Bendigo to Freiburg

Just a few hours North East of Melbourne, you’ll find Bendigo. Once one of the world’s richest cities, it’s long fallen off the international map.

It’s a pretty splendid town – if you’re after world class buildings, gardens, a ‘bush city’, one of the best galleries in Australia and an incredible farmers market – it’s only ever a couple of hours away.

Much like the people there, it’s a sunny city.

When life gets busy, I like to stop and think about looking out to the windmill at Redesdale, preparing for the final stretch on the bike to Bendigo.

I like to think about the next time I’ll get to see my Great Uncle and Aunt at the start of a work-trip or the end of one of those big bike rides.

I like to think about sitting in their cosy living room with its retro cork floors, cup of tea in hand as stresses wash away.

I like to think about the enjoyment my 80 something Great Uncle gets from his croquet, the occasional tease, a new beer and all-round good times.

Thinking about Uncle Bill’s healthy tuft of white curly hair and his sprightly style – it’s definitely an approach to aim for in life. It’s a calm and joyful outlook that sometimes get squeezed out in the coffee fuelled rhythm of big-city living.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reflecting a lot about what it means to have a ‘sense of place’. I’ve wondered whether it’s the city that shapes smiles or smiles that shapes a city. And for as much I’ve enjoyed my time up the Calder – my sample space for Bendigo is too small to answer that chicken or egg question in that part of the world: a couple of wonderful relatives and an old girlfriend.

For as much time I’ve had to explore its treats, I can’t really imagine what it’s like to live somewhere a lot smaller (110,000). I can only take a guess at what Bendigonians look forward to over the year and if they feel they’re ‘missing out’ away from Melbourne.

It was yesterday’s half marathon in Freiburg that took my mind back to country Victoria. Running 21km, I experienced a city transformed. Alongside a rainbow of lycra and against the background of fluorescent greens, pinks and yellows marking the middle of Spring – the city had a completely different complexion.

In the seven months I’ve spent in Freiburg, I’ve found it to be a wonderfully pleasant but also very contained. That despite all of its super cool events, and punching above its weight for over 220,000 people, its seems to take as much pleasure in not over-doing it as compared to whatever it has on.

Yesterday was something completely different. Here was a city which decided to crank up the excitement levels. Cycling into the ‘Messe’, there were almost ten thousand people gearing up for a spectacular event. And they knew it!

From about the four-kilometre mark to the finish, it was a Tour-de-France atmosphere. There were people everywhere, and it felt like the whole city was cheering on the heat affected runners. High fives were being dished-out, Japanese and Brazilian drums were being played and there was always a crowd only ever a few metres away.

It took me right back to the big runners high of the Bendigo Fun Run which takes the participants right through the city as thousands of crowd goers gave out high-fives and cheers of encouragement. A jolly atmosphere without a hint of contrition.

Whether it was running down View Street or over the Blaue Brücke, these are the only two runs I’ve done which felt like the whole community was behind it. Both of these two events will leave you waiting for the very next hit.

And as wonderful as the runs are – I have the sense that they’re just one of a far too small number of times when the cities are truly owned by its residents. Size and sequence really do play a big role in how cites pace themselves out but thankfully they’re not the secret ingredients for smiles.

While I’m still trying to put my finger on how cities smile, the answer is definitely much larger than big events and probably has a lot more to do with how the tea is made.

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(Freiburg Half Marathon with Karin, 8/4/18)

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