german details

We’ve spent the last week or so in Germany visiting with my sister and checking out all kinds of wonderful things. Scott was taking a photo of a sculpture on the corner of a building in Münich and a woman came up to us and started speaking in German smiling with excitement–since we know no German at all, we were at a loss to answer and kept smiling with perplexed looks. Finally our perplexed looks caused her to ask if we spoke German and we shook our heads. At this point my sister came up and was able to translate. The woman said that she had lived in Münich (München) for 31 years and had never noticed those statues until she saw Scott taking a photo of them! She thought that was hilarious and was happy to finally see them!

In that spirit, rather than expound on the many attractions of münich, the Alps and the beautiful Bavarian towns we visited, I’ll focus in on the details I noticed as an outsider. One thing that was striking was the transportation systems. Trains to everywhere. Care taken with the streets. Highways are well-maintained, streets in towns are beautifully cobbled, cars are in good working order and up to date (mostly) Bike lanes a normal thing to build in when a street is created. Some may consider it a restriction to place regulations on cars and to tax the people so the government can fix the roads, but I think it is good common sense. The village streets are cobbled in beautifully crafted designs, using different size and color stones. In Heidelburg, I noticed crosswalk stripes were done in white stones. No need for paint! In other places where there were gaps, little stones filled in.

Everywhere and I mean everywhere, there are bike paths. On the side of the freeway, next to winding mountain roads in the Alps, on main streets in towns. And these are paths with actual bicyclists in mind. They are next to the road but separated by a wide strip of field so the likelihood of being creamed by a car is reduced to almost nothing. In small villages, people just ride on the streets and cars are aware of them. Oddly enough, cars actually park in the streets too, like in the actual lane. Traffic just goes around them. It is the way they have adapted the narrow roads. There are very few stop signs, and lots of yield signs and right of way signs, so you never need to stop for no reason. Maintainance workers sweep the streets with old fashioned brooms, I guess they just work the best.

Along the highway there are rest stops. Some stops are basic, you can just pull off to stretch your legs, others also have recycling bins so you can recycle your trash, others have restrooms that you pay 50 cents for and then you can redeem your restroom ticket at the adjoining store for 50 cents off if you choose to buy something. No denying a restroom because you aren’t buying something, it’s the other way around! Also at the rest stop is a nice park with benches and tables and place to walk yourself or the dog. The rest stops are designed with the idea of what people might want when they pull off the highway for a rest.

I have often wished for better bike paths here in California, and for better aesthetics and functionality to public amenities and have observed how they are treated as some kind of “extra”. In Germany, and everywhere In Europe that I have been, you can see that making life pleasant for people and doing what is good for the environment is more of a priority of life. Many things indicate that people and the earth are foremost in decision making. For example: the myriad bike paths that everyone uses for transportation; the double flush toilets that are in many public restrooms, (large and small flush…); the craftsmanship and sense of fun in everyday items, like the dark royal blue refrigerator in my sister’s kitchen that has cats with glow in the dark eyes painted on it (she actually bought it this way!); electrical outlets high on the wall so you can attach a wall mounted light without unsightly cords trailing to an outlet by the ground; the beautifully designed streets pictured here, solar panels covering homes and barns all over that generate energy that the owners can sell back to the electric company for a premium rate; windmills all over the place; most of the windows have exterior shades that roll down over the windows and completely block out light—important in a northern city where summer nights are short; in historic districts, they keep a sense of history with the buildings but are not so regimented that life can’t take place–in heidelburg, we saw laundry and little teapots on windowsills. And birds–lots of people seem really into birds and feed them and hawk rests are placed on the side of the road by fields. I saw some hawks using them.

It makes me feel like the ideas I have for our town to make it more pleasant and functional for people are not crazy and impossible to implement but are actually valid because they are already being done somewhere else with full support and good results. I hope we can learn to lean in the direction of decision-making for people and the earth foremost in our minds because that is the wisest way to make decisions. What is practical and easy for people? What is good for animals and the earth? What will be most fun? What will give us a fuller life?


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