my vacations are planned to coincide with some sort of spectacle (eg. first-ever North American Red Bull Air Race in New York City, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London).

The Masters Golf Tournament was at the top of my bucket list, so I almost had a stroke when I was notified I got tickets in their lottery system. There wasn’t a chance I was going to give those up even though I am an accountant and it is the middle of tax season. 

Everything you can imagine about Augusta is true. There is not a blade of grass out of place and it is as green in person as on TV. The organization and staff are outstanding; spectators (whoops I mean patrons) are treated like royalty.

Damn Mother Nature

The first thing you need to know about our day in Augusta, Georgia for the Masters is that our time was very limited because of the weather. Since we knew the weather was iffy (and ultimately had to leave the course twice due to lightning and a tornado watch), we had to prioritize, and were very fortunate to even get back in for the short stint in the afternoon (all I did that time was hit the Pro shop – I wasn’t leaving without my mementos). 

Reverence for the Property

Approaching the patrons’ gates from the west side of the property, people noisily gather from the parking lots and walkways onto the single pathway to a covered area where your badges were scanned and bags checked. But as soon as you walked into the grounds, a hush fell over the crowd as there is a sense of church-like reverence associated with the Masters that I have never experienced anywhere else.  There was no need for the quietness as we were a long way from the course and the players.

I actually leaned over to my Dad and whispered, “We’re at the Masters.” 

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We started our day walking through the entrance and past the practice facility, where we stopped for a bit to watch Brendan Steele, Danny Willett (2016 Masters Champion), JB Holmes, Trevor Immelman among others, chipping and putting, and then decided to move onto the course. 

Returning to the range later on, we caught Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Ernie Els, Jordan Spieth, and Adam Scott all in their routines. 

The practice range/putting greens are the only areas on the course you can request/wait for autographs - the priority being kids. I thought about how Arnold Palmer would never refuse an autograph or stop signing until every kid around him had one, and this truly embodied this idea. 

My highest priority for the day was to be able to see ‘Amen Corner’ (holes 11, 12 and 13 for those who don’t follow golf) and photograph them.  The 12th hole is perhaps one of the most photographed golf locations in the world (maybe even one of the most photographed places on the planet).  It is very surreal to see in person. 

Skipping Balls

From here we continued around holes 13,14 and 15 ending up sitting at the par 3 16th hole for a few groups including Rafa Cabrera-Bello, amateur Scott Gregory, Russell Knox, Brian Stuard, and Billy Hurley III. 16 is as close as you get to a ‘Stadium’ hole at Augusta, as it’s a short hole with a large bowl shape around it giving great sight-lines for patrons.

On practice round days the fans are boisterous and shouting for the players to skip balls across the pond which most will partake in.  It doesn’t have the ‘roar’ of the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale during the Phoenix Open, but a very fun place to sit and watch nonetheless. 

40-Yard Hooker

We then ventured backwards on the course and ran into Dustin Johnson’s group playing a practice round and followed them for about a hole and a half. Watching him hit drives off the tee on 14 and 15 was mind-blowing. I’ve never heard anything close to the loud crack Johnson’s driver makes as it hits the ball.

From there we walk back by the 18th tee box and then over to the 10th again, finding the spot where Bubba Watson hit the famous 40 yard hook in the 2012 playoff.  Standing there it is hard to visualize how he pulled off the shot he did - and I am a left-handed player also.

Venturing back up, we caught a glimpse of Canadians Mike Weir and Mackenzie Hughes playing practice holes.  As a left-handed golfer and Canadian, Mike Weir was always a personal favorite player of mine, and his win at the Masters came around the same time I was just starting to commit large portions of my time to golf. 

Seeing is Believing

One of the best things about attending the tournament on the Monday-Wednesday practice round days is that you’re allowed cameras onto the grounds, unlike the Thursday-Sunday tournament days when there are no cameras and no cell phones allowed. Period. They had no issues with large cameras, so I took a full size DSLR with two lenses including a large telephoto lens. 

The crowds on practice round days are also thinner, because there is activity all over the course throughout the entire day and players are always coming and going.  Compared to the crowds of 20 or 30 deep on the 18th hole on the Sunday, I was never more than one or two people behind the ropes. 

From a golfer’s perspective, TV does not do the course justice.  It is one hilly course that is in no way reflected on TV. You start at the top of a hill on 1 and 10 tees, and on 9 and 18 you climb back up to the greens and clubhouse.  There are significant elevation changes all over the course and undulations that make ball placement key… even in the middle of a fairway.  Think Priddis or Water Valley times ten.  You watch the tournament on TV in an entirely different way after walking the course. 

For an amateur player, I would say the course is very playable with generous fairways, and not an impossible challenge… you wouldn’t be playing from the same tee boxes as the pros.  The greens are what would kill me…. Some have unbelievable breaks you can see a mile away, others area microscopically subtle.  I now appreciate how easy it is to miss a two-foot put at the Masters.

Good Value

Food prices are the same as in 1980s and the menu is very basic. I spent $6.50 on lunch for a Pimento Cheese (their famous sandwich), a BBQ sandwich, and a Coke (in a really nice plastic cup that people keep as mementos - my buddy went through the concession line twice, just to go and buy two more of the cups… but just empty!)  For a similar meal at a NFL or NHL, game I bet I would have spent over $30.

The Pro shop is very well organized and you have no worries of anything ever being out of stock.  All of the souvenirs available are sensible, not tacky, and reasonably priced. Shirts/and hats each with a number are all displayed behind big counters. You yell out the number of what you want and one of the dozens of staff members grabs it for you in a matter of seconds.  Of course you’ll pay a small premium for the logo on shirts and hats, but we’re talking quality product in every price range desirable.

I bet there were close to 100 different shirts, and 200 hats to choose from, meticulously organized. For you golf nerds, even the box of Pro-V1s sold in the shop came in a ‘Masters Green’ box.  My sought-after souvenir, was the famous yellow pin flag that I now have hanging above my desk at work. 

There was a photo station set up on the front entrance flower bed at the end of Magnolia Lane where they would take your picture and give you a card with the info on how to download it from the website….all at no charge! 

Lottery vs Stubhub

The Masters was the first time I’ve been to ANY sporting event where I didn’t feel nickel and dimed.  They’re not in it to make a profit from the spectators… TV rights pay for everything the club needs. They know this is the ultimate fan event and this is often a once in a lifetime opportunity for many to walk Augusta National. 

You’ll spend a pretty penny on a hotel during Masters week, and tickets into the gates can be an arm and a leg from resellers: a week before the tournament, a 7-day badge to the grounds was $11,000US on Stubhub (and I thought Super Bowl tickets were expensive!)

The tickets through the lottery system where I got mine for any day of the tournament are $65.  You can barely get in the doors at a NHL or NFL game in the nosebleeds for that type of price. 

All that being said, it’s 100% worth it, and an experience a golfer at any level, even one who doesn’t care for watching golf will never forget.  I could write a blog post a week until next year’s Masters tournament about the unique nuances of the property, the people and the whole event if I had time. 

Last Word

If it weren’t for the issue of the tournament being in the middle of tax season, I’d be finding a way to be in Augusta for the tournament every year. 

