Everyday Tourist 2017 Retrospective: Fun Flaneur Finds

For most people the new year, is a time to reflect on what has happen over the past year and what they would like to happen over the next.  For me it is a time to edit the 20,000+ photos I have taken this year and decide which ones to keep. 

  Flaneuring Footsteps, Calgary

Flaneuring Footsteps, Calgary

It is also time to ponder what were my best experiences, adventures and discoveries? What was the best art gallery, art exhibition, artwork or architecture I experienced? Should I create albums of the best pieces of public art, best street art, buildings or street photos?

After much reflection, I decided the life of an everyday flaneur isn’t about the “best of” it is about surprises, chance encounters and the thrill of the unexpected. 

As a result this photo essay while in chronological oder is a hodgepodge of fun flaneur finds discovered over the past year wandering with my eyes and mind wide open. I hope you enjoy....

  Yoga bound, Calgary

Yoga bound, Calgary

  Strawberry Dancers / Watermelon Mountains, Calgary

Strawberry Dancers / Watermelon Mountains, Calgary

  Keys, Calgary

Keys, Calgary

  Night Rider, Calgary

Night Rider, Calgary

  Tree of Life, Berlin

Tree of Life, Berlin

  Shopping Vortex, Berlin

Shopping Vortex, Berlin

  Circus architecture, Berlin

Circus architecture, Berlin

  Giant Red Tops, Berlin

Giant Red Tops, Berlin

  Bitte Please, Berlin

Bitte Please, Berlin

  Pedestrian, Berlin

Pedestrian, Berlin

 Mannie, Berlin

Mannie, Berlin

  Street Furniture, Berlin

Street Furniture, Berlin

  Recycling Igloos, Berlin

Recycling Igloos, Berlin

  Notes, Berlin  (Discovered these poems taped to a pedestrian bridge in Kreuzberg, Berlin late one afternoon.)

Notes, Berlin (Discovered these poems taped to a pedestrian bridge in Kreuzberg, Berlin late one afternoon.)

 Magritte Lives, Berlin

Magritte Lives, Berlin

  No Entrance/No Exit, Berlin

No Entrance/No Exit, Berlin

  11 disciples, Berlin

11 disciples, Berlin

  Molecules, Berlin

Molecules, Berlin

  Treasure Hunters' Paradise, Berlin

Treasure Hunters' Paradise, Berlin

  KaDeWe Smile, Berlin

KaDeWe Smile, Berlin

  Green Eye, Berlin

Green Eye, Berlin

  Confession, Berlin

Confession, Berlin

 Word Search, Berlin

Word Search, Berlin

 Fun School, Berlin

Fun School, Berlin

  Mystery Box, Berlin

Mystery Box, Berlin

  Stripes & Checks, Berlin

Stripes & Checks, Berlin

  Eye Candy, Berlin

Eye Candy, Berlin

  Hommage to Don Cherry, Berlin

Hommage to Don Cherry, Berlin

 Hungry, Berlin

Hungry, Berlin

  Living Room, Berlin

Living Room, Berlin

 Escher & Alexa, Berlin

Escher & Alexa, Berlin

   Happy Bunnies, Leipzig

 Happy Bunnies, Leipzig

  Red River, Leipzig

Red River, Leipzig

  Snail's Pace, Leipzig  (Backstory: The snail on the handle of the historic Leipzig City Hall was placed there by a local craftsman to represents how slowly things move at City Hall )

Snail's Pace, Leipzig (Backstory: The snail on the handle of the historic Leipzig City Hall was placed there by a local craftsman to represents how slowly things move at City Hall)

