"Eine Insel mit zwei Bergen und dem tiefen, weiten Meer…."

By Dipl.-Ing. (univ.) Ulrike Hörl (brugger_landschaftsarchitekten)

"Eine Insel mit zwei Bergen und dem tiefen, weiten Meer…."

Hardly anyone who grew up in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s can fail to recognise the words above - "An island with two mountains in the deep, wide sea...".They are the opening lines to the title song of the TV series in which the Augsburg-based marionette theatre company Augsburger Puppenkiste brought Michael Ende's children's books about the tiny island state of 'Lummerland' brilliantly to life. But let us begin at the beginning...

The City of Augsburg came up with the idea of constructing a playground near the former city moat, in the immediate vicinity of the historical 'Red Gate', the open-air stage and the Augsburger Puppenkiste theatre itself, which latter was to provide the theme for the design of the playground. Commissioned with this very special task was the landscape architect firm of brugger_landschaftsarchitekten_stadtplaner_ökologen in Aichach. The plan was to create a permanent central attraction in the area of the city moat park for the local residents, the pupils of the nearby primary school (Grundschule vor dem Roten Tor), and visitors to the park and the Augsburger Puppenkiste theatre. A unique and exceptional playground that would complement the marionette theatre and the Puppenkiste Museum was to be constructed that would in addition supplement Augsburg's attractions as a tourist destination.

 

The planning process

This process was initiated in the form of a planning workshop in which pupils of year 2 and 3 from the primary school participated. In school lessons, the topics of Jim Knopf (the main protagonist of the stories), his friend Lukas the engine driver and Lummerland were elaborated. The children’s book by Michael Ende in which they first appeared - 'Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer' - was published in 1960. A sequel came out in 1962 called 'Jim Knopf und die Wilde 13'. The original versions of both books were illustrated by Franz Josef Tripp. The Augsburger Puppenkiste produced a black and white TV adaptation in 1961/62 that was so successful it was remade in colour in 1977/78. A cartoon version with 52 episodes was broadcast in 1999. It is on the basis of these TV shows and the title song about Lummerland from the 1977/78 remake that Jim Knopf and the other characters have become household names for all generations in Germany, although the stories themselves have never actually been performed live on stage. It was thus more or less preordained that Jim Knopf, the most prominent of the figures created by the Puppenkiste, would be the main subject of the playground while the features of Lummerland, his home, would provide the formal background.

The first results of the planning process - particularly those of the pupil workshop - were presented at a consultation meeting and the thematic concept was approved unanimously by the City of Augsburg, the Augsburger Puppenkiste (represented by its current director, Mr. Marschall) and representatives of other stakeholder groups.

As in the case of the design, a call for tenders with regard to the equipment for the Lummerland playground was issued so that the best solution with regard to technical, commercial, creative and functional aspects could be selected. In the restricted tender process, suitable applicants were required to submit proposals for individual designs and their quotations.

The general outline design of the Lummerland playground, which was to take into account factors such as its extent, use of the surrounding existing trees, and the 'landscape' of Lummerland Island described in the stories by Michael Ende, was undertaken by the Brugger landscape architect firm. This provided a basis on which those in the tender process could develop their play concepts and equipment and was adaptable at the detail level.

When it came to the actual appearance of the equipment, the main figures and the Lummerland concept, the City of Augsburg and the Augsburger Puppenkiste both insisted that these should reproduce the style employed by the theatre for the marionettes and scenery used to recreate the stories. Later productions, such as the cartoon series, were to be ignored. The integration of features of puppetry and marionettes in the equipment would also be desirable.

Tender submissions were assessed on the basis of the following criteria (the figures indicate the relative importance assigned to each criterion):

  • Uniqueness and individual nature of the realisation of the theme (Jim Knopf and Lukas the engine driver, Lummerland, reproduction of style and features typical of the marionette theatre (30%)
  • Play value and functioning of the equipment (25%)
  • Balanced overall appearance of materials employed (wood to be predominantly used (20%))
  • Cost of the equipment (15%)
  • Cost of maintenance and upkeep (10%)

Equipment was to be mainly constructed from wood and there were to be suitable options for children in the age groups 3 - 6 years and 6 - 12 years.

The play features that the pupils had requested in the planning workshop also formed a basis for the selection process. For the main playground section, which was to be specifically designed for the needs of the age range 6 - 12 years, the requirements were as follows:

  • There was to be a look-out point (in a form similar to a high stand or tree house) so that the surroundings and nature could be observed from above.
  • Emphasis was to be placed on the activities of climbing and balancing. In the case of climbing, various elements were to be employed, with the use of natural materials (climbing on ropes, nets, trees, poles and stones).
  • Provision for the activities of swinging and sliding was desirable but not mandatory.
  • The pupils also expressed a wish to have features where they could withdraw (such as playhouses) and rest, whereby the theme was also to be implemented (e.g. use of an old locomotive).

In the supplementary section dedicated to younger children in the age range 3 - 6 years, play options with sand and other materials and the balancing on simple equipment were to be in the foreground. Small refuge features in the form of playhouses that would stimulate role play games complemented the theme perfectly.

