Playgrounds on vacant lots

Playgrounds on vacant lots

There are still many vacant building lots in German cities. These are often the result of demographic shifts or reminders of the Second World War. In the 1950s, it was simply considered not cost-effective to rebuild on all bomb sites and so many of these were left as green spaces or came to accommodate playgrounds. In more rural situations, there is little incentive to use spare space such as this but in larger conurbations it is now at a premium. Sites like this can be redeveloped either immediately or at short notice and are already positioned directly next to access routes. The various utility supplies are present or connections can be set up with little outlay, meaning that it is actually cheaper to infill where structures once were than build anew on what has always been greenfield land. As a result, the remaining play oases in the urban environment are coming under increasing pressure - often with the collusion of local residents for whom the noise of children playing is not exactly music to their ears.

One of these characteristic vacant lot playgrounds can be found in the Eosanderstraße in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin. It is enclosed by structures on three sides. On the fourth side is a fence that is roughly 1 metre in height. It has an elegant stock of trees that keep it shady and protect it from the extremes of the sun. Mounted on the fence is a sign that explains that beyond this barrier awaits a world of welcome. The theme that has been used for the design of this playground has been derived from one of the timeless classics of children's literature. The work itself has been brought to life by various illustrators down through the years and is still just as popular now as then. The publication in question is The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, which has been delighting children for more than 100 years. Among the more celebrated tales to be found among this collection of stories is that of Mowgli the Indian waif who is raised by wolves and other animals that teach him the 'Law of the Jungle'. Other animals, on the other hand, are less well-disposed towards the 'man cub' so that Mowgli has to quickly learn how to differentiate between friend and foe. In the imagination of children, the many adventures experienced by Mowgli in the jungle make him into both a hero and a friend. Of course, part of the reason why The Jungle Book is still so well known is because it has not only been staged but has also found its way to the silver screen in various different forms - most will be familiar with the melodies of the musical version.

And The Jungle Book has found a home in Berlin's Charlottenburg. This playground was initially constructed by company SIK-Holz in 1998. The idea for the theme then and later in 2018 came from Andreas Schmidt, a member of the local green space planning authority. As a child, he too had read The Jungle Book.

The playground itself covers an approximate area of 400 m². In the fence is a gate decorated with palm fronds and a sleeping panther Bagheera that prepares visitors for the jungle world they will encounter beyond. To the right, a pathway wends sinuously to a soccer pitch that occupies the whole of the rear section of the site. It has a bit of a chequered history behind it. In 2006, a complaint was submitted by a local resident to the administrative tribunal of Berlin that subsequently decided that the pitch should be closed. The plaintiff, whose property adjoined the pitch, provided evidence to the effect that the facility was being used outside permitted times and was also - inappropriately - being utilised by adolescents and even adults. Fortunately, it seems the dust has settled in the meantime. The pitch is still there, although it is only open in the afternoons and is closed all day on Sundays. To the right of the pathway, a lush green screen has developed in which children can hide and find the odd branch to be used in the game of the moment.

Because of the popularity of the playground, the existing structures on the remaining site have been retained; only the arrangement has been modified somewhat. To the rear of the site is also the equipment designed for more strenuous exercise - a swing that will seat three and a carousel with a Mowgli figure as playfellow. A multifunctional play ensemble occupies most of the area. There are three play towers partially covered by jungle plant roofs and two 'liana trees' that provide an exercise trail. Because of the space limitations, there are only vertical ladders providing access to the towers and a sloping climbing trunk on one of the 'liana trees'. Children can more rapidly come back down to earth with the help of a slide and a pole. Both of these were present in the original playground. Between the towers and the 'liana trees' there are light- to heavy-duty crossings in the form of a wide and a narrow rope bridge, a balancing beam and balancing rope. The platforms of the towers are popular with the children as places to meet friends and hold a look-out. There is a hammock with a limited range of swing between the jungle tower and the figure of Shere Khan the tiger where both children and adults can take a rest in the jungle. The snake nest, with Kaa the python crawling in and out, provides a feature for balancing, climbing and seating. Wobbly boards with Baloo the bear and King Louie the ape fill the spaces between jungle play ensemble and the snake nest. Children can dig to their heart's content in the surfaces below and among the pieces of equipment.

The playground itself seems like a stage in a theatre in which every day a production of The Jungle Book is being performed. It is a frequent destination for the local kindergartens. On and around the posts of the play equipment are wonderfully colourful figures of hummingbirds, butterflies, apes and vultures. Their bright tones are attention-grabbing and contribute to the quite unique feel of this little patch of jungle in the city. There is an extensive seating area with a table that gives those who are not interested in climbing, balancing, swinging, turning or sliding a place to relax. And anyone who wants more than this can fetch themselves an ice cream from the parlour just around the corner.

 

 

Image: SIK-Holzgestaltungs GmbH

 

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