  Three Sisters, Leipzig

Three Sisters, Leipzig

  Not armed and not dangerous, Leipzig

Not armed and not dangerous, Leipzig

  Dare To Be Different, Leipzig

Dare To Be Different, Leipzig

  Street Talk, Leipzig

Street Talk, Leipzig

  Couple, Leipzig

Couple, Leipzig

  Inside! Leipzig

Inside! Leipzig

  Special, Leipzig

Special, Leipzig

  Peaceful Revolution, Leipzig

Peaceful Revolution, Leipzig

  Follow Through, Leipzig

Follow Through, Leipzig

  Partners, Leipzig

Partners, Leipzig

  Door Handle as Art, Leipzig

Door Handle as Art, Leipzig

  No parking, Leipzig

No parking, Leipzig

  Strings Attached, Leipzig

Strings Attached, Leipzig

  Brutal Beauty, London, ON

Brutal Beauty, London, ON

  Dressing Up!, London, ON

Dressing Up!, London, ON

  Playful, Hamilton

Playful, Hamilton

  Perspective, Calgary

Perspective, Calgary

  Windows, Calgary

Windows, Calgary

  Street Party, Calgary

Street Party, Calgary

  Dance with me! Calgary

Dance with me! Calgary

  My old backyard, Gleichen

My old backyard, Gleichen

  Remnants, Sisika

Remnants, Sisika

  Waiting, Calgary

Waiting, Calgary

  Edge, Head Smash-in Buffalo Jump

Edge, Head Smash-in Buffalo Jump

  Hooped, Canmore

Hooped, Canmore

 Really, Olds

Really, Olds

 Blast From The Past, Olds

Blast From The Past, Olds

 Statement, Calgary 

Statement, Calgary 

  Upsized, Calgary

Upsized, Calgary

  Too Much Information, Calgary

Too Much Information, Calgary

  Musical Stairs, Calgary

Musical Stairs, Calgary

  Legs & Pillars, Calgary

Legs & Pillars, Calgary

 Dataport, Medicine Hat

Dataport, Medicine Hat

  Love, Calgary

Love, Calgary

  Rainbow, Calgary

Rainbow, Calgary

  Buried, Canmore

Buried, Canmore

  Happy Hour, Calgary

Happy Hour, Calgary

 Elizabeth, Calgary

Elizabeth, Calgary

  Failure, Calgary

Failure, Calgary

  Stanley Guitar, Nashville

Stanley Guitar, Nashville

 Oxymoron, Nashville

Oxymoron, Nashville

  Euphony, Nashville

Euphony, Nashville

  Pick-up Sticks, Nashville

Pick-up Sticks, Nashville

  Bus Rider, Nashville

Bus Rider, Nashville

  Wisedom, Mesa

Wisedom, Mesa

  Trophies, Calgary

Trophies, Calgary

  Alone, Calgary

Alone, Calgary

  Outer Space, Palm Springs

Outer Space, Palm Springs

 Creative Space, Palm Springs

Creative Space, Palm Springs

  Yard Art, Palm Springs

Yard Art, Palm Springs

  Hippy Mask, Palm Springs

Hippy Mask, Palm Springs

 Whimsical, Palm Springs

Whimsical, Palm Springs

 Corner, Palm Springs

Corner, Palm Springs

  Blue Bird, Calgary

Blue Bird, Calgary

  Juxtaposition, Calgary

Juxtaposition, Calgary

 Twisted, Calgary

Twisted, Calgary

  Fire, Calgary

Fire, Calgary

 Pathways, Calgary

Pathways, Calgary

Thanks for scrolling to the end. 

All the best in 2018. 

Art of Vintage: A Hidden Gem!

Sometimes you just stumble upon a hidden gem! This happened to us this past Saturday when we checked out the “I Am Western” art exhibition at cSPACE in the renovated King Edward School (both the art and renovated school are outstanding).

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Off The Beaten Path 

Heading back, a lime green sign saying “Vintage Shop” with an arrow, caught our attention! I thought it rather strange given there were no retail buildings in the direction of the arrow, i.e. 23rd Ave S.W.  

With the curiosity of a tourist and the wanderlust of a flaneur, we decided to investigate.

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Who Knew?

Sure enough. At the corner of 30th Street and 23rd Avenue SW sat a small commercial building that I had never noticed (probably because I have never been down this residential street) with a sign saying “Art of Vintage” and arrow pointing to the back alley.

Who knew there are two little commercial businesses facing the back alley - one being a vintage store?  I pride myself in being in the know when it comes to funky and quirky places in Calgary, but this one had escaped me…til now.

