Embracing Messy Living
Though both Montreal and Berlin are big cycling cities, I didn’t see any multi-million dollar bike lanes requiring their own traffic lights. Especially in Berlin, they just adapted the existing sidewalks and roads to create bike lanes that are often very difficult to distinguish from the sidewalk. It was chaos - people were walking in the bike lanes and cyclists riding along the sidewalk, but somehow they make it work. We did not see a crash or even a near crash.
As well in Berlin, I saw no fancy new multi-million dollar pedestrian bridges over their river and canals, nor did I see much in the way of public art. Rather than investing millions in public art, they have free public art from local graffiti and street artists.
Forget investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in creative colourful new playgrounds to attract young families. In Berlin, their sand (yes they are all sand) playgrounds, with unpainted or extremely fainted wood equipment from the ‘50s are just as busy as any Calgary community playground. Some of the riding animals on springs looked surprisingly like something from an ancient Haida totem pole. The schoolyard playgrounds were often also old and tired looking, Calling them vintage is being kind, most of them have no grass, it is asphalt or mud. But the kids were just as active and happy as any playground I have seen in Calgary.
I did see a couple of dog parks in Berlin; they were disgusting as they were just all dirt, or should I say “mud” as it rains a lot in Berlin. With the use of doggie poop bags seemingly optional along the streets, I was afraid to venture into the dog parks. There was nothing like Calgary’s new Connaught dog park with its lovely wrought iron gate, grass and seating areas.
I also didn’t see any lamppost banners, evidence of hanging baskets or fancy street furniture either. In Berlin, one enterprising restaurateur made outdoor lounge furniture from wooden pallets - A sharp contrast to the expensive lounge chairs along East Village’s Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island.
I saw nothing either to match the designer community gardens that are popping up all over Calgary. Certainly, nothing to match East Village’s community gardens, which is probably one of the most elaborate and expensive in the world. What I did see though were Kleingartens that date back to the mid-19th century in Leipzig, Germany when municipalities sold or leased small plots of land to apartment dwellers to grow food. Today, some look more like shantytowns, with an array of old cabins (before tiny homes became trendy), sheds and overgrown gardens.