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12.03.2012 - Ausgabe: 1/2012

Desert Playground at the Erratic Block Park

by Susan Naumann, Dresden


Successful example: the Nochten Erratic Block Park on the site of the former Nochten open-cast mine not far from the Saxon town of Bautzen.

Until 2000, a crater yawned 60 metres deep on the Nochten town limits. 37 families lost their homes there for the extraction of the sea of fossil fuels lying dormant underneath them. However, what the huge excavators unearthed apart from brown coal now reconciles the former inhabitants of the town a few decades later.
Dr. Hans Ulbrich, former chief geologist at the Vattenfall energy company, was faced with a wealth of geological treasures after closure of the Nochten open-cast mine. According to Dr. Ulbrich, about 3,000 erratic blocks were unearthed over the course of many years of open-cast mining. Originally, they were transported by glaciers from Scandinavia to Lusatia. “We could hardly put them back in the crater then,” the visionary and today’s manager of the erratic block park once said.
As a plan for the restoration and aftercare of the mining site had to be prepared by the energy company anyway, Dr. Ulbrich – with his private rock garden in mind – suggested the planning and design of an erratic block park “a hundred times” the size of his own garden.
A prerequisite for its implementation were supporters and sponsors whose enthusiasm he could arouse for his idea. From 2000 on, the first few erratic blocks were installed on the site. The heaviest erratic block, a garnet gneiss, weighs 40 tons and is installed in the park’s entrance area. Its red crystals are up to two centimetres in size.

Desert playground

The extensive and elaborately designed rock and heathland garden has grown from nearly 25 acres in its early years to over 49 acres today. At the centre of the site, there is a rock garden with craggy defiles, steep slopes and mountain tops. Just as children of all ages are fascinated by the colourful grasses swaying in the wind, they marvel at the myriad of bobbed cushion plants that provide a remarkable blaze of colour. Narrow paths alternate with beaten tracks and gravel paths and ensure that both young and old alike will enjoy a pleasurable walk up to the highest point of the park. From the range of hills, there is a splendid view of the entire park with valleys, marshes and bogs, streams, cascades and small waterfalls, all of which flow into a man-made, crystal clear mountain lake with a wooden bridge located in the heart of the park. On the horizon, you can make out the counterpart to the natural landscape: the Boxberg thermal power station is an impressive and highly visible reminder of the history of the origins of the erratic block park.
Not even from up there can you see the children’s favourite place which is situated along the three-kilometre-long main paths and one-kilometre-long byways. Almost not visible from the outside and secluded in a deep depression, the desert playground is located in the midst of a desert valley. Designed, manufactured and installed by playground and tree house specialist Jürgen Bergmann, it seems to take little explorers into the depths of the earth. Playgrounds built by Künstlerische Holzgestaltung Jürgen Bergmann are renowned for their imaginative design. They always provide something to discover that is never evident at first glance. Essential materials that Jürgen Bergmann’s playground installation team uses with almost all themed playgrounds are old and disused open-cast mining conveyor belts made of hard rubber. Especially in the case of the Nochten playground, particular importance is attached to them.

“As an oasis of play opportunities and fun, a playground has to provide children with various retreats, is to quench children’s thirst for adventure, stimulate their imagination, foster their spirit of exploration as well as bear reference to its surroundings,” Mr Bergmann once explained. Space for romping around is as essential as space for exploration and discovery, playing hide-and-seek as well as having a rest.
The “Trail of the Senses”, along which you can explore the geology of the local area on foot, provides a full sensory experience of sight, sound, smell and touch and leads to the entrance to the 50m x 50m desert valley, which is spanned by a wild bridge. However, there are many paths that lead to the desert valley: while some children cautiously scramble over the edge of the scree slope to get a look at the playground from above, others have long since found out that the playground can also be accessed by an underground stainless steel tube or haven chosen the ground-level access via the caravanserai with a Bedouin village. The play area with a difference in altitude of up to four metres has been designed as a “sand and water playground” and as an oasis with a well to draw water, a channel system as well as small sand play tables. For the focus is on playing with and exploring natural materials such as sand, stone and water. In miner’s fashion you have to explore exciting maze-like crawling and climbing trails.

The caravanserai holds a very special appeal and fascination: with its colourful speciality concrete it looks like a real adobe building and offers, apart from resting and observation places for the parents, various opportunities to climb, for example on wooden camels. After relaxing, chilling out and daydreaming in the wobbly hammocks of the Bedouin tent, you shouldn’t forget to find and dig for the treasures buried in the sand.

If you want to find out more about the lithic resources of the earth, then “Little Scandinavia” in the immediate vicinity of the playground is the right place to be. The view alone of the steep mountain slope is very promising and enticing so that visitors to the park gladly follow the path winding its way upwards past about 80 erratic blocks. Information boards provide interesting information about the history, origin and geology of the rocks.
The Nochten Erratic Block Park (www.lausitzer-findlingspark-nochten.com) as a very special sensory experience and as a destination for the entire family is still an insiders’ tip worth discovering in any case. Far away from common leisure facilities, the attractive park opens children’s and young people’s eyes to natural landscapes and makes people see nature as an exciting experience. Last but not least, it is a successful example of how a plagued area can overcome the adverse and detrimental effects of open-cast mining.

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