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From Frankfurt to Fourth Ward

by Teresa Hoelle

May 9,2010

After calling the Queen City home for a mere ten months, I have settled on a new address on a quiet, winding street in the historic Fourth Ward district of uptown Charlotte. It’s not the latest appliances, the hardwood floors, or the bathrooms that drew me to this residence; while the home is nice and includes a large deck where I can enjoy phenomenal skyline views, what settled my decision on uptown living was my expansive new "living room": the city itself.

From my doorstep, I experience Charlotte on-foot and firsthand. Within a short walk, I visit the grocery, the salon, coffee shops, my favorite Thai restaurant, neighborhood pubs, and public transportation lines. I can also easily catch a symphony concert, a show at the new Knight Theatre, even a movie. I can experience exhibitions at McColl Center, sip a cocktail at the beautiful Ritz lounge, and commune with my beloved Bechtler. The close proximity to these amenities makes my daily life easier and enjoyable; but beyond the convenience, it is the possibility for cultural exposure and exploration right outside my home that I look forward to the most in my move from Myers Park to uptown.

While living in downtown Frankfurt, Germany a decade ago, I discovered that living within a city’s core presents residents with a chance to expand and transcend beyond their comfort zone nearly every day. Leaving my apartment in Germany for everyday activities, I was always encouraged—if not forced—to grow. Almost every encounter offered an opportunity for me to improve my German language skills, and I was constantly challenged to navigate and learn from the German cultural norms. The overcrowded U-Bahn rides, the densely populated shopping district, my diverse workplace–all of them exposed me to cultures, mother tongues, politics, religions, and world views beyond myself. Often my life in Germany was exhausting and exhilarating, and I appreciate everything I gained from it.

In Germany, I realized a hidden benefit of living in the city center is that you are brought in close proximity to experiences and places you might not have been initially inclined to discover. A recent local discovery occurred for me about one month ago as I headed down E. Trade Street. I became mesmerized by the beauty of Ned Kahn’s creative environmental design entitled Wind Veil that gracefully disguises the parking garage of the Gateway Village on the Johnson & Wales campus. I was awestruck by this artist’s creative use of steel, which he has manipulated to create motion and fluidity from a normally solid medium. Every time I re-approach this artwork, I pause, observe, and get lost in its beauty.

Another recent local discovery has connected me to our region’s history. This is the first time for me to live in the southeastern region of the United States. Therefore, I was shocked and chilled to discover during my first trip through beautiful historic Elmwood / Pinewood Cemeteries that it had once been segregated. Passing through both sides of this now united landscape (the dividing fence was only removed in 1969), I reflect on the struggles that others have embraced for equality and human rights, and consider how we are still learning our way today. I appreciate being reminded of our past mistakes and our mortality while also observing the motion of Charlotte’s new life—cyclists, a runner, and the sounds of commerce as trains whistle and roll through nearby.

While on foot in uptown, I intersect with a diverse cross-section of Charlotte. I share warm smiles, nods of the head, and conversations with a wide spectrum of our community as I cross from street to street. Students and young professionals are scattered about the Johnson & Wales campus. A senior center is nestled next to my neighborhood park. Business people, families, and museum-goers shuffle rapidly along the Tryon Street areas. Every day, my experiences and interactions with these groups lend the perspective I need to establish a sense of roots and a chance to grow in my new city.

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