In response to the perceived needs of an aging population, German municipalities have been experimenting with outdoor parks for their citizens. This past March, a new ‘playground’ for older people opened in Berlin’s Preussenpark. Designed and built by a company called Playfit, it’s modeled on exercise areas created in China to keep older members of the population in good health.
In China the emphasis is more on flexibility; in Europe and the USA, the focus tends to be more on strength-building. The Berlin park, and similar ones in Nuremberg, are adapted to focus more on the Western model, using isometric exercise to strengthen muscles and increase stamina and balance. Berlin’s Preussenpark has eight devices, some of them like conventional gym exercisers and others specially adapted, including one with a nubby surface to stimulate the back.
The need appears to be real; some older people have resorted to using children’s playgrounds for exercise — providing no juveniles are nearby. “I use loving gladly the swings and jacks on children’s playgrounds, if . . . no children are present,” wrote Berlin resident Barbara Becker, in a letter to the Berlin Morning Post. (Google translation from the original German, but you get the point.)
The new parks have proven to be popular. Britain’s Mirror has taken note:
Today the playground is full of OAPs [Old Age Pensioners], many of whom have left their walking sticks nearby as they move from one stainless steel and plastic machine to the next in the warm morning sun.
Werner Herrick, 68, has been here every day since the park opened on May 2.
“This place helps me forget I’m getting on a bit, and helps keep me active,” he says. “It’s the highlight of my day. A lot of us old folks come here at the same time every day, so I’ve already made quite a few friends.”
Marlit and Hans Kimert are enjoying a relaxing back massage. Marlit, a whippersnapper at 59, says: “People think that all pensioners need is a cup of tea and a high-backed chair, but we like to be active too.
“It takes a while to get the hang of the equipment but once you know how to use it, you really feel the difference it makes.”
Interestingly, there are no benches in the Berlin park, bowing to concerns expressed in Berlin that adolescents and children might attract drug dealers who would sit around and harass the elderly exercisers. In Nuremberg, pre-park discussions involved consideration of a ban for anyone under age 60 — the result of expressed concerns about the dangers of active children and ancillary problems like the ones addressed in Berlin.
In Berlin, no one under 5 feet tall may use the ‘senior’ playground unless accompanied by a (taller) adult. This sign (left), possibly from a Nuremberg park, limits users to people 65 years old and older. The concerns regarding youngsters do not appear to be misplaced; according to the Mirror article, self-absorbed schoolchildren can be an issue when there aren’t attendants around.
In addition to equipment similar to that used in the Preussenpark, the Nuremberg parks feature shade trees and convenient restrooms, along with a bocce ball field and a giant chess set meant to provide both mental and physical stimulation.
The ‘playground’ concept met with some resistance in Nuremberg; at least one group objected to the phrase “seniorenspielplatz” (“seniors playground”) claiming that name was infantile and demeaning. Nonetheless, the designation appears to have stuck — it’s the quickest way to get the most information using an Internet search, for example (if you are fluent in German, that is).
Note: The Mirror article appears to be a little confused about the opening date for the park — it cites two, neither of which appear to be exactly correct (though the phrase “last month” is open to some interpretation).
More (or at least other) information from The Times Online, UK
And from Berlin Online (in German)
Photograph of Werner Herrick from the Mirror
Photograph of park sign from Flickr