Taking a playful leap from the 1960s to the 2020s
Renovation of the Studentenwiesel playground in Regensburg under the motto "Life as in ancient Rome”
By Christine Hornek (Playground and Open Space Planning Department of the City of Regensburg)
Since due to its historical background in Regensburg's old town there is only limited scope for creating new play areas, the playground at the Studentenwiesel is a particularly important place for children and families in the city centre.
It is embedded in a historical park, the so-called Ostenallee which, in turn, is part of the Regensburg avenue belt which was originally laid out in a double line of trees around the medieval city wall, initiated and laid out in 1779 by Prince Karl Anselm von Thurn und Taxis. Later it was passed on to the citizens of Regensburg as a foundation. Since then it has been an indispensable green space for recreation and fresh air. Historical archive pictures from 1947 show that already at that time the Studentenwiesel in the Ostenallee was used as a playground by the citizens, although at that time there was only a free, gravelled area and a sparse equipment consisting of sandboxes and park benches available. Up to now, the playground has been renovated several times, for the last time in 1999.
However, it was important to both renew the playground equipment and adapt it to the current spirit of the times and, if possible, to expand the offerings.
The total area of the playground of approx. 2400 m² is idyllically embedded in an old stock of trees and bushes, approx. 2 m below, away from the main path that leads through the Ostenallee, frequently used by pedestrians and cyclists. Due to the protected tree population, the framework of the redevelopment possibilities was on the one hand strongly predetermined, since special attention had to be paid to existing tree roots in the planning, a fact which, on the other hand, provided a very exclusive atmosphere with light and shadow spaces which otherwise would have been difficult to create. The existing walls and stairs should also remain part of the complex, so they just should be repaired. Special care was taken to ensure that the limestone bordering, already visible in archive pictures from 1947, was preserved as a sand border. However, fall protection areas could be extended in places where a tree could be removed or the existing path system could be reduced in size.
The city of Regensburg attaches particular importance to the participation of children and young people. For example, the primary school children of the adjacent after-school care centre were already involved in the preliminary planning phase of the playground redevelopment.
Due to its proximity to important Roman buildings and excavations in Regensburg, such as the Porta Praetoria, the children's participation was based on the motto "Life as in ancient Rome".
The children provided ideas and suggestions whose prioritisation was discussed in several meetings held by specialists from the municipal youth work office and the gardening office. Using all kinds of reinforced handicraft materials such as cardboard, egg boxes, foam rubber, paper sticks, etc., the children built a model of a Roman fortress and a Roman camp under the guidance of an art teacher and the playground planner from the gardening office.
When building the fortress, for example, they found it important to build a complex with many towers at different levels. And, of course, the slide could not be missing in any case.
For the model of the Roman camp, the existing triumphal arch as well as the historical bordering served as a fixed frame. It was here where the participating children could express their specific ideas for a Roman or Gaul camp thus putting them into practice by using a variety of materials. It was decided in advance that this place should become a sand area for smaller children. However, a small camp with several little houses was created, which should provide a variety of hiding and balancing possibilities. Finally, the girls' wish for the highly popular horse, which had been mentioned in many of the children's participation processes, could also be fulfilled.
Then it was up to the playground designer to develop the wishes and ideas according to the models created by the children, by taking into account the essential aspects of playground safety, visually appealing design and above all as much play value as possible. In the planning stage, the two possible play combinations were equipped with a variety of play activities and play sequences. The much-desired horse was supplemented with an additional chariot. The idea of providing the popular role play for small children at a playfully equipped meeting place including a throne which has as often been demanded by the children as the horse, could be implemented with a "centurion tent" including a surrounding semi-circular seating group. To ensure that even the very youngest can get their money's worth, two rocking animals in the shape and appearance of a wild boar and a donkey were also included in the design concept. However, the entire sandy area should be surrounded by a fence with wooden posts.
The equipment items were described in detail in the tender for play equipment, together with the variety of play activities and play sequences of the combinations that had been designed in advance, and were specified as required. In addition, the companies participating in the tender were free to add further game options or optical refinement. The play facilities were intended to stimulate group activity and fantasy play. Various parts of the equipment, windows and roofs were to be glazed in colour, the remaining parts of the equipment should be made of natural robinia wood. However, there was only a site plan available, which should serve as a planning basis for the tendering process, in which the fall areas and the local conditions as well as the triumphal arches and historical edging were depicted. The playground equipment companies should not be influenced in their creativity by a given design. In the evaluation of the submitted tenders, both the price, and also the visual appearance, play value and quality of execution were taken into account. The Ramsbach - Baumbach-based company ABC-Team Spielplatzgeräte was awarded the contract after having received the best overall scoring. The company convinced regarding both its price quotation, visually appealing design and playground equipment with a lot of play value.
In the newly renovated playground, a paved Roman road now leads through the triumphal arch built by the artist Alexander Lihl in 1985.
Behind it, there is a horse, which has apparently just arrived, with a child-sized chariot. Next to it in the "centurion tent" the head of the Roman camp can hold an audience on his elevated throne. A row of semi-circular placed wooden bollards serves as seating area for the people just walking around.
In the adjacent Roman camp in the sand area, the younger children can "live like in ancient Rome" while playing role plays. However, there are several houses available for this purpose with seating and hiding places. They are separated by bridges and look like a real Gaul village. They are equipped with a variety of sand play activity materials such as sand elevator, chute and sand wheel, as well as four play parapets with rotating round shield, Malta board, sound play and a wooden abacus. Of course, the slide will not be missing on such a combination.
Two rocking animals in the shape and appearance of a wild boar and a donkey complete the picture of the camp life. Several fence sections made of robinia posts around the sand area complete the picture of a Roman camp. However, to ensure the visibility of the playing area, they were only added in some sections.
The large Roman fortress, on the opposite side, was to contain as many game activities as possible in the limited space available. Due to its location under the trees, it was also limited in height. Three towers, some of which have up to three levels, are now connected to each other. A closed fortification with an indicated cannon and a gate with a climbing net system behind it, serves as entrance. With the help of two twisted climbing ropes, in the form of a ladder with hand and foot ropes, two windows, left and right of the gate, also serve as climbing facility. In this way the shape of a suspension bridge is associatively simulated. The invitation to tender also required a slide, as well as a bar slide, vertical climbing nets, a hanging route with at least five parallel handgrips, a rope net bridge with rope, several sloping climbing ascents, a fire brigade slide pole and, under a tower, a games counter. ABC-Team, the company in charge of the implementation, thus built a pleasing facility based on the wishes expressed by the parties involved, which both trains older children in their skills and also challenges them. Several flags with the coat of arms of the city of Regensburg round off the picture of a Roman fortress in a visually appealing way and thus set the reference to the city itself. In addition, a turntable and a double swing are available in the immediate vicinity.
Since the Studentenwiesel playground is one of the most frequented playgrounds in the city, it should be renovated as quickly as possible. From the time of the children's participation in January 2019, the planning process including tendering and awarding contract could be completed already in June 2019. After the production of the playground equipment had been completed, the construction could begin in October. It was already at the beginning of March 2020, when the official opening was ceremonially realised by Mayor Maltz-Schwarzfischer together with all participants. Although there was no official announcement of the opening ceremony, many families attended the show and took the opportunity to inaugurate the newly renovated playground.