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Young families in the city: from Cleveland to Dresden

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/20/11 @ 1:46pm

The bell of Martin Luther kirche is halfway round home on its two minute 7 a.m. wake up call and my thoughts are running all over the place. When will it stop? Will my 16 month old son in the bed in the corner of our pension atelier wake up screeching any second? And does every town and village in Germany get its free alarm clock? A block away from our pension, Martin Luther, a neo gothic church of a mere 100 years I am to learn later from our guide and Dresden artist, Steffi Busch, is chasing the demons from last evening. Its staccato hammer stroke carries a sobering message: Get up, get to work.

But no work for the weary traveler who plied the friendly skies with a 16 month old on his lap and chased him through Newark airport for five hours running down time while trying to cheat fate on mid air melt downs. Fate was smiling: Seated next to us for our seven-hour cruise to Berlin was an angel: much thanks to the heavens for Jaime from Charlotte who au paired for a two and four year old while training to be a mortician (she was on her way to a three month apprenticeship with the German master of plasticization ? the art of stripping away the flesh from corpses and posing them as sinewy statues (think Bodies in Motion). It wasn't corpses but art none the less that brought us to Dresden (think Cleveland's artist run Zygote Press and Dresden's city run print shop, Grafikwerkstatt, where my wife Corrie Slawson was finishing up a five week artist in residence. She and Dayton artist Ryan McCullough are two in a long line of artists in this 12th year of cultural exchange initiated by Zygote founders Liz Maugans and Bellamy Printz. They are basking in the glow of being invited to show in last Friday night's Galerie Module III group show which a number of local galleries organize in the basement catacombs of a space on Haupstrasse.

So much has happened in this last five weeks. First, I was a single parent for a month while enduring the separation of my partner. I know it's politically correct, but I mean it when I say the mornings of wrangling a toddler and three cats and a bird and getting out the door to work were worth it when I saw the giant prints composed of photo litho and etching that adorn the fine local paper of her finished pieces. Clearly, Martin Luther's warning wasn't lost here.

Today was a recovery day. Steffi, Corrie, me, Ira and Elli stroll the narrow lanes lined with Baroque row houses unscathed from world war two's firebombing of Dresden's Neustadt neighborhood which has the largest concentration of kids in Germany. And it shows (more on that soon). The toddlers of Dresden ? and their presence is felt more than any European city that I've visited -- wear rubberized overalls. The better for crawling over cobblestone-lined sidewalks and bike ways. A huge cycling community, a vast streetcar line connecting bier gardens and cafes are enough to make a sustainability proponent drool.

The outter Neustadt is a bohemian enclave packed with young families who remind me of the tight-knit communities in Detroit-Shoreway and Ohio City. Here where land is at a premium, Steffi tells me, the parents can band together to advocate for vacant land reused as kinderspielplatz, imaginative play grounds not unlike Turtle Park in Cleveland Heights or the pocket parks in North Shores in Collinwood with some landscape architecture inspired by nature ?earthen mounds, rock piles, knotched wood ladders flowing across narrow lots. We visit three in a matter of a couple of hours including one with a small petting zoo and kids grilling 'fire bread'. Kids here seem to be more untethered from their parents, less scheduled (more 'free range' ? I wonder how my son would be if we raised him here?). More later about thoughts on Cleveland from Dresden with love.

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