Special playing experience in the Sea Zoo in Bremerhaven

By Zoo Director Dr. Heike Kück (Zoo am Meer Bremerhaven Limited Company)

Special playing experience in the Sea Zoo in Bremerhaven

The small but nice Sea Zoo by in Bremerhaven is situated directly next to the Weser dike with a view to the Weser delta from where the water flows directly into the North Sea.  The Sea Zoo in Bremerhaven, which was opened in 1928, had been completely rebuilt at this place during the years 2001 to 2004. The building permit for the new construction of the zoo was based on its very small usable area of approximately 1.2 hectares. The Zoo is registered as a non-profit private limited company "Zoo am Meer Bremerhaven" and supported by the City of Bremerhaven. The owner of the site and the zoo buildings is the limited company for urban properties, the so-called Städtische Grundstücksgesellschaft. As stated previously, the zoo is operated on a very small area. Nevertheless, it was clear right from the start that a thematic playground focusing on the vast world of the sea had to be integrated.


Why building a playground on such a small space?

During the zoo tour, children should focus on the animals, their specific behaviour and particularities. But depending on the age of the child, this is only possible for a certain amount of time. Due to the fact that loud children would disturb both the animals and other zoo visitors, a separate children's play area had to be installed in a central area of the zoo in order to avoid this conflict. There the children should have the opportunity to enjoy frolicking around, playing, climbing and balancing during or after their zoo tour. In addition, these abilities, which nowadays are less pronounced with children, should thus be promoted at this playground because children need diverse and challenging movement experiences for their healthy development. Hence, this playground should help the children to giving free reign to their fantasies and exploring their own worlds. In addition, the parents can enjoy a piece of cake on the terrace and enjoy the nice atmosphere of the zoo while at the same time they can watch their children playing. 


The playground design concept

During the planning process, the main focus of the play area should be on water-related and Nordic animals as well as on its position at the coast. However, it was the SIK-Holz company who won the service contract with an outstanding  play concept of Thomas Reinicke from the design planning office SpielRaumConzept.  The historical development of Bremerhaven is closely linked to the history of the Hanse and sail navigation. The adventures of sailors on their expeditions towards distant horizons are always exciting. Hence, it was the novel by Jules Verne "Two Years' Vacation" which served as a model for the story.

The story took place in the end of the 19th century. During the Peruvian revolution, the military government wanted to bring the war chest to a safe place. But the secret mission was revealed, the treasure was stolen and hidden away on an island. But then, the treasure map fell into the hands of two crooks, namely Forbes and Pike. Thus, they went out in search of the treasure. At the same time, 12 young students were on a sailing trip. When going on shore, they found a message in a bottle from two castaways. Hence, they convinced the captain to go out in search of them. That was how they met Forbes and Pike, the two crooks, who captured the captain and his crew. However, the students managed to escape with the boat but unfortunately were caught in a storm. The ship was smashed in the turbulent waters close to the shore of an unknown island. Thus, the students retrieved the provisions and everything which they thought could possibly be useful. When exploring the island, they discovered an unknown fauna. From the recovered wreckage and ship equipment they built a new living quarter. In the meantime, Forbes and Pike also managed to leave the island and continued searching the treasure with their new boat. That is how they came to the island where the children had established themselves. However, the students had already noticed them. Although Forbes and Pike found the treasure, they fell into a trap. However, the cave collapsed and both the crooks and the treasure were buried under the masses of soil. Then, the children left the island with the boat and were finally saved.

The entire Bremerhaven Zoo by the Sea as a treasure island: what a story!   


The playground

Most of the playground elements are focused on a barque (a type of sailing vessel) which was smashed during a turbulent storm. The three huge wreckages, that is to say the bow, stern and nave as well as the mast house are forming the core of the playground scenery. The living quarter for the castaways was made from the three masts and other wreckages. The different parts of the wreckage are thematically and physically connected by ladders, barrels and ropes which are lying around, as well as by fallen masts. The large mast house was made from further wreckages and was set up like a tree house. Thus, a free area was created underneath which should serve as a visitors' path. From the upper deck of the former central nave a hanging bridge leads directly to the enclosure of the Keas and enables the visitors to gain a special insight into the bird life of New Zealand. In order to reach the central nave, the children have to climb up a vertical ladder or walk over a wobbly bridge.

Those children, who have stranded on the island, will explore the surrounding environment and thus reach a rocky climbing route, which benefits from the natural height differences of the zoo, and which is made from big fieldstones. Finally, they get to the tubular tunnel slide which has been installed into the rocky landscape. At the entrance of the slide, the children will be welcomed by a sea dog sculpture which is particularly popular among the kids and which has been installed on a platform.


Which effects does this playground have on the development of children?

When designing the authentic play elements special attention was paid on preserving the natural wood structure in order to promote and strengthen the relation between children, nature and sea adventures. The role playing and thus the thematic identification of the children with known and unknown heroes is a very special play experience. Exercise games are provided in the form of climbing, balancing, turning and swinging at nearly all play elements offered. Hence, the children get to know all the facets of being a real pirate. The mast house with its two play levels, provides both areas to relax and a place for communication and to experience all the senses. Most areas of the zoo can be observed by a telescope. The ascent to the 4,5-metre high crow's nest is also very exciting.

However, the entire playground scenery has been embedded by a soft layer of blue wood chips of the trade mark Öcocolor. The stern of the stranded sailing vessel is floating keel over in the blue wide ocean. It serves as a hutch and protected observation area for rabbits. Old "rum barrels" have been converted into an observation place. When it's raining, it is here where one can find a dry place. In the stern, children can play games, such as Memory or Treasure Map. Games for the development of all senses are particularly important in order to sharpen the combination skills, orientation, reactions and concentration of the children in case unwanted pirates suddenly appear on the island in the sea.



Since 2004, the playground has been maintained by the company SIK-Holz. Minor damages have always been repaired immediately according to the Norm EN 1176-7. Originally it was intended to create a new playground topic in 2019, 15 years after the inauguration and after more than 4.6 million visitors had visited the playground which is now getting up in years. However, when the stability of the posts and wooden components was checked by resistograph testing, the results showed that the basic substance of the posts and all other structural elements was and still is outstanding. For cosmetic reasons, the outer sapwood of the posts and masts was completely grinded down. All screw connections were tested and partly renewed. All ropes and web elements are cleaned by only using pure water. The antique-looking stern, central nave and mast house were polished with a colourless, environment-friendly wood oil.

Now, the play area appears in an authentic look. The upcycling process was a wonderful and at the same time cost-efficient experience for everybody involved.

Thus, the zoo operators hope that the treasure island will still for many years represent a special gaming experience which completes the zoo tour. 


Further information:


Design concept: www.SpielRaumConcept.de

Thematic playground scenery and construction: www.sik-Holz.de


Image: Zoo am Meer Bremerhaven GmbH

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