Monday, May 6, 2013

Weekday quiet

It's a recurring, overused, beat-the-dead-horse joke that the United States has a lot of space and Europe does not, comparatively speaking. I'm of the opinion that the difference in space is at the root of many differences, political and personal, but that gets into "serious discussion" territory. Instead, let me show you two pictures.

Picture #1

Picture #2
Two "suburbs", separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Obviously Picture #1 is American and Picture #2 German, as indicated by the space differences. The American suburb has single-family homes, front yards (albeit small ones), trees, and houses set back from the street. The German neighborhood (Europe doesn't have suburbs quite like the States, but this is a reasonable approximation) has a row of houses on either side, all sharing at least one and often two walls with a neighbor. You walk out your front door and there is the street, just a step down. No front yards, no green space, no sprawl. German homes are very compact.

At the end of the street here is a little park and the Rhine River. In the States, where anyone not living in a city has their own green patch, parks are nice but not particularly crowded unless they have a play structure for children. If you want to sit outside after dinner on a nice spring evening, you do so on your deck or on your porch or in your front lawn or whatever. In Germany, where a few lucky people have a balcony, the green spaces are overrun on nice weekends. This past weekend was gorgeous: mid-60s, sunny, hint of a breeze. It's a very pleasant time to stroll along the Rhine, as I and everyone else from the area proceeded to do. And everyone who wasn't strolling was covering the small green space with blankets, picnic baskets, portable grills, and lawn chairs. The sheer number of people here, where usually we have the construction workers and the period person+dog, was a little startling. Certainly there are places in the States that are equally busy during certain times of the year. At home, there's a park where everyone goes to watch the fireworks on July 4th. But I've never seen a public green space quite so full of people, so constantly.

The close proximity of so many people does not mean that we're all friends and hang out and have one big barbeque together. Quite the contrary - Germans are good at pretending like the other people they live so near don't exist. It's probably the only way to get around the fact that you have very little private space. But it was really nice to see so many disparate groups spending time in this green space for a weekend together. Groups of teenage friends, elderly couples, families, and single walkers all moved around one another like currents in the river.

And today? Well, I have Mondays off because I'm spoiled rotten, but nearly everyone else has to work. The park is nearly deserted except for a young mother and her young child, and only a few people are walking their dogs along the river. Everything is very quiet. I'm headed out for yet another walk and bask, all by myself. I think I prefer the quiet, as a ferocious introvert, but there is a loss of energy with the loss of so many other people.

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