As well as researching the waldkindergarten movement ,my time in Berlin was spent researching play spaces and child friendly cities, and Berlin is certainly the latter. Over 50% of the city is open green space and there is a play or sports ground on nearly every corner. Another huge factor is how accessible the city is – walkable, bike-friendly and excellent public transport. I loved Berlin for its perfect balance of order and chaos, it still has that ‘German efficiency’ but the stringency (which would drive me nuts – i.e Switzerland!) is tempered by art, openness a definite playfulness and more diversity than most European cities.
I lost most of my photos from the trip recently (still learning the backup lesson hard) but here are some pics I took around the theme of ‘play houses’…they serve as inspiration for what we can do in the cityscape to create more playful, liveable spaces.
This was my favourite find, an afterschool club in the Grunewald on the outskirts of west Berlin. As the land is owned by the city the parents of the cooperative built a temporary structure, an amazing gypsy-esque play wagon, complete with an inside (completely odourless) compost toilet.
Most of the fun structures I found were in the huge 4,000sqm adventure playground of Kolle 37 in now trendy Prenzlauer Berg – were children have the opportunity to build their own huts, make fire, work in the garden, watch and work with animals or just play. The building yard looks straight out of the set of Mad Max.
Hideaway tee-pee, away from adults prying eyes
This was a nice surprise, a hint of the Transkei in east Berlin! Made by children and playworkers a few years ago.
The lovely green design of the clubhouse at Kolle 37
This is a kindergarten in Kreuzberg, I loved the mural, a nice break from Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh et al.
Finally, the barest essential playhouse.
This was taken in the nature playground at the fairly new Park Am Gleisdreieck (“triangle of rails). I loved this park because of its history and its future. A local told me that the rails once carried the trains taking people to the concentration camps. After WW2 it became a deserted natural enclave in the middle of built-up territory, part of Berlin’s ‘no-man’s land’. After reunification of the city its central location was highly prized but it was only after 2006, that the State of Berlin accepted the proposal of converting Gleisdreieck into a large urban park.
“The problematic, decades-long disconnectedness imposed by the enclave now presented an opportunity for joining various parts of the city…all within a framework of many uses, tempos and social realities. It was necessary to stimulate the development of sixteen new hectares of productive neighbourhoods that would be capable of integrating different generations and social strata around a model of the sustainable city and in harmony with nature. The need to adapt these goals to preserving the pre-existing railway heritage also appeared following intense discussion with local proprietors and residents.”
The rails are still there running right through the park, a monument to a troubling history that is best not forgotten nor celebrated. New life has sprung up around it, on the southern side of the meadow is a big sunny terrace with benches complete with footrests. To the east a forest of maples, oaks, birches and lemon trees and a couple of large metal frames holding two swings. The edges of the park are finished with a collection of distinctive spaces, a conventional and nature playground, nursery, sports fields, concave surfaces for skateboards, stages for tango dancing and community gardens.
I just thought it was commendable for a city (which already has so many parks) to decide to use such a large, prime central site to develop such a liveable, breathable, child-friendly, human-friendly space, rather than go for the obvious retail/mixed use space that is becoming the feature of urban regeneration/gentrification globally.
Well done Berlin! I miss you.