A great display of vintage wares out front, an open door and a friendly welcome made for a great first impression. We immediately fell in love with this quaint shop (maybe 800 sq. ft.). While the place was packed with vintage artifacts, the pieces were beautifully curated and displayed in lovely vignettes. It had a definite museum/art gallery feel to it without being highbrow.  We also loved that all the items had clearly marked prices, which could be easily seen even on items on the top shelves.  And some of the price tags even had “rent me” prices (think movie props, weddings, dinner/cocktail parties).

We also liked the variety of items. If you are interested in vintage suitcases, this is the place for you.  There were also some lovely vintage typewriters, radios and clocks too.  One of the most interesting pieces was a 1880s medicine glass kit consisting of two small beakers (a shot glass-size one and a tiny cylinder one) in a leather case – very cool.   

I personally liked that they had lots of “manly things,” from old baseball gloves to pipes.

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Saskatchewan Connection

Soon we were chatting with Lori Oliphant, Co-owner/Master Picker of the store (the other Co-owner is sister Heather who was combining at the family farm in Saskatchewan). This Saskatchewan connection was evident with the vintage Saskatchewan licence plates and we quickly realized this was a key source of artifacts. 

Lori told us they have been open since the beginning of 2017.  How had I not heard?

She also introduced us to Andrew Holmes, the go-to guy responsible for all of the lovely vignettes. It turns out he has professional window display experience with plans to create a wonderful window display for those wandering the back alley. 

That could be an interesting night walk!

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Last Word

Andrew promised to let us know when the window display is up and also to invite us to one of his vintage tea parties using many of the treasures in the shop and hosted in private homes. That would be very fun.  I hope they serve Lapsang Souchong tea!

For a fun, off-the-beaten-path place to go, we highly recommend “Art of Vintage.” Whether you’re in the market for an interesting piece of furniture, a unique collectable from your past, or an unusual gift for a friend, you may just find it here.  Link: Art of Vintage

It is now on our list of “hidden gem” places to visit regularly.

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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.

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  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.   

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!" 

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Fun, Funky Quirky Colorado Springs

Mexico City: Fun Urban Surprises

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.

Berlin: Boxhagener Flea Market Fashion Show

I was shocked when I learned Berlin's motto is "we are poor, but sexy!" But after a few days flaneuring the city, it is starting to make sense to me. It is a city of grit and glitz.  While there is lots of upscale shopping we love the fact the city is full of flea markets on the weekends, making it very attractive to those of us who love the "thrill of the hunt."  

 You never know who you might meet at a flea market.

You never know who you might meet at a flea market.

One Weekend Four Markets

On our first weekend in Berlin, we hit four flea markets and each was very different. The Marheineke Platz Flea Market on Saturday was great, the RAW flohmarket in an abandon railway repair yard was more interesting because of the site, which looked like it had been bombed and the Hallen flohmarket is a huge warehouse packed with junk from floor to ceiling.  

However, the market with the best "poor to sexy" cultural statement was the Boxhagener Platz Flea Market.  After only a few minutes I quickly realized this wasn't your typical flea market as many of the shoppers were dressed very fashionably - no wonder the New York Times recommended it a few years back. 

  Yes there was also some fun artifacts to be found at the market. 

Yes there was also some fun artifacts to be found at the market. 

Hommage to Bill

I have long toyed with the idea of doing a blog in the style of the famous New York Times street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham who died at the age of 87, in 2016 (Link: NYT Remembering Bill Cunningham).  

Each week Cunningham would produce a full page collage of curated photos of the fashions he saw New Yorkers wearing on the street. He was often credited with identifying new fashion trends before anyone else.  I will not pretend I am a fashionista, but I do love the flair they add to street life.

So her is my Cunningham inspired curated collages and some stills of Berlin's Boxhagener Platz fashionistas. 

 And yes Brenda did find a buried treasure, this 1940s made in Germany scale to add to her collection of scales.  She has also found two others so far.

And yes Brenda did find a buried treasure, this 1940s made in Germany scale to add to her collection of scales.  She has also found two others so far.

Last Word

Now that you have scanned the images go back and have another look not just at the fashions but also at the narratives. As they say, "every picture tells a story." Or as they said in the 1950s Naked City TV show "There are eight million stories in this naked city; this has been one of them."

In the case of Berlin that would be 3.5 million stories; these are just a few.

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