Five tenders were submitted by the deadline that were displayed in the foyer of the Augsburger Puppenkiste theatre and discussed in detail by the award committee. The individual and unique way in which the tender submitted by Spielträume, a company based in Bamberg, captured the concept and also provided high play value convinced the judges to award the contract to them.

 

The implementation process

The landscaping work for 'Lummerland' was coordinated in consultation with Spielträume and adapted to their construction plans. This work was carried out with considerable gusto by the apprentices of the Landscaping Office of the City of Augsburg under the supervision of their foreman Mr. Kern. 'Lummerland Island' thus came into being, with its two mountains, a railway tunnel, fine sandy beaches, with tree trunk ‘driftwood’ together with boulders (marking the boundary between sand and the blue-coloured wood chips representing the 'deep, wide sea') that can also be used as seating.

It was within this play landscape that Spielträume integrated its play equipment.

Children arriving at the playground are greeted by an opening puppet chest, the 'Puppenkiste' itself, a well-known motif that commences all performances in the marionette theatre and is in the opening credits of the TV productions of the Augsburger Puppenkiste. As it opens, it invites the children to enter the imaginary world of Lummerland. To its left is a small, three-cornered space that represents the grocery store on Lummerland run by Mrs. Waas. The store is a painted relief while there is a square opening in the wall that can function as a shop counter or slip-through and invites users to indulge in role play. On the opposite wall is a painted relief of Lukas the engine driver with his locomotive Emma. Integrated in the 3D locomotive cab are steps leading up to a window that opens onto a slide for small children that takes them back into the chest. These walls are linked by an overhead wooden beam from which dangle climbing ropes that are reminiscent of the strings used to work the marionettes. This 'Augsburger Puppenkiste' element is primarily designed to promote role-based games and provides elements suitable for the 3 - 5 years age group.

Passing through the opened chest, the next feature is the 'railway track' that can be used for balancing and climbing. This curving bridge-like construction starts on the 'Castle Mountain' and develops into a track with sleepers that rises to a height of some 250 cm. Integrated climbing nets and ropes and cables to balance on provide challenges to the more skilled and bolder children aged 6 - 12 years. There is also a hammock slung between the posts where the track section begins that can be used to relax for a while. The colourful points signal here once again emphases the railway theme.

One end of the balancing path is on the mountain on which is located the castle of the king of Lummerland, 'König Alfons der Viertel-vor-Zwölfte' The castle is a three-wall structure with imitation battlements and towers that provides the specified look-out point but also functions as a role play area and a small refuge. Here, in the company of King Alfons (a painted relief figure), children can look down on the tunnel openings and observe the goings on the beaches of Lummerland. A fourth castle wall standing on its own is there as a safety feature to prevent children tumbling off the opposite side of the 'mountain'. Here is also the 'telephone apparatus' mentioned in the title song.

Standing proud atop Lummerland's second mountain is the fully three-dimensional figure of Jim Knopf himself, the optical and tangible highlight of the space. This figure can be recognised from afar and indicates to visitors to the city moat park the presence of the playground. Children are particularly drawn to the figure – they like to stroke and caress Jim Knopf.

The boat in the sea of blue wood chip belonging to the 'Wilde 13' of the story (a gang of pirates) was constructed by Spielträume from shaped planks using a genuine shipbuilding technique and has been remarkably well realised. It is supported on springs and will ride out any amount of rough weather with full crew - somewhere children can really frolic to their hearts' content.

All the play equipment has been constructed from naturally grown robinia wood and each piece was carefully installed individually on-site. Only the wall coverings and bridge floorings are made of larchwood. The figure of Jim Knopf was carved from a solid piece of oak.

 

And the moral of our story...

The active and effective collaboration between school pupils, the Augsburg Office of Open Space Planning, Nature Conservation and Cemeteries, its officials and apprentices, the company Spielträume, the Augsburger Puppenkiste, the various sponsors (Erholungsgebiete-Verein Augsburg e. V., Lions Club Augsburg Reatia, Prof. Jerschke) planners and stakeholding residents of Augsburg meant that, despite the limited budget, a themed playground with a unique design has been created in the city moat park that offers play attractions suitable for various age groups.  As soon as it was opened, the playground proved to be remarkably popular, a factor that actually turned into a problem. Although it was originally intended that the Lummerland 'mountains' should be naturally grassed, the wear and tear together with lack of funds has meant that they have since had to be covered with green carpet tiles. Perhaps not an aesthetically very pleasing solution, but this by no means detracts from the play fun.

A second construction phase is planned in which the path between marionette theatre and playground is to be bordered by figures from the various Puppenkiste productions.

 

Image: Brugger Landschaftsarchitekten / Atelier Spielträume Bamberg

 

Further information:

brugger_landschaftsarchitekten

Deuringerstr. 5a    

86551 Aichach    

Tel. 08251 8768-32

www.brugger-landschaftsarchitekten.de

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