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11th Street SW is Calgary's Green Street

While 2nd, 4th and 8th Streets SW get most of the attention as the Beltline’s trendy pedestrian corridors, for my money 11th St SW wins hands-down.  It is home to the historic sandstone Connaught School, the charming Kalamata Grocery Store and Calgary Co-op’s Midtown store. It also has Good Earth Café’s flagship store, as well as the historic Galaxie Diner.

Deadending at 17th Avenue SW, it gets limited vehicle traffic, making for a pleasant pedestrian experience.  And with four green spaces – the Connaught schoolyard, Connaught Park, Thompson Family Park and Shaw Millenium Park – we should all be green with envy!

Backstory

In the early 20th century, 11th Street was the main street for those living on the west side of Connaught community that extended from 4th to 14th St. SW and from railway tracks to 17th Ave. SW (today’s Beltline was formed in 2003 by the merger of Connaught, founded in 1905 and Victoria Park, founded in 1914). 
The red brick 1912 Brigden Block is a nice reminder of the mixed-use buildings (retail at street level and residential above) that lined 11th Street a century ago.  Walter James Brigden was a London-born grocer and butcher and the building has been home to a neighbourhood grocery store since it opened.  
In 1978, Jim Kokos opened the Kalamata Grocery store, (named after the olive-rich region in Greece where he was from) and today his two sons operate it. 
And yes, they carry a wide array of olives. 

New Parks / New Art

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This past June, 11th Street’s appeal increased significantly with the addition of Calgary’s first off-leash urban dog park.  Designed by Calgary’s Studio 818 in the existing Connaught Park, the east half of the park now has separate fenced areas for big and little dogs, seating for owners and a water fountain for the dogs.

The Beltline is home to 650 licensed dogs and who knows how many unlicensed ones.  Like all dog parks, it is a popular community hangout for humans and canines summer and winter.   

Too bad the gate didn't stay in the park.

Too bad the gate didn't stay in the park.

Then just four months later, Thomson Family Park, designed by Calgary’s Ground3 Landscape Architects opened to much fanfare. 

This park space dates back to 1923 when it was the home of the Calgary Lawn Bowling Club, which recently moved to Spruce Cliff. 

Today, this welcoming contemporary urban park for all ages includes a contemporary playground, a hill with a slide, a promenade, picnic area, grass playing field, winter outdoor skating rink (with overhead lighting for night use) summer water feature and public artwork.  

It might surprise some that 750 children under the age of 4 and 1,200 under 14 (2014 Civic Census) call the Beltline home. 

One of the parks highlights is neon-coloured mural created by Calgary artist Sergey Ryutin with help from young people as part of the “Painted City Street Art Program for Youth.” Look carefully and you will see the words “The Readiness is All” which is taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2.

This is an interesting choice for a “family park” given it refers to Hamlet’s “readiness to die.”  The City of Calgary’s website explains “Throughout the play, Hamlet constantly debates the meaning of life… this line demonstrates Hamlet’s new thinking and that he is at peace with the inevitable. In a general sense, this line is a good reminder, to everyone, to always be ready for anything. Everyone will face either a difficult situation or decision at some point in their lives, and being prepared for that can make a significant difference.”

Most park visitors just glance at the art and think, “that’s colourful and playful.” Others will notice the words, but have no idea of the meaning and forget about it. And a few others might know the meaning (or go home and look it up as I did) and think about what it might mean in the context of a public space and the diversity of people who hang out there.

Last Word

Good streets, parks and public art should appeal to citizens of all ages and backgrounds on many different levels - 11th Street SW does just that.

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section, April 8, 2017.  White is an avid urban flaneur. Follow him on twitter @everydaytourist or read his blogs at everydaytourist.ca

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Calgary: Fun, Funky, Quirky Fences

Recently I was asked by CBC Calgary to do a piece on the design and architecture of houses in Calgary.  In the process of looking at my library of photos I discovered a bunch of fun, fun and quirky fences. 

I then contacted David Peyto (regular readers may remember he is attempting to walk every street in Calgary, as of April 9, 2017 he had completed 452 walks covering 3,600 km) to see what he might have in his library of photos. Soon my phone was buzzing like crazy in my back pocket (I kinda liked it) as Peyto’s images kept coming in. 

I immediately thought this would make a fun photo essay. So here it is.

Peyto's Fences

Silver Springs. This is Peyto's favourite, around the corner from W.O. Mitchell School. There is a welcome rock, a light and a doorbell for the neighbourhood cats and dogs. 

Silver Springs. This is Peyto's favourite, around the corner from W.O. Mitchell School. There is a welcome rock, a light and a doorbell for the neighbourhood cats and dogs. 

Hawkwood 

Bridgeland Riverside

Altadore

Altadore

Arbour Lake

Arbour Lake

Woodlands

Woodlands

Thorncliffe

Thorncliffe

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

South Calgary 

South Calgary 

Sunnyside

Sunnyside

Killarney

Killarney

Inglewood

Inglewood

Fun Fence Quotes

“Love your neighbor as yourself; but don't take down the fence.” Carl Sandburg

“The fence that makes good neighbors needs a gate to make good friends.” Anonymous

“The fence around a cemetery is foolish, for those inside can't get out and those outside don't want in.” Arthur Brisbane“Security is a double-edged sword: While a fence sure protects the fenced; it also imprisons the protected.” Mokokoma Mokhonoana

“Careful as a naked man climbn’ a barb wire fence.” Cowboy Proverb

 

Everyday Tourist's Fences

Parkdale

Parkdale

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Altadore, River Park 

Altadore, River Park 

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Beltline, Thomson Family Park

Beltline, Thomson Family Park

Sunnyside 

Sunnyside 

Downtown 

Downtown 

Mt. Pleasant

Mt. Pleasant

Sunnyside

Sunnyside

Last Word

If you have a fun fence image…I’d love to see it.

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Berlin Wall Artifact: Best Flaneur Find Ever?

We were heading to the East Side Gallery where there is 1.5 km of the Berlin Wall still intact. It has been a canvas for street artists since 1989 when the Wall was torn down, but that is another story. 

As we were flaneuring our way to the Gallery, we saw a magnificent red brick church and noticed a sandwich board outside the front doors and thought it might be open so headed over to check it out. It was and so we decided to step inside.

Hidden Gem

Once I stopped looking up, I noticed some display cabinets with small artifact looking objects inside.  Indeed, they were small fragments of the Berlin Wall with some of the tagging graffiti on them, accompanied by photos of the wall where they were from. 

Then I noticed a Euro sign. Could they be for sale?  There were a few guys hanging around the vestibule, but they couldn't speak English. Fortunately, they were keen to find someone to help us and yes indeed they were for sale. 

The wall fragments came in three sizes - small medium and large. Just like t-shirts. 

We debated the logic of buying a piece of Berlin Wall, thinking the small pieces were too small and the larger pieces too heavy to haul back. But in the end, we became a proud owner of a piece of the Berlin Wall complete with a photo of where it came from on the wall and letter of authenticity or at least that is what they told us it was. 

From then on we looked at other slabs and pieces of the Berlin Wall that are scattered throughout the city to see how the concrete composition of our artifact compared.  They all looked exactly like the piece we have.  

Guess we will just have to be believers. 

St. Thomas Kirche Church 101

The church was built between 1865 and 1869 by architect Friedrich Alder.  At the time of its completion, it was the biggest church in Berlin with 3,000 seats.  It is designed in the form of a Latin Cross, with a 56 m dome and two 48 m towers facing the Mariannenplatz. 

