In September 2019 my family and I visited Germany and Italy. Obviously, it was great to visit our family and friends and see some amazing architecture. But what had a much bigger impact on me was the community and neighbourhood connections we saw throughout our time in Germany.
Here in Australia, there is a much greater concern about privacy. People are very wary of neighbours looking into their garden, so much so that we have stringent building laws regulating this. When building or renovating each garden / private open space has to have a 1.8m fence to prevent overlooking. This ensures no one can see you inside your yard.
Similarly for upstairs balconies or windows. These need to be screened or frosted up to 1.7m height. Making sure that you can not look into your neighbours garden.
What does this mean? You can often end up with closed off and dark gardens and outdoor areas. This is especially the case for smaller lots. But even more obviously: You do not see your neighbour.
In Germany, this is quite the opposite. Often there are no fences at all between gardens, or alternatively, they may have shrubs or low fences to define their property boundary. This leads to neighbourhoods having a very open and spacious feel. Even when you only have a small garden area yourself you are still surrounded by beautiful greenery.
But, the biggest difference is that neighbours can see each other. Yes, they actually talk to each other. And what happens when you talk to each other? You make connections. You might even invite each other over for a barbeque or for a drink? This is how friendships are created.
I have always wondered why most Australians are so concerned about their privacy. What’s the harm if your neighbour sees you having a barbeque or your kids playing in the backyard?
Wouldn’t it be nice to know all your neighbours and to have friends amongst them? If your kids could just tuck out the back, run through a few gardens to visit their friends?
When we visited our friends in Germany it was amazing to see what a great community and the friendships they had formed with their neighbours. And not just in one spot, but everywhere we went.
There were mostly no fences between all the gardens. The kids would just run wild and free from garden to garden / house to house. Children were playing outside all the time. Using the trampoline in the one garden (even if that particular family was not home at that moment), playing on the swing set in the next yard and then having a little picnic in yet another garden.
Kids in Germany seem to watch less TV, need less toys and have more fun outdoors and also more friends outside of school. No organised playdates, just organic friendships.
And then, rather than everyone doing a barbeque by themselves on a Saturday night, neighbours got together with a few families and had a combined gathering. Almost a little impromptu party; putting together chairs, everyone brought something for the barbeque and some side dishes. The kids were just running around having fun. I kind of lost track, but it must have been between 10 -15 kids? As some kids from other families from down the road also joined in.
It was amazing to see the organic friendships and connections between them. Not only do they get together for barbeques, they also help each other out with looking after the kids or lending each other a hand if something needs doing around the house.
It actually made me a little sad though. I would love my kids to grow up like this. Roaming through gardens in the neighbourhood with their friends.
Meanwhile in Australia:
Everyone is closed off in their private garden. Too concerned that someone might see them. What does that mean? People barely know their neighbours. There is no real sense of community. A lot of people can feel lonely and disconnected.
We have 5 neighbours where we live. One on either side of our unit (these neighbours we do see quite regularly as we all park in the same courtyard or see each other when going in or out of the house. But the other 3 neighbours at the back we barely see at all. There is one neighbour I barely know what they look like let alone their name, because I never see them.
There are quite a few families with little kids in our street, similar age to ours. Yet, I hardly see them on the street and have never spoken to them. How sad is that? Whereas, if the gardens would be open, we could see each other. Wave to each other. We could talk. We might like each other and make friends, or we might not. But at least we would have the possibility of getting to know them. Our kids could get to know each other and possibly form lifelong friendships outside of social media.
Wouldn’t that be nice?