On a warm Saturday night in June, the city of Freiburg hosted a rather remarkable community event. Dozens of streets were closed to auto traffic and tables were set up along a route that snaked through the old city center.
Residents could reserve tables (or simply claim those not being used) and were encouraged to bring food, drink, music, candles and whatever else they desired. It was a celebration I would best describe as a citywide potluck.
There were kids, teenagers, young adults and older residents - all having a great time on a perfect summer night. No obnoxiously loud music, no rowdy behavior, no fights. It was a joyous family-friendly event that brought thousands of people together.
It was sort of like if the city of Madison decided to close West Washington Avenue from the Capitol to Regent Street, west to Monroe Street, then out to Nakoma Road some Saturday night and invited people to come to grab a table and meet their neighbors.
Can you imagine the political uproar such a proposal would generate in Madison? What about the cars, buses, bikers? What about whatever? It would be fun to put this proposal before the Madison Common Council just to see how many microseconds it takes to achieve political gridlock.
The Freiburg community potluck reminded me of the block parties that used to be common in Madison when I was growing up and in Fort Atkinson when I was in high school.
In those days, it was pretty easy to get a permit from the city to block off residential streets so neighbors could meet neighbors, kids could play and everyone had a chance to say "hello." It's quite a contrast to the increasingly isolated and lonely "community" existence most American cities seem to create.
The more I see of Old Europe, the more convinced I am people there have a more intact, healthy and cohesive view of family and community than do we.
Not to mention better beer.