There are several disconnected memories I have of my youth in Heidelberg which I’ve never really been able to place. I’m just now discovering that several of them might actually originate from a single location: Luisenpark in nearby Mannheim.
Much of what I know about Luisenpark is recently discovered, including its name. Once I had the name by asking family members about a vaguely remembered park, I spent some time glancing over the park’s German-language official site and its Wikipedia page. It is essentially a paid-entry city park with several seemingly unrelated attractions, some of which I remember and some I don’t recall at all. I also remember at least one attraction which doesn’t appear to exist anymore. So for the rest of this blog I’ll talk about the various pieces of Luisenpark that I do remember.
My first disjointed memory is of walking up to a park entrance with an air of anticipation and excitement. I think maybe I had the wrong idea about the park at first, expecting roller coasters and other thrill rides which clearly is not what Luisenpark is about. After pushing through the turnstiles, I remember walking through a large area of flowering gardens. At some point we probably passed by this hill of flags:
I’ve mentioned in other posts that Germany had a lot of amazing playgrounds for kids, and one that has always stood out in my memory was a big stone castle, featuring a tower that you could climb up from the inside. I think the tower interior was essentially a ladder with a few grate landings if you needed to take a break. I’m not sure, but I want to say that it was a series of short ladders, so if you happened to fall then you would just fall to the closest grate rather than all the way to the bottom. I didn’t remember there being a slide at the top until I saw this picture and discovered that the playground is part of Luisenpark:
Another playground favorite which I can’t find any evidence of, so I assume it doesn’t exist anymore, was this structure of giant blue rubber balls arranged like a pyramid, with a net thrown over the whole thing. Each ball was taller than us kids, so you had to use the netting to climb up and then you could jump around on them like a multi-tiered trampoline. It sounds like a real safety hazard, thinking back, and that might be why it isn’t around anymore. But since rediscovering Luisenpark, I’m pretty sure that these balls were one of its attractions, in a wide open area perhaps like this one:
There’s another memory that always goes hand-in-hand with the bouncy balls, and that’s of a small bridge crossing a body of water and German children running around naked and swimming. I think this area must have been adjacent to the balls. I’m sure the only reason I remember it at all is because, even though at this point in my life I probably knew Germany better than the States, I was still American enough to find it really strange that kids were running around naked in public.
I’ve always had it in my mind that not far from the castle playground there was a greenhouse, and at one end of the greenhouse they had an exhibit of reptiles and/or insects. Looking at the official site, it appears that not only was I correct about the greenhouse but that Luisenpark features a whole zoo worth of animals.
One of my strangest memories of Germany has been of walking through some sort of Chinese buildings and gardens. It seems strange to think of Chinese architecture when remembering Germany, but I was pretty confident that somewhere in Germany we’d done this. I even mentioned it in one of my early blog posts because I remembered going there as a field trip with my 1st or 2nd grade class. It turns out that this, too, is actually a memory of Luisenpark. There looks to be an extensive Chinese Garden area there, which really connects some dots for me in my head.
Strangely, some of the park’s central features are ones I don’t recall at all. The big telecommunication tower with a restaurant at the top does look familiar, but there is also a similarly shaped tower near Children’s Paradise on top of the Koenigstuhl, so maybe this style of tower is a common sight in Germany. The tow boats seem to be a central feature of Luisenpark, but I don’t have any memory of seeing them, let alone riding them.
Luisenpark is a place I’d really like to visit as an adult, I’m sure I’d have a greater appreciation for some of it now than I did as a kid. But I would definitely still climb up that castle tower! Overall, it seems to have a much more relaxed atmosphere than what I’d think of as a paid-entry park in the States…those would be more like my original expectation of Luisenpark, with roller coasters and blaring music and big crowds.