Playgrounds of Bergmannkiez (Kreuzberg)

Though it may not be in the baby-crazed, hipster-hovel that is Prenzlauerberg, the family friendly side of Kreuzberg, 61 as opposed to 36, rivals any other section of the city in terms of catering to those who are child-saddled in Berlin. The urban space left open for children speaks volumes to what makes this neighborhood so nice for kids and their parents, and so I offer a review. Only a few square kilometers, Bergmannkiez stretches from Gneisenaustraße to Fidicinstraße between Mehringdamm and Heimstraße, with a little leg that stretches over to Südstern. It is located at all but the precise intersection of Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Schöneberg, which is to say, despite being genuinely family-friendly, it can get distressingly hip. Still, this quaint little quarter is home to all of the shops and restaurants that line Bergmannstraße, the (wonderful) Marheineke Markthalle and, of course, there are playgrounds galore!

This review is limited to playgrounds that fit the following criteria: they must be currently open (i.e., not under renovation, like the one at Marheinekeplatz), they are larger than a single store front (the playground on Solmstraße is, in my opinion, too small to be reviewed here despite its most definitely being fun for locals) and they are outdoors (Jolo’s Kinderwelt, which is worth a visit on a cold day, because it is a indoor playground, does not fit the criteria, but please note that it is not simply being ignored or dismissed because of alleged inadequacy).

The reviewer (who is the Dad of a two and a half year old boy) has visited each playground many times in each of the different Berlin seasons (e.g., winter, half-winter and nice weather), at different times of day, with Mom and alone, etc., in order to gauge the consistency of its charm, the variety of its offerings and the general character of its clientele. The following reviews try to take into account nap-time naughtiness, the occasional kindergarten group’s conquest for play space, as well as the presence of adequate space for sidewalk-chalk drawings and shenanigans of all types. That being said, this reviewer makes no promises of any kind aside from well intentioned honesty and perhaps some good ol’fashioned tongue-in-cheek sass.

1. Südring Spielplatz / Willi Boos

Sandwiched between an organic supermarket and a Sportverein (soccer/athletic club), this off-the-beaten path play-place provides more than meets the eye. The above average size, the diversity of items on the menu, especially considering the recent renovations/additions, along with the friendliness of its in-crowd, make this playground worth a visit. The sheer number of local options means that one never has to wait too long for a seat or a swing and the service is excellent.

Aside from the ubiquitous pre-pubescent graffiti that is tactlessly sprawled across the walls, the whole area is usually well manicured and everything is in good working order. Recent additions have brought in a few sorely missing items, ones that all respectable establishments offer: a few bridges, assorted climbing apparatuses and a slide.

Once these were added to the swings (x2), the zip-line, the bouncy little things and the sand pit (w/ ample rocks), this play area made it to the top rung of the rating-ladder. There are also two basketball nets and football goals for older kids and the water pump flows down a naturally graded gully that trickles around, over, and even under the rocks. This playground is sure to entertain any child for as long as mom and dad will allow them to get dirty. It is also worth noting that the dress-code is spring casual even in the winter, since the majority of the play area is bathed in sunlight all day; it a good choice especially on colder occasions.

PHOTO: Linka Odom TheMissingLinka@instagram

Over all, given the diversity of the fare, the football pitch, the space being large enough for two kindergartens and you, not to mention the pragmatic placement (next to the Markthalle, cafés, and the UBahn-U7, Gneisenaustraße), the Südring Spielplatz gets 3,5 slides out of five and definitely warrants a visit on your next sunny day with free time for the tots!
(Rating: λλλλ )

2. Arndtstraße Spielplatz

On the shady side of the street, though not quite on the wrong side of the tracks, this petite playground is not as forgettable as it might at first seem, but that doesn't make it remarkable. Though it does not really get enough sunlight to be cozy, because of its place between buildings, which does makes it rather unwelcoming in the off-season, the vegetation provides a decent place for imaginative play, and it is not too far from a few local hotspots (most notably Glück-to-Go, the premiere veggie-burger joint in Berlin and the Markthalle). There is a nice hammock and a basketball net, albeit only one, and most of the other patrons are consistently friendly. All that being said, however, aside from these few good qualities, this playground falters in more ways than it flourishes: the slide is too tall and fast for youngsters (they’ll bonk their bottoms nine times out of ten), the ladders are too steep and tall to climb alone, the swings are too close to the other items and the sand pit is too small, not to mention it has a rusty spring-legged-animal-thing (a rabbit?) directly in the middle that both tempts kids to tetanus while at the same time unnecessarily segmenting the box. Add to that the fact that the graffiti is crass, even out-right threatening and sexually explicit at times(!), and the almost unavoidable conflicts with Kindergarten groups vying for limited space among overly-aggressive children whose parents too often smoke on the playground and do nothing to control their kids, and you are left with only one reasonable conclusion, which is to keep on walking!

The Arndtstraße playground gets the dismal rating of 1,5 slides out of five because, in addition to the reasons mentioned above, it has no water-fixture or football area and is usually filthy. It should, therefore, only be visited as a last resort.
(Rating: λλ )

3. Chamissoplatz Spielplatz

A far cry from its nearby neighbor (the aforementioned Arndtstraße Spielplatz), the beautiful grounds of the Chamissoplatz are well worth a visit, with or without children! The Berlin tourism department likens the square to a quasi-open air museum of the theme “Berlin 100 years ago,” and indeed, it is not hard to appreciate the 19th century hitching posts and water pumps (for the horses that were), the antique street lights (which may still be burning gas), the gorgeous building facades (and their beautifully bedecked balconies), the lack of neon signs (which are forbidden by the community), etc. With towering trees and lush flowers that surround the square and separate it from other not-to-be-missed local destinations (like G wie Goulasch, Café Richmond, the locals’ watering hole Heidelberger Krug and the organic local farmers’ market on Saturday mornings, among others), the fact that there is a first rate playground makes it a MUST for families.

PHOTO: Linka Odom. TheMissingLinka@instagram

Twice the size (a least) of any other local option, there is never a lack of available seating and one barely has to wait for their favorites, even if there are 45 kids competing for space. There is enough traditional playground stuff to amuse even spoiled Americans: a veritable hide-and-go-seek heaven and two water-play fixtures (including an in-ground, rock-hopping, free-flowing water fountain). This play ground is a sheer delight for young and old, especially when the mercury rises.
Across the corner there are adult sized sport courts (with adequate fencing to keep the balls, and tots, out of the street) and, to top it off, the locals are always kind and welcoming, even at 2pm when kids should be napping. Hands down the best on the block, or any other blocks nearby, this playground, along with the surrounding area, gets five out of five slides and is a must for anyone, with or without children.
(Rating: λλλλλ)

Being a homemaker in Berlin has its ups and downs, as it does anywhere, but the playgrounds of Berlin, and Bergmannkiez in particular, have been life-savers for me on many an afternoon. I would not suggest that you go and have a child just so you can play around, but if you find yourself out and about with kids in tow, maybe after a trip to the Science Museum and/or the Park am Gleisdreieck (both of which are well worth a visit), stop by our Kiez (=hood) for some fun and friends (and maybe some great food, too); you won’t be sorry.

By G. T. Garfinkle

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