The eastern half of the church was destroyed in an air raid on November 22, 1942, and all of the interior furnishings were completely lost.  The façade has been restored to the original state but the interior has not. 

The Berlin Wall had a significant impact on the church as it divided the congregation.

Last Word

I carried my piece of the Berlin Wall home in my carry-on luggage, but I almost lost it in Dublin. Security wanted to check my bag and had to double check if it was OK to have it in my carry on luggage.  Germany security had no issues.

The Berlin Wall will add a new dimension to my collection of flaneur finds.

Leipzig: Night Walk Postcards

Thanks to my 2-year old neighbour, who is now 3, I have become a big fan of “night walks.”  He and I have enjoyed flaneuring the streets and back alleys of our neighbourhood since he was just over a year old, but last September he started wanting to go for walks after dinner with his Papa and I got invited. 

I had never appreciated how different residential streets are in the evening. It is a great way to wind down and reflect on the day's happenings. 

I loved these walks so much I started to do my own “night walks” when on vacation in other cities.  Most recently, my “night walks” were along the historic streets and canals of Leipzig Germany which take on an entirely different look at night.

Here are a few postcards from Leipzig at night…hope you enjoy.

Berlin: The Playground Capital of the World?

I use to think Calgary had a lot of playgrounds, but not anymore. Berlin seems to have playgrounds on almost every block, sometimes two and three, especially in the Kreuzberg district.  Then I learned there are over 2,000 public playgrounds in the city, but that doesn’t include all the school and daycare playgrounds, which also seemed to on every block. 

Staying in Kreuzberg for a month was a unique urban experience given the multitude of children of all ages everywhere, every day.  One day kept track and I couldn't go a half a block without encountering a stroller.  But what made the experience most unique were the vintage playgrounds. 

Found this primitive crocodile bench early and thought it might be a bit strange and scary for toddlers. This was only the beginning. 

Found this primitive crocodile bench early and thought it might be a bit strange and scary for toddlers. This was only the beginning. 

Soon we encountered another playground with more mythical creatures.   

Soon we encountered another playground with more mythical creatures.   

Almost all of the swings in Berlin have some sort of character at the top. In this case, it was a well-weathered cartoon figure, but in most cases it was an animal. 

Almost all of the swings in Berlin have some sort of character at the top. In this case, it was a well-weathered cartoon figure, but in most cases it was an animal. 

These sculpture-like pieces of wood, reminded my of spinning tops. Note in the background is a small hard surface for soccer, roller blading or other activities. 

These sculpture-like pieces of wood, reminded my of spinning tops. Note in the background is a small hard surface for soccer, roller blading or other activities. 

Liked the use of natural trees in this playground, with roots still attached to create a swing.  

Liked the use of natural trees in this playground, with roots still attached to create a swing.  

Included this photo as it illustrates how the tree limbs of the playground mirror those in the trees behind.  

Included this photo as it illustrates how the tree limbs of the playground mirror those in the trees behind.  

Busy Busy Busy 

Not only are there a lot of playgrounds but also they are very busy. I initially thought it was because most people live in apartments with no backyards. However, the more I explored I discovered many of the apartment blocks actually have their own playgrounds and courtyards, although they didn’t seem to get as much use as the local playground.  I even encountered several places where there were sandboxes and/or a play area in the tiny front yards of ground level apartments.

And when I say busy, I am not talking about two or three families I am talking dozens.  It is like a mini festival with all of the shrieks of fun especially on weekends and after work on the weekdays.

This was our local playground on the weekends and from about 3 pm to about 7 pm weekday depending on weathe.  It is also busy during the day as there are probably 6 or more daycares in the immediate area. 

This was our local playground on the weekends and from about 3 pm to about 7 pm weekday depending on weathe.  It is also busy during the day as there are probably 6 or more daycares in the immediate area. 

This playground was busy even on a cool day in early March. It was part of a large complex with skatepark across the street, dog park and hard surface playing cages.

This playground was busy even on a cool day in early March. It was part of a large complex with skatepark across the street, dog park and hard surface playing cages.

I don't think I have ever seen more strollers and young kids on striders, bikes and scooters than as I saw in Berlin's Kreuzberg district on an everyday basis.

I don't think I have ever seen more strollers and young kids on striders, bikes and scooters than as I saw in Berlin's Kreuzberg district on an everyday basis.

It was probably two weeks before I saw a new playground which had the same elements as the old ones just more colour.  There is a strong sense of craftsmanship and being hand-made to these enchanting playgrounds. They look like something magical, out of a children's storybook. 

It was probably two weeks before I saw a new playground which had the same elements as the old ones just more colour.  There is a strong sense of craftsmanship and being hand-made to these enchanting playgrounds. They look like something magical, out of a children's storybook. 

This playground had fun theme, including a snake on a spring for rocking back and forth and other exotic shapes and characters.  

This playground had fun theme, including a snake on a spring for rocking back and forth and other exotic shapes and characters.  

This new playground had stumps and logs to walk along around the entire playground. It also served as seating.

This new playground had stumps and logs to walk along around the entire playground. It also served as seating.

Hammocks are often included in Berlin playgrounds. 

Hammocks are often included in Berlin playgrounds. 

There is a small playground behind the hill in the background, along with these three red sculpture like pieces that could be used to sit on or to climb over or jump off of.  Ping pong tables are also common in Berlin playground public spaces and yes they do get used. 

There is a small playground behind the hill in the background, along with these three red sculpture like pieces that could be used to sit on or to climb over or jump off of.  Ping pong tables are also common in Berlin playground public spaces and yes they do get used. 

Vintage Fun

Berlin’s playgrounds are also very different from North America’s as there is none of the Crayola meets Fisher Price, Ikea-looking playgrounds. Most of the playgrounds are pretty much void of any colour, which is totally the opposite of other elements of the city’s urban fabric, which is full of colour. 

In fact most of the playgrounds have vintage look, as the equipment and benches are all still made of wood, with twisted tree limb shapes as if they just cut off a few limbs and stuck them in the ground.  And while there are still some traces of the original paint, they haven’t been painted in decades, creating a grey weathered look.

Berlin’s playgrounds are like one mega sand box (no pea gravel or rubberized surfaces here), with strange looking forts, ships and other structures (by North American standards) that families are invited to climb, jump, bounce and play on. The most intriguing element are the mysterious carved animal heads on springs to rock back and forth on.  

They look like they belong in an anthropology museum – there are probably thousands of them.
Soon the thrill of the hunt for me was to find old playgrounds and photograph their primitive creatures and characters.  Here are a few samples.

Soon the thrill of the hunt for me was to find old playgrounds and photograph their primitive creatures and characters.  Here are a few samples.

Found this new hand carved creature which is very cute and charming today, would be interesting to document how it changes over the years. 

Found this new hand carved creature which is very cute and charming today, would be interesting to document how it changes over the years. 

These family-sized rockers were very popular.  Mom, Dad and several kids could rock on them, or a bunch of kids could hop on and have fun. 

These family-sized rockers were very popular.  Mom, Dad and several kids could rock on them, or a bunch of kids could hop on and have fun. 

Caged in?

