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Climbing as in the Palatine Forest

By Elke Ukas (from the company Elke Ukas Landscape Architects bdla, Karlsruhe)


In 2015, the municipality of Deidesheim (Rhineland Palatinate) with its 3,500 inhabitants was one of the cities in the Rhine/Neckar metropolitan region which were awarded one of the 18 “alla hopp” movement and meeting facilities sponsored by the Dieter Hopp Foundation. Through this donation, the foundation of the SAP co-founder followed its leading principle: “Mobility, health maintenance and promotion for everybody at any time.” We – as the central planning office – looked forward to this new challenge.

The overall design of the project was adapted to the gentle hills and vineyard slopes of the Palatinate wine-producing countryside as well as the sandstone rocks of the Palatine Forest. Deidesheim was the first city in Rhineland Palatinate to be proclaimed “cittaslow” in 2009 and propagates the image of "being a city that tries to incorporate current trends while at the same time preserving its individual character.”

As the focus is on slowness, enjoyment and health, the idea of a new vineyard in the shape of a snail shell to be explored at a snail's pace, came up in the course of the planning process. The trail which is both appropriate for walking and for using the 17 freely accessible training and fitness devices installed along the footpath, leads to a small observation deck with sandstone blocks serving as sitting area. In other words, suspended benches with a seat height of 90 cm are included as an additional service after sports.

The facility comprises 3 modules, the foundation pillar of each alla hopp! Module 1 is an activity trail, suitable for everyone, module 2 is directed at toddlers and module 3 at schoolchildren. The citizens of Deidesheim - children, youngsters, adults and elderly people - were allowed to bring in their needs, ideas and wishes in planning workshops. The youngsters voted for an additional fourth module where they can chill, meet, skate and blade. This led to the creation of a multifunctional urban space south of the youth centre next to the other near-natural designed areas. Another synergetic effect of the facility is the newly built youth centre funded by the municipality.

All in all, this means that an attractive meeting and movement place, a former sports field of approximately 7,500 sqm is now available for young and old to meet and practise sports.

A huge rock face of a total length of 45 metres supports the new south-oriented vineyard. In the northern part of the rock face, which belongs to the near-natural play and movement area for schoolchildren of the before mentioned module 3, both children and adults can climb up to 4 metres high and at different levels of difficulty.

In order to comply with the fall height stipulated in standard DIN/EN 1176, the final grip point in the low-threshold sector is placed at a height of just below 3 metres. Some parts of the climbing wall without grips are only directed at skilled climbers. A concrete artist has created this special design by using a spraying gun and shotcrete, so that it looks like a natural climbing rock. A specialist for climbing facilities has placed the climbing grips at different levels. Young and old people are now able to climb the artificial rock wall just as in the open nature of the nearby Palatinate Forest with its famous climbing areas.

Of course, small children are (not yet) allowed to climb the vertical nor the chimney wall. The design and shape which make it look like an original sandstone wall does not admit small climbers due to an entrance height of above 60 cm. Apart from that, one needs confidence to enter the climbing wall. Children are meant to become aware of the challenge and test their limits. By tackling the challenge they can develop new skills. The management and other staff of the youth centre in Deidesheim are all trained climbers and can do practical exercises with children and youngsters.

The climbing wall is, however, also meant to provide a connection with a landscape of stone, timber and ropes. The standing stones, wooden walkways, the spiral staircase built into the rock face and the lateral access routes to the new Pfälzer Felsen (Palatinate Rock) serve as a playing and climbing area for everybody and at all levels. There is a slide passing through the rock to get back down. Those who like can help themselves to grapes on the platform. The maintenance of the vineyard is realised by local residents with special vineyard expertise.

The "activity trail for everyone" (see module 1) blends in with the movement area on and around the rock of module 3.

This trail is directed at people of all age groups and consists of selected devices which aim at preserving and strengthening mobility, coordination skills, endurance and power. Both selection and sequence of the 17 sports and movement devices were realised according to sports-scientific requirements. The elements are placed side by side along the walking and training route at a snail's pace towards the viewing hill. Hills and plantings consisting of grapevines, grasses and large shrubs also provide an ideal visual cover for the fitness fans.

The exercises and movement sequences are described on signs affixed to the devices. Here anybody could train the flexibility of their spine, arms, legs, shoulders, body and pelvis to keep the whole movement apparatus fit and active. The floor covering under the devices consists of a water-bound coverage interspersed with fall-protection pebble areas.

The central relaxing and playing lawn with its Mikado climbing poles, tall trees with voluminous tops and some pines is bordering on the area for small children.

Module 2: "Playground for the youngest children - playing and moving in all weathers".  Above all, this playground is designed to strengthen the sensual perception of children up to the age of almost 6 years. This small area has been designed with sandy areas, water games, climbing woods, plastic floor coverings and tree trunks to motivate the small children to play creative games, to move and explore the environment. The plastic floor coverings (EPDM) connect all parts of this area and serve as a hilly obstacle course suitable for running and playing with small toy vehicles.

A pavilion open on three sides with seats invites children to play in all weathers and offers different playing options. The whole pavilion is equipped with various play elements and coverings. In summer the mud area with its water pump is the main attraction for the small visitors. The Deidesheim nursery schools were also integrated into the planning process. Particularly the day care centre located opposite benefits from this additional outdoor area.

The so-called "urban landscape" of approximately 400 sqm is an area additionally required by and for the youngsters. The different concrete elements serve both as seats and skateboarding, biking or blading tracks. Due to the different difficulty levels, also smaller mobile children can play there. The meeting point in front of the youth centre has a smooth concrete floor installed at all low and high levels throughout the area.

Next to this place there is a new plane roof under which one can play Boule on a small place in its northern part. A family merry-go-round with barrier-free access, some benches and a yellow sunshade mark the entrance of this area.

Because of the two adjacent village roads and a nature reserve in the South, the area is fenced off. It is freely accessible for everyone at any time. When, in addition, in summer the youth centre will be opened and some day the students can run their own café, the municipality of Deidesheim will be able to offer a real sports highlight - a meeting and interaction area for all those who enjoy moving.


Picture: copyright Office Elke Ukas


Further details

Owner: Dietmar Hopp Foundation alla hopp!  Leisure facility: Elke Ukas Landscape Architects bdla

Planning and construction period: August 2014 until October 2015

Costs: 2.1 million euros gross

Pavilions: Vorfelder Architekten- und Planungsgesellschaft mbH 69190 Walldorf



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