Day 10, 11 & 12 – German Playgrounds Rock (Berlin, Germany)

I remember the day I returned to my home playground after it had been under renovation by the city to increase the safety for children.  My jaw dropped in sadness when I saw they had taken towering wooden structures caged in with walls of chicken wire, tunnels made from recycled oil drums, a gargantuan tire swing, a splintering wooden see-saw and made it into a sterile, brightly colored bulbous plastic structure.  It did not take long for me to realize that all parks would soon become boring plastic blobs of safety, absent of impending lawsuits or any sparks of imagination.

Now I return to the present moment, when I am walking down a street in Princelauerburg, Berlin.  I hear some techno music and turn.  Directly to my left is a precious outdoor restaurant serving only waffles and blasting some techno music.  At first glance it looks like any other hipster-Berlin establishment, but I look closer and I see families seated inside, not the expected crew of 20-30 somethings.  I look even further and see some strange crude wooden structures behind this outdoor waffle haven, I go in, walk past the contented patrons and find myself in front of what a German parent (likely Waldorf influenced) would call a great playground for their children and what an American parent (likely all of them) would call a death trap their children wouldn’t be allowed to set their eyes on for fear of them breaking a bone just by looking at it.

I’ll tell you now, it was the holy grail of playgrounds.  Not in the way that it was high tech or well engineered, but in the way that it was a literal materialization of the word “play-ground”.  It was a space filled with the creations of its players.  Awkward and confident wooden protrusions covered the lot, shaded by trees, and each one had its own direction to lean.  Crafted by its patrons, many had roofs of splintery plywood, but some had a second or even third story with a wooden mast and a large sail (sheet) for the seafaring players.  Each structure had crudely painted lettering or a hanging sign to make clear to those who entered that they were in a hotel, bar, tree house, fairy nail salon, pirate’s cave, etc.  Upon inspecting these small houses further one would find protruding nails wherever two or more beams came together.  Around every corner on a doorway frame were clusters of nails half driven into the wood with the remaining nail sticking straight out or hammered slightly to the side to “protect” from eye skewering, as if the wood was too difficult to hammer all the way into the wood, the builder thought a handful of half done nails would suffice.

Video

This is not the end, around the back of this little town was a climbing wall with no safety equipment.  I suppose most would just walk by and not attempt the 40 foot climb, with very small climbing holds, but there was a small African boy just springing up the 40 feet and over the wall, hopping down into the little wooden town on the other side.  He would run around to the other side to find his smiling German mother and then he would do it all over again as she cheered.  To my left from the climbing wall was a fire pit.  A family was jumping on an old metal road sign that they had laid across a fire pit.  It bent in half as they jumped on it and slightly sprung them up again.  It was fantastic to see mother and daughter laughing and giggling as they demolished sharp recycled metal signage over an ashy pit.

As we left the strangely post apocalyptic playground, nestled in quite a posh neighborhood, our hearts lifted to the sky with hope for humanity and a vision for tomorrow’s families.  We passed a bake sale of fresh home-made cakes (frosting and cake décor done by children) along with coffee for the adults.  As Aaron grabbed a piece of cake our lovely host, Mandy, casually mentioned the trampolines at a nearby park.  We were off.

TRAMPOLINE VIDEO

The trampolines were strange sunken square holes in the brick ground with very shallow jumping depth.  This attracted toddlers… The toddlers attracted us.  Thusly, we jumped for a while, but were soon ambushed by stinky-diaper-drippy-nose-face-girl.  Her diaper sagged below her skirt and it seemed to be losing the fight against gravity with every bounce she took.  Aaron was on the trampoline when she arrived and he continued to jump lightly.  This entertained her to no end and she hopped awkward circles around Aaron, falling every few steps with a pronounced squish on to her weighty diaper.

The weekend’s festivities began here.  They continued with river side beer gardens, where I found a swing hanging from a tree filled with disco balls, a river side BBQ with experimental soundscapes projected into the crowd, graffiti artists working on remnants of the Berlin Wall, a lovely evening in Princelauerburg with new friends and mint tea at the top of a “hill” (what we would call flatlands in San Francisco), and a jaw dropping exhibit by Olafur Eliasson… I am so excited about the combination of art, performance and science!

look out for his work here:  http://www.olafureliasson.net/

And finally, I can’t leave out the outdoor collection of 100 ft. seesaws, the authentic German food restaurant (that was so difficult to find in Berlin because Berlin is so ashamed of “Bob”: code word for Hitler) with the meanest gayest German waiter I’ve ever met and where Mandy ordered pig’s feet accidentally.  The weekend came to a sweet end with a little ice cream from a Ben & Jerry’s-turned-disco-tech.  It was so surreal seeing the outdoor tables of this Ben & Jerry’s packed with people and even more packed with beer bottles.  I thought I was the only one who liked ice cream and beer on a hot day (I first tried this in the US Virgin Islands when I wanted a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar AND a Red Stripe.  I didn’t know which one to get, so I got both.)  Berlin has everything you could and couldn’t imagine.
Thank you to Mandy & Andrew (Ottoplatz) for their generous hospitality and showing us all over Berlin.  For telling us we could stay one night and then keeping us for a week!  Thank you to the Sudanese guy and his delicious food on the corner next to Mandy’s house.   It was all so funny and perfect.  Aaron and I were looking for Couch Surfing hosts in Berlin, but couldn’t figure it out in time.  I contacted Mandy, the kinda-half-sister of my best friend who I knew was staying in Berlin, and (as we were talking on top of her roof the first hour we arrived, taking a walk around the block via roofs!!!) she and her roommate work for CouchSurfing.org and are one of the few full time staff members.  How funny!  How perfect.

Next stop Italy.  Where we will find Andrea Guido in the countryside of Northern Italy and mange lots of food.

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