All playgrounds have a low fence that keeps the kids and balls in the area encloses all the playgrounds.  As well, many playgrounds will also have a high fenced-in hard surface nearby that can be used as both a place to play dodge ball, soccer and basketball.  The high fence that encloses the courts gives them a strange cage-fighting ring look, at least to this North American. These multi-use courts were well used by older children and adults.

An example of a caged court for playing soccer with a basketball court next to it. 

An example of a caged court for playing soccer with a basketball court next to it. 

Another example of caged arena-like play area.  Note it is typical for there to be lots of graffiti in and around the playgrounds, nobody seems to mind.

Another example of caged arena-like play area.  Note it is typical for there to be lots of graffiti in and around the playgrounds, nobody seems to mind.

Shade, Sit & Skate

Berlin’s urban trees are amazing. Huge six story trees line many of the streets and dominate the parks, creating lovely shade in the summer but letting in the sun in during late fall to early spring.  I was also impressed by the abundant places to just sit, and how Berliners have mastered the art of sitting. 

And we are not talking about fancy benches and seats; again they are usually old wooden benches that you would rarely see in North American cities.

The number of small neighborhood skate parks was also impressive. Sometimes I wonder if Calgary made a mistake building a mega skate park at downtown’s Millennium Park instead of creating several smaller neighborhood skate parks. 

Loved this vintage curved bench with its weathered patina. It adds a lovely sense of character, charm and time that is Berlin. New is not always better?

Loved this vintage curved bench with its weathered patina. It adds a lovely sense of character, charm and time that is Berlin. New is not always better?

Last Word 

While Berlin’s playgrounds and parks are not pristine by any standards, they are well used. There is little to no grass in most of the parks, that is either because it is hard to grow grass in the sandy soil, or the parks and playgrounds are so heavily used the grass just gets worn out.  I believe it is the latter.

And while many of the playgrounds look old and dreary by North American standards, the kids don’t mind and the little ones love playing in the sand. 

It is a reminder to me we don’t necessarily need to always have the newest, brightest, cleanest public spaces to make them successful.

Note: Most of my time was spent in the hipster, bohemian areas of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Mitte, Neukolin districts of Berlin, so these observations may not be indicative of all of Berlin.  It should also be noted these communities seem to be home to a disproportionate number of young adults who have young children. Berlin’s sidewalk ballet is a kaleidoscope of pedestrians, buggies, striders, scooters and bikes of all shapes and sizes weaving in and out trying to avoid each other.  It is chaos but it seems to work, we didn't see a single collision. 

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Playgrounds Gone Wild?

Calgary: Central Library or Downtown Community Centre?

Downtown Vancouver has one. Seattle has one. So too does Salt Lake City. And soon, Calgary will have one! A fancy schmancy signature downtown library designed by a star international architectural firm. 

In all three cities, the idea was to build a landmark central library as a tool for urban renewal.  And in all three cases, it has worked with the libraries now surrounded by trendy new condos, office buildings, shops, and restaurants. 

So for Calgary, is it a case of “if you build it they will come” or a case of “keeping up with the Jones?”

Libraries as Community Centres

In today’s world, libraries are less about the books (yes, they still have some) and more about being a vibrant community center where people come to read (yes, people still do that), use computers and attend programs, lectures, readings, movies, concerts and other events. 

For young suburban families, these mega libraries are fun adventure as the kids get to go downtown (aka the tall city, which is what my 3-year old nephew called it) often getting there by a train ride. What kid doesn't like to ride the train?

In a stroke of genius and as a hint of what it to come, Calgary’s current downtown library has parked a real (but modified) fire engine on the main floor of the library.  Kids can dress-up as firemen, attend one of the many story times or sit and read in the driver’s seat. It has become so busy the circulation area had to be reconfigured.  For families, it doesn’t get much better than this.

New is better?

Calgary’s new $245-million library will have 66% more usable space than the existing central library and will contain 600,000 books and other items compared to the current library’s 390,000.  Calgary currently boasts one of the busiest library systems in North America; the addition of signature central library will surely enhance that. Or will it? Only time will tell. 

While the new National Music Centre is a welcome addition to downtown and East Village, it is the new library, scheduled to open in 2018 that is destined to become the heart of East Village and perhaps even Calgary’s entire City Centre.

Avant-garde Design

While Calgary’s new library may not have a fire engine inside, the shape of the building has been said by some to resemble a giant bathtub toy boat.  For others, it might remind them of the float boats used on the Bow River for fishing.

Designed by Snohetta, an internationally acclaimed architectural firm headquartered in Oslo Norway specializing in library design and Calgary’s own DIALOG, architects of Telus Spark, the building promises to be stunning.  On their website the architects say the design was inspired by the nearby foothills. Personally, I don’t see that as the building has very sharp edges as opposed to the soft rounded form of the foothills. 

The façade or skin of the building is very intriguing with its interlocking geometric shapes, many looking like little houses. To me, it is like the skin of snake; the building even looks a bit snake-like from the northern edge where the C-Train emerges from the mouth-like tunnel underneath the building. However, the architects say snowdrifts inspired the façade’s geometric patterns.   

The façade utilizes both clear, pastel coloured and white glass that will create a continually changing dramatic light effect - day and night, inside and out. The interior of the building will be dominated by a huge atrium with huge wood-clad arches that reference our warm wonderful, Chinook Arch winds, creating a very dramatic and inviting meeting and hangout place.  

Last Word

While every attempt has been made to animate the streetscape and create a “welcoming” public realm around the building, the challenge of building over the LRT tracks has made that difficult. I am also concerned, like the Municipal Building (Blue Monster) to the west; it will be more intimidating than welcoming.  It is hard to create big block-long buildings and make them inviting without lots of public space around them. I really hope I am wrong.

The computer renderings of the building are very seductive. We can only hope the real thing will be as stunning.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the March 2017, Calgary's Condo Living Magazine.  All photos are from Snohetta website. 

Library Fun Facts:

  • 2016 was busier than ever with 6.3 million in-person visits
  • Chromebooks were signed out more than 100,000 times
  • Circulation stands at approximately 16 million
  • Circulation for all electronic resources for 2016 is 2.4 million (increasing year over year – up approx. 100,000 from 2015)
  • We added 250,000 members since eliminating the $12 fee; bringing our current membership to 570,000+
  • In 2015, with $7.4 million raised by the Calgary Public Library Foundation, we broke the record for funds raised annually for a Canadian library.

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Richard Florida: I was wrong!

When Richard Florida, the 21st century urban guru, speaks lots of people listen. Ears really perked up when Florida admitted, “I got wrong that the creative class could magically restore our cities, become a new middle class like my father’s and were going to live happily forever after.  I could not have anticipated among all this urban growth and revival there was a dark side to the urban creative revolution, a very deep dark side.”  (Houston Chronicle, Oct 24, 2016).

Staging area for POW! Parade of Wonders at Eau Claire.

Jane Jacobs Revisited

Back in 2000, Florida published his first book “The Rise of the Creative Class” and immediately became a media star with his mantra, “if your city is attractive to the creative class, they will come.”

He quickly converted many urban planners and politicians to his dogma, which, in many ways, was just a reworking of Jane Jacobs’ key messages about the importance of bohemia and small-scale development in her 1961 book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

Tim Williams and friends at the Blues Can in Inglewood, one of Canada's best communities. 

Tim Williams and friends at the Blues Can in Inglewood, one of Canada's best communities. 

