Magical place takes you back in time to a bygone era

Iris Brunken (City of Aurich, Department 22 – Civil Engineering)

Magical place takes you back in time to a bygone era

Whoever immediately thinks of Native Americans and the Wild West upon hearing the word “chieftain”, is entirely off the mark. We are right in the middle of East Frisia and we are talking about the heads of the East Frisian comital families in the Middle Ages – the chieftains.

Those familiar with East Frisia have certainly heard of the “Frisian freedom”, the “Upstalsboom” or even the “chieftain families”. These terms are closely associated with East Frisian history and Aurich, the secret capital of East Frisia. Some sites of the town, such as Aurich Castle and the historical ramparts, but also names like “Cirksenastraße” or “Graf-Ulrich-Straße” make history come alive.

At the end of 2016, the redesigned chieftain’s playground on Nürnburger Wall became yet another place in Aurich to encounter history.

The starting point for the redesign was the fact that the already existing public playground was very old and only featured standard equipment. It was thus not very attractive and only sparsely frequented. As part of the ongoing redevelopment of the historic town centre, it was also planned to create a playground close to the town centre in order to be able to offer both locals and tourists an attractive range of play facilities.

The close proximity to the town centre and the location at an important pedestrian link seemed to be virtually ideal to create something new and above all attractive. The space provided by the extensive green area was ideal and should in future be used in its entirety and not, as before, only to one third as a play area. Very soon it became clear that this was a fantastic project for Aurich’s own urban planners, in which they could become a child again during the planning phase and hopefully also after completion. Always at the back of their mind: What would appeal to me as a child or teenager? What would I find great and interesting? What should not be missing under any circumstances? The wish for a themed playground was expressed and it did not take much deliberation to come up with this theme: “East Frisian chieftains” based on East Frisia’s history.

On the one hand, this did justice to the historic site of the Nürnburger Wall as a former fortification. On the other hand, it offered the opportunity to create a unique, very individual facility with a high play value and an equally high information potential for everyone. Another special site to experience history in the town was to be created.  

 

Design ideas

The ideas for the design of the new site kept flowing: castle towers for climbing, balancing elements, a tube slide between two existing trees, an oversized chieftain’s throne and a castle kitchen, a castle gate with a drawbridge – in our opinion, absolute must-haves for the new playground. Reproductions of historical finds such as the “Sword of Upstalsboom” were also to be included.

The coat of arms of the Cirksena family was to be included as well as the East Frisian colours and the municipal coat of arms of Aurich. It would be great to include some representatives of the chieftain families – Count Ulrich and Countess Theda as “head in the hole” stand-ins to stick your head and arms through the holes provided were drawn in next to no time.

Moreover, the idea of cooperation with Aurich Historical Museum and Ostfriesische Landschaft was raised. The aim of this cooperation was to compile child-appropriate, well-founded historical information and incorporate it into the design.

The result was pure, undiluted creative chaos and a myriad of ideas to sift through. Some of the ideas were so unusual that the only real option to be considered was a playground equipment manufacturer who worked predominantly with wood and was willing to accept our individual ideas and ideally even put forward their own ideas. Besides, the new equipment was to blend in with the existing open space and not appear as deposited somewhere or “beamed” onto the area – a challenge that had to be jointly met.  

 

Implementation 

Aurich town officials had already heard of the Laucha-based company Spielart and had seen entire playscapes of the Thuringian “think tank” in various trade journals – the perfect solution for the project. Without further ado, they contacted the Spielart company and a complete concept was developed within a few weeks in close co-operation by telephone and e-mail. Sketches and drawings were created on both sides, which were polished up and refined. This continued until finally everything was fully optimized for there were difficult conditions to be considered.

Both the location and the nature of the terrain required a high degree of individuality as well as inventiveness and creativity in design. The tunnel-like character of the facility called for an open design towards the path to make the playground look more spacious. The classification of Nürnburger Wall as a natural monument demanded sensitive handling of the facility in its entirety. Changes to the local topography were therefore only possible to a very limited extent.

