The Ohrn water playground in Öhringen

Roland Steinbach and Pascale Boé (landscape architects)

The Ohrn water playground in Öhringen

In addition to the provisions made for the 2016 State Horticultural Show that was held in the town of Öhringen in Baden-Württemberg, the town had long been considering upgrading its urban open spaces and park facilities.

The large market town of Öhringen has some 24,000 residents and has been growing continually for years.

A work group consisting of representatives of the local authority, the head of urban development, members of the Steinbach landscape architect office and various consultants had put together a related multifaceted concept in consultation with the local council. During the planning phase, members of the group visited various projects in south Germany to obtain inspiration. The plans for the open and green spaces were also subsequently incorporated in the town's application to play host to the 2016 State Horticultural Show.

One of the measures proposed was the restoration of the arm of the River Ohrn that had once followed the course of the historic town wall. Also planned to be sited shortly before the location at which this arm returned to the main river was a water playground. It was in the 1950s that the old arm of the Ohrn was filled in and the main town canal was put in its place.

Planning for the restoration of the river arm and the integrated water playground commenced in 2008. The project was implemented in 2009 and 2010.

The cost of the project as a whole was in the region of €490,000 of which some €120,000 was spent on the water playground.

The brook with its challenging topographic features has been redesigned along a length of roughly 480 m. The brook, at an elevation of 4 m above that of the river, is supplied with water by pump from the Ohrn. A water removal shaft has been tunnelled into the bank of the Ohrn to ensure it is as little visible as possible.

The project was carried out in a redevelopment area, so that urban development subsidies were available for funding.

One of its highlights was the water playground sited on the bank of the brook in front of the historic centre of Öhringen. After passing the playground, the brook empties back into the river across a limestone weir.

A beach volleyball court has been constructed near the playground, while round granite boulders that serve as seating and tables have been incorporated in the sand surface. The local populace has since designated the site the 'town beach'.

Playground equipment made by Richter has been installed. The largest of these, the 'water construction site' has an integrated hand pump and is supplied with drinking quality water. The brook enters the playground and is there divided into smaller channels. Children can control the water flow using two hand-operated barrages, a dam, an Archimedes' screw and a stopcock.

An old handle pump from the urban development warehouse has also been installed.

The bed of the brook has been deepened at the lower end of the Archimedes' screw to ensure that it can be used to raise water up to a paved elevation where it runs through several channels into the adjacent sand surfaces. Under the sand is a drainage layer of gravel with drainage pipes.

The local outdoor construction department built the paved surfaces with an extensive eye for detail so that a tiny landscape characterised by various forms of paving and unusual rocks has resulted. With a bit of imagination, it is even possible to make out the shapes of animals, including a turtle. Fossilised pieces of wood have also been incorporated.

After running through the playground, the brook enters a large pipe that passes under a walkway before re-entering the river. There is a grating to prevent children entering the pipe. Again, the constructors were given free hand and what resulted was not a standard grating but one in the form of a cobweb that even had a spider in it. Sadly, this has since been vandalised and has had to be replaced.

The local health authority stipulated that the handle pump had to be connected to the drinking water supply as the extensive outflow of water it produced would encourage the children to drink it. A shaft containing the technical equipment for the drinking water supply has been constructed at the edge of the water playground where it is readily accessible for maintenance personnel. However, the quality of the water of the Ohrn and thus the brook is good. On hot summer days, the brook and the water playground have become the centre of attraction for those seeking somewhere to bathe.

Following excavation of the brook, a levelling layer of sand was added to the bed. On top of this is a geotextile membrane followed by a pond construction film with a minimum thickness of 2 mm. Then there is a 20-cm layer of compacted clay to provide additional sealing. The top layer is a limestone river bed substrate, some of which was taken from the Ohrn itself during the construction of flood protection measures.

The water playground has been built within the site of the existing park along the town wall. Already present were chestnut and other trees that provide shade to a large part of the area; at all times of day there are shaded and sunny sections so that the site can be used as appropriate to the weather.

 

Conclusions

At first, the project attracted some criticism ‒ measures such as this were, in the eyes of the residents, of no direct benefit and did not meet essential needs. At a time when the income generated by taxes was less than it is today and even the global economy seemed to be in trouble, it was a remarkably bold undertaking to construct the brook and the playground. But in retrospect, it has become apparent it was the right thing to do. As soon as the attraction had been opened to the public, it was visited by school classes, kindergarten groups and families ‒ even those from further away who came in by train, tramway or by car. The neighbouring gastronomy outlets also added to the appeal of the site, and their beer gardens and outdoor areas were also upgraded during the construction work. Today, plane trees provide shade and a spatial demarcation of the playground is provided by grassed areas. The upgrade project was commissioned by the local construction authority which was otherwise very helpful when it came to the relocation of cables and pipelines and other aspects relating to municipal supplies.

Retail trade in the adjacent town centre has also profited from the increase in visitors.

The water playground lies next to a highly frequented footpath that leads from the large central car park to the Kultura event centre in the town. It is also on the town section of the Ohrntal cycle trail.

During the construction and progress of the 2016 State Horticultural Show, the water playground served as a 'substitute playground' over the period 2013 to 2017, as it is positioned outside the site used for the show.

Image: Roland Steinbach | Landschaftsarchitekt

More information: www.steinbach-la.de

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