Creative Class 101

Florida hypothesized a key paradigm shift in the employee/employer relationship was happening - no longer would workers move to where the jobs are, but rather employers will move to where employees want to live. He preached that if a city wanted new businesses to locate in their city, all they had to do was create a city where the creative class wanted to play, live and then work.

The creative class was a broad term that included software, computer game and app developers, 3D computer artists as well as painters and sculptors.  It also included architects, interior designers, graphic artists, actors, musicians, writers, chiefs, film and video makers. 

His research included creating indexes to measure a city’s attractiveness to the creative class – Talent, Technology, Bohemian, Mosaic, Gay (today, that would be the LGBT Index), and Tolerance Indices.

Container Bar in Calgary's Kensington district.

If you build it, they will come...

Florida’s research documented the creative class wanted things like a vibrant festivals, music and café culture. They also love places - to skateboard, play disc golf, fly a kite, bike ride, roller blade or just hang out.

Today, Florida, a University of Toronto professor admits appealing to the creative class won’t work for every city.  In fact, it will only work for a few.  And to add insult to injury where it has succeeded (Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Washington), it has resulted in skyrocketing house prices to the point where only the highly paid can live. 

Indeed, appealing to the creative class actually became a catalyst for gentrification not diversification and vitalization.

Ship & Anchor patio in March. 

Creative Class Loves Calgary?

At the turn of this century, Calgary’s City Centre had many of the ingredients Florida identified as those appealing to the creative class. We had great urban parks and pathways – Prince’s Island, Shaw Millennium Park and an extensive river pathway system.  Calgary’s construction of the world’s largest skateboard park in 2000 is exactly what Florida would have recommended to attract the creative class.

We also had a small but vibrant live music scene and a local café culture.  Our festival scene was taking off with the likes of SLED Island and our International

Film Festival and Underground Film Festivals.  We also had fun theatre festivals like the High Performance Rodeo, Animated Objects (puppet) and One Act Play festivals. In addition, Calgary’s cuisine scene was sizzling with the opening of Laurier Lounge, The Living Room and numerous sushi restaurants.  

The growth of Calgary’s cosplay festival (Calgary Expo) over the past 10 years into Canada’s second largest and our Pride Parade from a few thousand people to over 60,000 is evidence Calgary has been successful in attracting the creative class to our city.

However, Calgary’s creative class is unique as it is dominated by a strong GABEsters culture i.e. geologists, accountants, brokers, bankers and engineers.  Indeed, for the past 50 years, Calgary has attracted the cream of the crop of new GABEsters from universities across Canada and beyond to work in the oil patch.

Call them whatever you want young professionals began to revitalize the Beltline, Kensington, Bridgeland and Inglewood 20 years ago.  And it is still continuing today even with the downtown in the economy.  Places like Bridgeland’s

Luke’s Mart, Cannibale Barbershop & Cocktails and Bridgett Bar in the Beltline make Calgary’s City Centre very attractive to young hipsters. 

A big bonus for all of these communities is they are within easy walking and cycling distance to downtown, which even with all the vacancies has more occupied office space than Austin, Portland or Vancouver. 

Fortunately, Calgary seems to have the best of both worlds. We have been able to attract the creative class, while avoiding the skyrocketing City Centre home prices plaguing places like Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle and San Francisco.  

Bridgeland has been evolving for the past 10+ years into a very attractive place for the creative class to live and play with work just a short walk or bike ride away in downtown.

New Urban Crisis

In 2017, Florida will be published his new book “The New Urban Crisis” which will address affordable housing shortages in gentrified districts, need to link suburbs to inner city with mass transit and need to raise wages of service workers so the can afford to live near the City Centre where their jobs are.

Again, Calgary appears to be ahead of Florida with numerous affordable inner city housing programs (Attainable Homes) and several new mass transit programs linking the suburbs to the City Centre – Green Line, SW and Forest Lawn BRT.

Future map of Calgary's rapid transit routes.

Last Word

Despite all our faults, Calgary has perhaps the most diverse, attractive and affordable collection of urban and suburban communities in North America.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on Saturday, March 24, 2017 titled "Richard Florida could take a page from Calgary's urban songbook."

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Berlin: Colourful & Playful

One of the biggest criticism I have of cities today is they are too conservative when it comes to incorporating colour into its architecture, streetscapes, plazas, parks, signage and billboards (if they even allow billboards).

One of the first things I noticed about Berlin was how colour is integrated into the everyday life of its streets in both bold and subtle ways, especially in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Neukolln districts.

Unfortunately, Berlin falls into the same colourless trap as other cities when it comes to many of its new buildings and streetscapes, however I did find some exceptions.

Who knew March 21st is International Colour Day? When “what are you doing for International Colour Day?” came up on my twitter feed I thought this must be a signal to start my blog about the use of colour in Berlin and the cheerful and playful impact it has in a city that can very dreary (cloudy and rainy) in the winter months. I am surprised at how much Berlin's weather is like Vancouver's.

Link: International Colour Day 

So here are some colourful Berlin postcard shots that I hope will illustrate to you what I am talking about.  Make sure you scroll to the end of the essay for a postcard that is sure to make you smile....hope you enjoy!

The floor of the Alexa shopping centre is a wonderful and colourful work of art that you get to walk on and see from above.  How fun is this?

This is the futuristic entrance to a modern office building, unfortunately once you get inside there is no colour.  

This is the futuristic entrance to a modern office building, unfortunately once you get inside there is no colour.  

Dussmann bookstore at Friedrichstrabe 90 was where I began to realize Berliners love the use of colour. The entire multi-floor space is a rich red, it creates a passionate sense of place which seemed appropriate for a bookstore. 

Dussmann bookstore at Friedrichstrabe 90 was where I began to realize Berliners love the use of colour. The entire multi-floor space is a rich red, it creates a passionate sense of place which seemed appropriate for a bookstore. 

Loved this yellow plaza and apartment block next to the Berlinische Galerie, which is a must see in our minds. 

Loved this yellow plaza and apartment block next to the Berlinische Galerie, which is a must see in our minds. 

These red sculptures/benches are part of the playground for this residential complex.

These red sculptures/benches are part of the playground for this residential complex.

This retail store signage is on the side of a parkade.

This retail store signage is on the side of a parkade.

Berlin's new concert hall has a gold facade as does the library across the street.

Not sure how this orange elephant in front of a German state government building fits into the local culture but it certainly was colourful and cheerful.

Not sure how this orange elephant in front of a German state government building fits into the local culture but it certainly was colourful and cheerful.

The streets in Berlin's Kreuzberg district were filled with brightly coloured tables, chairs and other ornamentation. 

The streets in Berlin's Kreuzberg district were filled with brightly coloured tables, chairs and other ornamentation. 

Japanese retailer UNIQLO's flagship store in Berlin has wonderful stairs, which have the names of cities in neon red streaming across them like a stock market quotation board.  

Japanese retailer UNIQLO's flagship store in Berlin has wonderful stairs, which have the names of cities in neon red streaming across them like a stock market quotation board.  

Many of Berlin's subway and transit station employ bold colours like these candy floss stairs at the Prinzenstrabe Station.

Many of Berlin's subway and transit station employ bold colours like these candy floss stairs at the Prinzenstrabe Station.

Older residential buildings have also added colour to their facades to make them standout. 