The same applied to the trees classified as natural monuments in this area. An impressive avenue of lime trees along the adjacent path and mature trees worthy of protection on the green space had to be included with great sensitivity. Both the extensive root systems on the site and the partially exposed roots along the path required planning tailored to their protection and careful handling during the construction phase.

The entire redesign of the playground was to be carried out by the experienced playground team of the municipal depot, which works well together. They are also in charge of the construction and maintenance of public children’s playground for the rest of the year and demonstrate their potential with each new project. Hence, there was a relation to the facility itself and an incentive to build a true highlight in their town right from the outset, which had a very positive effect on the entire project. The cooperation with an external tree expert also paid off. The environmental construction consultancy services provided by him quickly delivered the desired results when things got tricky with regard to tree protection.

After about five months of planning, meetings with the various parties involved, preparation of the site and construction of the equipment in Laucha, the new playground was shipped to Aurich in individual parts and already approved by TÜV. The playground already existed on paper – now it was time for its actual implementation.

The relevant nature conversation authority had imposed limits as to the weight of the construction machines accessing the site so that almost all earthwork had to be performed by manual excavation. This mainly effected the root systems of the trees. The municipal depot team showed great dedication and personal commitment and installed the fall protection within a few weeks, built a specially designed crawling tunnel, installed all the equipment and was responsible for the pre-installation of the planned lighting.

The result is an exciting, individual place that invites both young and old to discover, explore, conquer, play and linger. The high play value of the entire playground manifests itself in a wide variety of elements:

Through the imposing entrance portal you enter the “Häuptlingsspielplatz Nürnburger Wall”, with a ribbon of blue wood chips covering its entire length of about 90 metres. The blue ribbon follows the former course of the historical town moat, but is also used as fall protection for some of the playground equipment.

The first thing you notice about the playground is the spacious toddler play area. With its slide tower, sand lift and kitchen, it offers a wide range of play options and retreats. Minor details such as the historical round-bottomed pot add to the picture. This area is completed by a swing set and a huge wooden throne, which makes you want to climb and sit down.

The stagecoach – of course, along with the inevitable horse – was designed in the form of a spring rocker, so that here again, the focus is on the playful movement. The coach marks the transition to the play area for older children.

They can let off steam on the large chieftain’s castle. Here they can climb, slide and romp around to their heart’s content. Several historical details have been incorporated into the play equipment. One of these elements is the “Sword of Upstalsboom”. It has been reproduced in an oversized format and is now used as a measuring stick for children to playfully measure their height. A castle dungeon provides a fantastic hiding place. The historical figures Count Ulrich and Countess Theda also invite you to play in this area – just stick your head and arms through the holes provided and in no time at all you are in disguise.

Another highlight of the facility is the crawling tunnel. With its “castle ruin look”, it fits perfectly into the overall concept of the playground. In addition, thanks to its individual design and structure it could easily be adapted to the difficult terrain and its large differences in altitude. You can crawl, climb and slide in and on this tunnel.

The balance course adjoining the tunnel is suitable for every age group. Here both children and adults can put their balancing skills to the test, overcome slopes and master wobbly, challenging stones, steps or bridges. A hammock and a knight’s merry-go-round complete the course. Here again, the individual design offered a distinct advantage – the height and shape of the equipment parts could be adapted both to the difficult topography on site and to the root protection of the existing trees.

In order to present the historical context, information boards are installed in some areas – always in the immediate vicinity of the corresponding “exhibit”, such as the “Sword of Upstalsboom”. The texts are written in a clear and lucid style so that children of primary school age and above can understand them.

You leave the playground through the “small castle portal” – ideally full of excited anticipation of the next “chieftain meeting” or a visit to the Historical Museum to get further information about the history of East Frisia.

 

Conclusion

Thanks to the good and uncomplicated cooperation between the various parties involved, the desired objective of creating a special and attractive place where play and history blend was achieved. The people of Aurich are proud of their chieftain’s playground. It is eagerly frequented and proves to be a real magnet for visitors and tourists.

Photo: Iris Brunken

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