Third Places: Germantown
Editor's note: Some months back, we wrote about some of Philly's all time classic "third places." And whether you're talking about the recent Rittenhouse wall kerfuffle or the city's ongoing reboot, the "third place" is both a concept we wanted to explore more, and also a true measure of quality of life in each Philly neighborhood. To that end, we're launching "Third Places" series of posts, where we ask neighborhood experts to break theirs down, one by one. Got a pitch for your neighborhood's Third Places? Email us at email@example.com.
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY EMILY "BIRDIE" BUSCH
When I asked to do a piece about "third places" in Germantown, I realized how peculiarly I spend my time here. My first thought was that I spend way more time than I realize at the Family Dollar around the block, getting sundries and spacing out on things like fake flowers and six-packs of underwear. I also often go to the gas station around the corner for Chipwiches and Ben and Jerry's, but yeah, that too I decided to pass on. I felt it was my duty to share places unique to Germantown because I think for many it seems a bit shrouded in mystery. I mean, rightly so. This neighborhood is a riddle for sure. Here, then, are all the places I would probably send you on a scavenger hunt 'round this way, if I was given the chance.
THE XH BUS: I have a kinetic third place. It’s the XH bus from Germantown to Broad and Erie, a route that seems to be forever looping to bring people back and forth up the Piedmont Plateau, picking folks up or dropping them off to catch the Orange Line. I wasn’t a bus rider in Philly ever before I lived in Germantown; it was all trains, trolleys, and bike rides. Busses seemed a most unfortunate form — something about them having to abide within the confines of regular traffic patterns of the roads made me sceptical. But up this way, buses come to every corner and often. The XH offers one of the best views, right at the turn off Manheim St. onto WIssahickon Ave, it’s like the equivalent of seeing LA from Mulholland Drive. Broad and Erie is its own experience. Where else do you see a massive graffiti tag on an abandoned art deco building that says “Boner Forever?” I recently read said building has been bought and will become apartments and I’m assuming sadly that “boner forever” will become “boner forever in the past.”
EVERY CEMETERY IN GERMANTOWN: For every coffee shop that exists in another neighborhood, Germantown has a cemetery instead. I’ve even set up a hardshell suitcase as a table and had a coffee klatch amongst the tombs. I was thinking I would pick one cemetery for this piece, but to depict it honestly, I have to say I consider them all part of one grandiose third space. On some days I visit a couple of them in a single walk. There’s Hood Cemetery at Germantown and East Logan, in which the brandy baron for whom it’s named is embalmed in his own brandy. There’s Trinity Lutheran, which exudes a southern gothic feel in the summer. Every one calls for different moods.
WHOSOEVER GOSPEL MISSION: A thrift store that has me using the word "whosoever" more than I’ve ever imagined possible. You can’t really say the word and not feel like you’re having a little more fun than the next guy. And where else is bric-a-brac on sale EVERYDAY for 40% off? And how can you not say "bric-a-brac" and not feel like you’re overcoming some kind of cruelness in this current world state?
FRIENDS FREE LIBRARY: I went into this little library on Germantown Friend’s Select campus to inquire if it was indeed true that this was a library that was free despite not being part of the Philadelphia Public Library system. It’s true! I don’t think people realize it: But it is! No disclaimer and it’s easy to get a card. In the warm weather, they have the windows open with no screens which feels adventurous and old-timey. It’s not a big collection, but it’s a gem of a spot to pass time, and all the categories of the library are hand-painted at the top of the shelves.
THE WISSAHICKON: Perhaps the biggest third space in Philly. I call the Wissahickon "the Philly Poconos," and I call my emotional state whenever I enter the park “wissa-blissin.” To be able to go somewhere within my city’s limits and hike around for hours without seeing a road or car seems unreal. To do it with a dog is pure joy. Every season shows itself so elegantly here, and I can lose myself for a bit. The juxtaposition of being here and then just a few hours later being at a bar in North Philly taking in live music is why I love calling Germantown home. The third space concept can contain such vast realms in a neighborhood where the country meets the city.
In addition to her writing, Birdie Busch is also a prominent local recording artist. Check out her music here.