Older residential buildings have also added colour to their facades to make them standout. 

The orange blinds in this hospital change everyday, creating subtle differences.

The orange blinds in this hospital change everyday, creating subtle differences.

Found this collage when I wandered into a courtyard.

Found this collage when I wandered into a courtyard.

Subtle use of colour in a school yard.

Subtle use of colour in a school yard.

Bold use of colour and art in a public playground. Berlin is home to hundreds of colourful murals.

Bold use of colour and art in a public playground. Berlin is home to hundreds of colourful murals.

A school.

A school.

Another school.

Another school.

Even the garbage containers are colourful.

Even the garbage containers are colourful.

The orange "Oh happy way!" street sweepers say it all.... 

The orange "Oh happy way!" street sweepers say it all.... 

Berlin Cemetery: Etchings & Cafe

It is the classic example of how as a tourist you do things you never do at home.  In Calgary we have often said we should take an afternoon and explore one of our inner city cemeteries.  We have even threatened to meet up with friends and do one of the guided tours. But alas, we have never done it. 

Luisenstadtischer Friedhof

Early on in our wandering of the streets of Berlin's Kreuzberg district, we discovered what looked like a lovely cemetery.  We quickly agreed it would be a great place to flaneur on a nice day when we wanted some solitude from the animated streets and plazas. We also noted there was a charming cafe where we could have a coffee and cake - something that would become a become a daily ritual.  

Sure enough, 10 days later on a nice sunny morning, we headed back to the what we eventually figured out was not only a failed vineyard but four cemeteries. 

We pretty much had the place to ourselves except for the chirping birds and the occasional cute red squirrel.

The Etchings

The light was amazing as the huge trees had not yet leafed out. It created a heavenly glow on the graves, some of which have been etched by the elements for over 100 years.  Others had a lovely green patina from the moist Berlin winters.

I immediately switched the camera to black & white mode to create what I hoped would be some very intense and dramatic images.    

The Shadows

RRP...

Cafe Strauss is a lovely spot to relax, reflect and ponder. I couldn't help but ponder what it must have been like for artists living in Berlin 50 or 100 years ago.  I wondered about how cities shape artists and artists shape cities and why are some cities more attractive to artists than others.  What makes Berlin so attractive to young artists today?  Is it in the city's DNA? Why is Berlin a haven for artist and not Winnipeg, Edmonton or Hamilton?

More Cafe Strauss Info: I Ate My Cake In A German Cemetery 

Last Word

I remember going (being dragged) to cemeteries when I was young to visit the graves of grandparents, but I wonder if anyone does that anymore.

Do cemeteries have any relevance in contemporary life? Compared to previous generations, are we more focused on the future, rather than the past? Are we too focused on the future?  What role have cemeteries played in fostering a sense of family, a sense of continuity and a respect for the past?

Berlin makes you think!

While some love to explore the museums and art galleries of Berlin (there are 175 of them) after 18 days I am still fascinated by the everyday life of the streets of Berlin.  To me the street seem more authentic less contrived than museums. 

And, yes I am definitely going to flaneur Calgary's cemeteries this spring or summer or fall. 

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Berlin: Humana Thrift Store Gone Wild?

One of the best ways to find off-the-beaten path gems in a new city is to visit thrift stores, as they are often located in up-and-coming communities.  When we heard Berlin has a five floor thrift department store we had to go. 

I wasn't disappointed. Brenda was!

Upon walking in you immediately encountered a wonderful hat display, yes Berlin is the "City of Hats." But what was even more impressive was the circular staircase with artwork along the wall.  

A bit Guggenheimish!

Also on the main floor were some huge vintage ceiling light fixtures, like nothing I have ever seen. A very elegant use of fluorescent tubes. Those Germans are so clever when it comes to simple designs.

More Mannequins

The first impression was this is definitely like a department store as the racks were well organized and there were fun vignettes every where, as well as some exquisite miniature mannequins. Boy once this guy gets on a theme it is hard for him to let go.

There were also some fun vintage posters - too bad they weren't for sale.

However, the piece de la resistance was the vintage clothing floor at the top. It was a definitely a walk back in time.  Maybe not a walk everyone wants to take. Some of us might want to forget the tacky, wacky clothing we use to wear. The mannequin displays were very strange indeed. 

Brenda Struck Out

After being all excited to visit the mega thrift department store, Brenda went home empty handed.  While the store was clean, well stocked and well organized, the prices were much the same, or higher than at home. There were no bargains to be had. 

I did manage to find some fun wooden children's toys that I will add to my collection - all for 1 Euro. 

Oh yes, the thrift store is called Humana, and is at the Frankfurter Tor station. It is part of the Oxfam charity shops and there are several outlets in Berlin.  

Stalin Architecture

Across the street are twin mega horizontal office blocks built in the Stalinist style according to the plans of Hermann Henselmann, in 1953 and 1956. On one level, they evoke a sense of intimidation, power, and authority, while on another level they serve as a gateway into the city. The two sentinel-like domed towers looking down on the street further add to sense of intimidation and being watched. 

Who Knew?

Just down the street from Humana we lucked out to find the Cafe Tasso bookstore. I loved the outside book bins that enhance the pedestrian experience and frame the patio.  Inside is a charming cafe with more books.  As we had our lunch we couldn't believe the number of people coming and going buying books.  

We decided to checked out the small room of books next to the cafe and while everything was well organized there were no prices. Strange?  When we asked we were told all books were 1.5 Euros.  Then when I went to the washroom I discovered the bookstore continued in the back and downstairs.  It was wonderful rabbit warren of treasures.  Who knew? I wish I could read German as there were some good bargains.  

Oh how I miss McNally Robinson Bookstore and Bistro on Stephen Avenue. Every pedestrian district needs a good bookstore cafe. 

Last Word

If you are into vintage, especially vintage clothing you have to go to Berlin, it is the "vintage capital of the world."

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Calgary's City Centre Transformation

For those who want a “room (or two) with a view,” several City Center highrise condos offer their own unique urban lifestyle.

Avenue West End by Grosvenor and Cressey Development Group, provides spectacular downtown, river valley and mountain views from its Downtown West location.  You are also only a hop, skip and a jump from the Bow River pathway for evening and weekend jogging, walking and cycling and a pleasant 10-minute walk to work downtown every day. And just minutes away from Shaw Millennium Park, home to numerous festivals or to shoot some hoops or play some beach volleyball.

Park Point with Calgary's first park, Central Memorial Park as its front yard.

Park Point with Calgary's first park, Central Memorial Park as its front yard.

Another option is Park Point by Qualex-Landmark. It not only provides residents with outstanding views, but Calgary’s historic Memorial Park/Library is in its front yard. Located at the corner of 12th Ave and 2nd Street SW, residents are equidistant to all of the City Centre’s hot spots - Olympic Plaza Cultural District, Stephen Ave/Core, 17th Ave, Mission and Stampede Park.  For those looking ahead, Park Pointe will be on the doorstep of future new Green Line LRT.

The Royal grocery store at street level. 

The Royal grocery store at street level. 

Then there’s The Royal by Embassy BOSA offers not only luxury living, but the convenience of having an Urban Fair grocery store and Canadian Tire store right in your building.  And if being at the crossroads of the 17th Ave and 8th St SW you have all the shops, cafes and restaurants you will ever need, including Jelly Modern Doughnuts!

