A couple Essen images
As someone known for partisanship with regard to historic buildings and "traditional commercial districts," a city like Essen demonstrates that 1950s commercial buildings can work in a commercial district just fine, so long as attention is paid to urban design and a focus on creating and maintaining lively streets, or in this case, walkways, with the pedestrian at the forefront.
Essen's city center is still a main shopping district, although there are vacant spaces, especially further from the core. During the week, stores stay open to 7pm or 8pm. This was past closing time. There are many cool stores. Seeing the four-story Mayersche bookstore reminded me that bookstores still exist.
Some of the public spaces are a bit tired, and there probably isn't enough money for maintenance (after all, Europe although not Germany, has been in a Depression for six years)--e.g., lots of old gum stains on the sidewalks.
But there are many nice treatments, and spaces are used for restaurant patios, food sales, etc.
I bought a great herring sandwich from a seafood vendor.
Many of the public spaces are set up with playground equipment for children. I was surprised to see the use of stainless steel equipment, which is expensive, but will last. While we do see some use of stainless steel bike racks and street furniture in the US, I've never seen a stainless steel swingset or teeter totter.
And in keeping with my discussion about how we need to consider the "civic architecture" aspects of transit infrastructure, I liked the light art treatment in the train station underpass, which also serves as a covered station area for many of the local buses serving the station.
German cities have a very organized, network approach to transit.
There is the U-Bahn (underground/subway/tram), S-Bahn, suburban railroad services, and then regional and national railroad services run by Deutsche Bahn, the national railroad system.
In Essen, the local bus system uses the same (plain, yellow) painting scheme for the tram cars.
The city's tram system, running underground in parts of the city, as well as serving suburban destinations, is designated separately from the U- and S-Bahn transit subnetworks.
The logos to denote Underground and Suburban Bahn services are the same across Germany, making it easier for people to find and negotiate transit services. The bus, U-bahn and S-Bahn services are run by the regional transit provider. In Essen, that's EVAG, which in turn is a member of the regional transport association, VRR, which coordinates cross-jurisdictional services.
Most systems have a day pass option and a tourist card option that bundles transit service with discounts to museums and other cultural attractions.
Separate bike sharing (local, plus DB has its own Call-A-Bike program) is promoted by the transit provider, which also promotes but doesn't run car sharing. Most of the "advertisements" on the locally shared bicycle program promote sustainable transportation.
While there are advertisment boards in the public space, the local transit system tends to not run ads in shelters or on buses and tramcars, unless the messages relate to government-sponsored events. Bus shelter ad spots are used to promote sustainable transportation.