Summiteer: playground area plucked out of the air

Summiteer: playground area plucked out of the air

The Stockhornbahn company near Thun in Switzerland has a long history. In 2008 the company celebrated its 40-year anniversary. As described on their homepage, Stockhornbahn AG's history is characterised by several financial "boom and bust scenarios".

In 1953, Max Born bought the mountain lodge called Berghaus Stockhorn. His plan was to establish a skiing area on the Stockhorn in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland. The business of the cable car company was set up in two sections. After almost 20 years, the company was indebted and changed hands. The Bernese Kantonalbank was awarded the contract and founded the Stockhornbahn AG. The new owners opened the first panorama restaurant. Cross-country ski trails and hiking paths were designed. However, also these plans did not work out. It was only in the year 2004, when the first profit was made after the skiing operation had been shut down, the cable car operation had been reduced and the restaurant had been extended.

Today Stockhorn is a model project for sustainable tourism. A regional natural recreation area that promises unique experiences.  At Stockhorn, one can find natural and innovative offers for both, people who are looking for the silence of uninhabited mountains and families with children, groups, sporty and active people as well as senior visitors. The principles of the Stockhorn AG include a thoughtful and responsible handling of the natural environment.

The range of services is continually expanded. This year, the "Seehüttli" (hut by the lake) was built at the Hinterstockensee. It is furnished with benches, barbecue facilities and toilets, also for the disabled, and supposed to be a place to find some rest and, if necessary, to be protected against sun, wind and weather. The toilets may also be used by those who stay overnight in the Stockhorn igloos.

Due to the fact that parents sometimes want to relax while their children need action and movement, the project "Spielplatz am Stockhorn" (Stockhorn playground concept) had for quite some time already been part of the strategic planning of the Stockhornbahn AG. "That is why I had become more aware and sharpened my perception of playground concepts. Wherever I went, I paid special attention to playgrounds, some of which were more, others less attractive. Until I discovered a KuKuk playground in Bodman (Ludwigshafen, Germany) which was - so to speak - "love at first sight" during an excursion to Lake Constance. From the very beginning, I was convinced that our customers would be impressed by such an individual design, says Gudrun Kofler, marketing consultant of Stockhorn AG.

It was in February when the Stockhornbahn AG got into contact with KuKuk Switzerland. The implementation of the playground construction was planned to be realised in August. The idea was to build a ship which has been washed ashore by waves.

 

Playground development

The playground had to be embedded into the topography. On the Stockhorn mountain it is difficult to foresee where foundations can be built and where not due to the rocky or stony ground. That is why it was impossible to plan a detailed concept design. What if hard rock prevented any construction where foundation work is necessary? Drilling machines would be needed, although it would not be worth the effort to bring the machines to the mountain for such a small playground project.

Therefore, the playground had to be “growing out of the place”. The only thing we had was the idea. Everything else had to result from doing. An almost artistic process.

The building experts of KuKuk are familiar with this free way of working and are happy whenever they are given a chance to work this way. But this approach also presented challenges to an efficiency-oriented company. Bernhard Hanel, the managing director of KuKuk Switzerland was aware of this particular problem. "To order a product without knowing what it will look like and if it will work requires a lot of trust and openness."

That is why Gudrun Kofler's idea still required a lot of persuading with those responsible. But in the end the strong arguments for a free design concept made it that all parties concerned were willing to shoulder the risk involved and to give the project's success the benefit of the doubt.

KuKuk planned to include five experts of their company in the playground construction. The construction work was to take two weeks including time buffers, because one can never know if fog, thunderstorms or any other risks or uncertainties could make construction work impossible. "I have never before experienced having to go to work by a gondola", said one of the builders with a mischievous smile. From the middle station, from which the building site is just a 5-minute walk away, they had to carry their tools themselves. Then, the next step was to define the building area.

A helicopter delivered the building material, which was lowered to the ground on long ropes - an unusual mode of transport. It took 18 helicopter rides to bring the wood, 12 to bring the concrete and 20 rides to bring the round gravel to the shores of the Hinterstockensee. After the material had been delivered, the building work could begin. Fortunately the ground area did not present any unforeseeable obstacles. Thus a climbable shipwreck in which children may have a rest or hide themselves, could soon be seen growing out of the ground. Children can climb up hand over hand or balance over the outer ropes. To its right, a bird's nest was built which allows children to climb into and hide inside like a little nesting bird or to lie down on their backs and watch the passing clouds. And those who take a closer look, will also discover traces of Aquilino, the eagle mascot of the Stockhornbahn. Water games with water courses and water channels are also offered to play water games.

The playground manufacturer had been given completely free rein by Stockhornbahn AG. And still, in less than two weeks the playground construction work was completed. The Berner Zeitung (Bernese newspaper) wrote: "Like a big weathered bunch of flotsam the tree trunks are rising into the blue sky."

On 22 September 2016, the "Seehüttli" and the new playground were inaugurated in a small ceremony. By then the circular hiking path along the shore of the lake had also been finished. In the months before, some volunteer helpers who are friends of the Stockhornbahn had removed bigger stones from the hiking path and smoothed the ground to make it accessible for off-road wheel chairs and prams.

Thus, Stockhornbahn AG has launched a new round offer for family excursions.

"The pleasant and convincing cooperation with Leander Dreissig and Berhard Hanel has helped to ensure that all parties concerned enjoyed the building stage of this uniquely beautiful playground", says Gudrun Kofler. And a plan for the next playground project near the mountain terminal is already in place.

 

Text: Heike Denkinger (KuKuk GmbH)

Picture: Florian Heugel

 

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