 

Lamb Development Corp.’s very modern, 31-storey, 6th and Tenth condo is located on one of the City’s hottest urban addresses – 10th Avenue SW.   Live here and you can get a little more shuteye given you are probably only a 5-minute walk to work.  Just outside your front door, take a left and you can chill with friends at the funky new Bridgette Bar or grab a bottle of your favourite vino at Metrovino for entertaining.  And being next to the Beltline’s Gallery District; you’ll have no excuse for blank walls!

6th and Tenth is one of several buildings transforming the Beltline's 10th Avenue into an attractive urban playground.

6th and Tenth is one of several buildings transforming the Beltline's 10th Avenue into an attractive urban playground.

Vogue is the latest condo development by LaCaille and Calgary’s S2 architects.  It's art deco-inspired design features a five-floor podium with an arched glass entrance that grounds the strong vertical lines of the 35-story condo tower creating a very fashion forward design. Located at 914 - 6th Avenue, it is the closest condo to the downtown core of any of the new City Center condos. 

In East Village, FRAM+Slokker’s Verve not only offers a spectacular 25th-floor rooftop lookout terrace, but easy access to Riverwalk, St. Patrick’s Island and soon the new Central Library and 5th & Third shopping complex that includes a Loblaw’s City Market grocery store (both now under construction).

Modern Mid-rise

If architecture is your thing and money is no object, the opulent Arthur Erickson-designed (Canada’s most celebrated architect) Concord condo in Eau Claire should be on your must-see list.  The 14-floor west tower is currently under construction and will have seven penthouse homes thanks to a design that sees the building terrace upwards from the Bow River pathway to 1st Avenue SW.  Concord residents will savour their proximity to the delicious Alforno Bakery & Café and Buchanan’s restaurant. They will also have a bird’s eye view of the Calgary International Folk Festival.

AVLI condo in the community of Inglewood, named Canada's best neighbourhood in 2015. 

AVLI condo in the community of Inglewood, named Canada's best neighbourhood in 2015. 

If the charm of Inglewood is more to your liking, the new Jeremy Sturgess (Calgary’s most celebrated architect)- designed AVLI on Atlantic condo (Atlantic Avenue is the original name of 9th Avenue) is a very cool design.  It's angular, ghost-like uber modern design is destined to become one Calgary’s signature early 21st century condos. Those into live music can hang out at Ironwood or Blues Can. Into fine dining? It doesn’t get any better than Deane House or Rouge or maybe you have regular cravings for a Spolumbo’s sandwich.

Across the Bow River from Inglewood sits Bucci’s seven-story new condo Radius, in the increasingly hip community of Bridgeland. Located on Centre Avenue at 9th Street on the edge of Murdock Park, residents will be within walking distance of the very hipster Cannibale (bar and barbershop), Lukes Drug Mart and Bridgeland Market.

Radius condo in Calgary's Bridgeland community. 

Radius condo in Calgary's Bridgeland community. 

Also north of the Bow River, in Hillhurst is Ezra on Riley Park, which offers 8 floors of sophisticated urban, living.  Imagine living in a 3,000 sq. penthouse with a 6,000 sq. terrace looking out to the lovely Riley Park.  If that is not in your budget, there are many one and two bedroom homes in the middle of the building, as well as two-storey townhomes at street level.  Ezra living also means enjoying Hillhurst Community Centre’s weekly farmer’s market and Sunday Flea Market or the Bodhi Tree yoga studio. 

Last Word

It will be interesting to see in 50 or 100 years what historians say about the early 21st-century transformation of Calgary’s City Centre into a mosaic of vibrant urban neighbourhoods.  You could be part of history-making!

Note: This blog was first published in the Calgary Herald's Condo Xtra supplement in Swerve Magazine on February 10, 2017. 

Calgary's East Village skyline is constantly changing with new condo towers.

Calgary's East Village skyline is constantly changing with new condo towers.

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Montreal: Canada's Best Urban Playground?

Forget Toronto. Forget Vancouver. If you are looking for a fun urban adventure, plan a Montreal getaway.  And, not just because Montreal will be celebrating its 375th anniversary with numerous special festivities in 2017, but because Montreal’s everyday “joie de vivre” makes it a great urban playground anytime.

In the underground of the Les Cours Mont-Royal building is the world's largest collection of Barbie Dolls - over 1,000.  How playful is that? Click here for more info

In the underground of the Les Cours Mont-Royal building is the world's largest collection of Barbie Dolls - over 1,000.  How playful is that? Click here for more info

Colourful

Montreal has done a spectacular job utilizing colour to add a sense of play and warmth to their winter pedestrian experience.  The large red dot lights projected on the sidewalks in several locations and a half block-long window with its rows of neon dots that change colour as you walk distract from the cold outside.  

But the piece de la resistance is the block-long west wall of the Palais des Congres (Montreal Convention Centre) composed of 58 glass panels of yellow, pink, green and blue that really brightens up a cloudy day. And on days when the sun shines, the inside is a magical kaleidoscope of colours.  

With Calgary’s abundant sunshine and amazing collection of glass towers and +15 glass bridges, we should be a world leader in the use of coloured glass as a means of creating a unique sense of place. Instead of all the black, beige and grey facades imagine if more buildings were like Battisella’s Beltline condo, Colours.

The glass facade of Montreal's Convention Centre at night. 

The glass facade of Montreal's Convention Centre at night. 

No this is not the Montreal's Red Light District, it is just a way to add some fun to those who are out for an evening stroll, even in the winter.

No this is not the Montreal's Red Light District, it is just a way to add some fun to those who are out for an evening stroll, even in the winter.

Even Montreal's Metro Stations are colourful and playful.

Even Montreal's Metro Stations are colourful and playful.

Scavenger Hunt

I thought Calgary was doing pretty well with its proliferation of funky street art, but it pales in comparison to Montreal.  Wandering Montreal’s rues and avenues, I was forever pulling out my camera - over 100 street art photos in all (and I didn’t take photos of every one).  It was a fun scavenger hunt experience.

And while street art is fun with its cartoon-like characters, Montreal’s urban landscape is full of clever murals. It turns out local and international muralist transforms St Laurent Boulevard into an outdoor gallery every June during its annual Mural Festival. (I have added it to my bucket list).

Imagine how much more pedestrian-friendly our City Centre would if more of Calgary’s blank walls had murals like Doug Driediger’s “Giving Wings to the Dream” on the east wall of the old CUPS building on 7th Ave SW.  

This cartoon-like street art is just one of a many pieces that convert a back alley into an art gallery. 

This cartoon-like street art is just one of a many pieces that convert a back alley into an art gallery. 

Another playful piece of street art. 

Another playful piece of street art. 

 On The Wall

Montreal En Lumiere festival (February 23 to March 11, 2017) is one of largest annual winter festivals in the world - attendance exceeds one million every year.  

The festival’s amazing light installations create a circus-like atmosphere at the Place des Festivals (Calgary’s equivalent being Olympic Plaza).  What I particularly love about this festival is how it continues, on a smaller scale, throughout the year.  Year-round, blank walls throughout the City Centre come to life at night with changing colourful images projected on them. Imagine what it must be like when 1000 projectors and 185 loudspeakers animate their winter nights.  (Another one for my bucket list).

Old Montreal’s “Cite Memories” features 20 movies projected on the sides of historical buildings that tell Montreal’s history.  Download a free app and you can to listen as you watch or walk around.  Wouldn’t that be great for Stephen Ave, Inglewood and Kensington?

Calgary has tried to do a Winter Festival many times and failed. Perhaps it is a case of “go big or go home!” Rather than sending Calgary Transit officials on a junket to explore electronic fares systems (which they could do in Montreal), why not send our best festival producers to Montreal to investigate how to create a successful Winter Festival. (Montreal actually has two major winter festivals - Igloofest is a dance electronic music fest from Jan 12 to Feb 19, 2017).

Just one of dozens of projections on blank walls in Montreal's City Centre.  This piece was like a silent movie. 

Just one of dozens of projections on blank walls in Montreal's City Centre.  This piece was like a silent movie. 

Millennial Madness

With Montreal’s City Center being home to 170,000 post-secondary students it has the distinction of having North America’s largest student population (including 18,000 International students).  They may be there for an education, but they also generate a “party-on” atmosphere. Case in point – I was in a 30-minute line up during a snowstorm to get into a “pop-up” cocktail lounge serving up $12 Christmas-themed cocktails to a room full of millennials. 

Might a good use of Calgary’s empty downtown office space be an international university campus? Perhaps Mayor Nenshi can persuade his alma mater Harvard Business School to open in Calgary. 

Loop is a cross between a music box, a zoetrope and a railway handcar – the familiar pump-powered vehicles from Bugs Bunny cartoons. The retro-futuristic machine plays animated fairy-tale loops set in motion when visitors work the lever together. When the cylinder starts spinning, it lights up, making the series of still images appear to move. 

Loop is a cross between a music box, a zoetrope and a railway handcar – the familiar pump-powered vehicles from Bugs Bunny cartoons. The retro-futuristic machine plays animated fairy-tale loops set in motion when visitors work the lever together. When the cylinder starts spinning, it lights up, making the series of still images appear to move. 

People of all ages this unique urban playground.

People of all ages this unique urban playground.

One of several Winter Markets that we encountered as we flaneured Montreal's City Centre. 

One of several Winter Markets that we encountered as we flaneured Montreal's City Centre. 

Unique Streets

While every city has its signature shopping streets, Montreal has dozens – St. Catherine, St. Laurent, St. Denis, Mont-Royal, Laurier, St. Viateur and St. Hubert to name a few.  While St. Catherine, like Vancouver’s Robson or Toronto’s Queen Streets, is full of national and international franchises, Montreal’s other streets house primarily local shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs and galleries (no Starbucks on every corner).  

The number of fashion boutiques with locally designed clothing is impressive, as are the number of commercial art and artisan galleries. And Montreal has the most restaurants on a per capita basis of any major city in North America. In Plateau, Mile End, Little Italy, Little Burgundy and Griffintown, the shopping streets are chock-a-block full of interesting local shops.  Montreal is an amazing incubator of fashion designers, artists, artisans, event producers, chefs, bakers, baristas etc. 

While Calgary is spending millions of dollars creating pretty streetscapes to attract more people to Kensington, Inglewood and 17th Avenue, Montreal’s sidewalks are at best “adequate” - no designer benches, expensive lamp posts with banners, or “special” crosswalks to be found.  People don’t come to areas to look at banners or sit on pretty benches, they come to shop, dine, drink and meet friends.  A little grittiness doesn’t hurt anyone – in fact a street’s unique patina is part of its charm. 

What also makes Montreal’s vibrant streets unique is the lack of gentrification, i.e. replacing older buildings with newer buildings that in turn displaces lower income people and attracts more affluent residents. There are not a lot of new cookie-cutter condos with retail at street level except in downtown and Griffintown. Montreal makes do with the existing inventory of low-rise buildings from the mid 20th century, thereby keeping rents more affordable for “mom and pop” businesses.  

With so much to sip and savour, Montreal’s streets epitomize what Jane Jacobs, the influential 1960s urban activist meant when she said street vitality is directly linked to the number of doors that open onto the street - more doors the better. 

Rue St-Hubert is a five-block long street with over 400 mom and pop businesses - from thrift stores to wedding shops.  A canopy over the sidewalk, protect pedestrians from the elements and creates a unique sense of place.

Rue St-Hubert is a five-block long street with over 400 mom and pop businesses - from thrift stores to wedding shops.  A canopy over the sidewalk, protect pedestrians from the elements and creates a unique sense of place.

Seems like everywhere you go in Montreal there are shops along the streets. These shops create an attractive pedestrian environment. 

Seems like everywhere you go in Montreal there are shops along the streets. These shops create an attractive pedestrian environment. 

St. Catherine's Street in the downtown core is still lined with stores that attract shoppers at all times of the day, seven days a week, not the lobby of office buildings or high-end restaurants.

St. Catherine's Street in the downtown core is still lined with stores that attract shoppers at all times of the day, seven days a week, not the lobby of office buildings or high-end restaurants.

 Family Fun

Gobsmacked best describes my reaction to Montreal’s Desjardins Complex built in 1976. It consists of three office towers and a Hyatt Regency Hotel atop an indoor shopping centre.  From the outside it isn’t anything special, but inside the six-storey high, multi-purpose event space comes complete with a permanent dancing fountain (with lights and music) is very impressive.  

At Christmas, it is transformed into a Christmas wonderland with stage for festive performances, old fashioned carousel, mini-train for kids’ rides, face painting and yes, even a Santa Castle where kids get to meet Santa.  The place is packed with families each December.

Calgary missed a huge opportunity to create a dynamic indoor programming space as part of Bankers Hall, The Bow, Eighth Avenue Place or the redeveloped Core and Devonian Gardens.

This is the entrance to the elevators that get you to Montreal's observation deck on the 45th floor of the Place de Ville Marie. Once you are there you can experience  #MTLGO, an interactive multimedia exhibition, designed by Montréal-based company gsmprject°. It explores many popular city themes—from hockey to gastronomy to performing arts to neighbourhoods—through 55 videos of citizens and Montréal personalities as well as 500 photos culled from the city’s social media and archives.  You could easily spend a hour or more with this entertaining and educational exhibition. 

This is the entrance to the elevators that get you to Montreal's observation deck on the 45th floor of the Place de Ville Marie. Once you are there you can experience  #MTLGO, an interactive multimedia exhibition, designed by Montréal-based company gsmprject°. It explores many popular city themes—from hockey to gastronomy to performing arts to neighbourhoods—through 55 videos of citizens and Montréal personalities as well as 500 photos culled from the city’s social media and archives.  You could easily spend a hour or more with this entertaining and educational exhibition. 

We nicknames Montreal's Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Fun Art given not only the fun artwork on display, but also the fun way it was exhibited. 

We nicknames Montreal's Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Fun Art given not only the fun artwork on display, but also the fun way it was exhibited. 

Montreal is home to Cirque du Soleil, which is fun for everyone. 

Montreal is home to Cirque du Soleil, which is fun for everyone. 

 Last Word

While not a fan of imitating what other cities do, Calgary developers, urban designers, planners, festival/event managers and politicians could well be inspired by Montreal’s unique and creative city building strategies. 

For the rest of us, Montreal is full of fun urban surprises.  Our best surprise was Crew Collective & Café – you have to see it to believe it! 

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