German Engineers Take Pride In Massive Structures For Tulsa's Gathering Place
FRASDORF, Germany - Finding your way around the road closings, and seeing the vast fields of mud, it's hard to imagine that what's promised to be one of the world's great parks is quickly rising along the Arkansas River in Tulsa.
But I've seen the future, and it's tall and magical and promises to entertain generations of Oklahoma's young and young-at-heart.
To find it, I went to the Bavarian Alps, where the treasures of the Black Forest are being turned into Tulsa's Gathering Place playground.
For 550 years, the tallest structure reaching for the Alpine sky in the village of Frasdorf, Germany has been St. Margaret's Catholic Church.
That is until a soaring, spewing, sight-to-behold began taking shape in the back lot of the Richter family's wood shop.
No one, not the men who cut its parts, not Stephan Hellthaler, the man charged with making sure it all fit together, none, have ever seen such a thing.
But now that it's standing, it sure makes them happy.
And soon, once they take it apart and pack it in shipping crates, it will stand in Tulsa's Gathering Place, destined to bring smiles to who-knows-how-many kids; one of six giant climbing towers that will make up just a part of the Chapman Foundation Adventure Playground.
They're all being built by the master craftsmen of the Richter Company, known around the world for their beautiful natural products.
Many of the men are farmers who double as playground makers, living in a part of Germany where they tell you "wood is the material of life."
“All these farmers have little forests. Nearly all these people here has a kind of natural power to deal with wood, and a kind of acceptance of wood,” said Julian Richter Senior, with Richter Spielgerate.
They're willing to take on any project, as long as you know at the outset they will not be rushed, they will take their time and do it as perfectly as perfect can be, even when they've never built it before - like Tulsa's vertical water tower which twists and turns on Florian Pichler's computer now, but only after it spun for months in his imagination.
“And I got this hand sketch and then just said, now design a tower that is working,” he laughed.
The men did their last-minute checks to see that it is working and to measure how the water will spill from the tower - not too little, not too much.
There's only one focus at the wood shop, remember the end-user.
“We have to do something that is good for the children. We don't have to think of profit, we don't have to think of a designer or an architect or a customer. We have mainly to think of what is good for the children,” Pichler said.
And that's why Tulsa's Kaiser Foundation chose Richter for this Gathering Place project.
Jeff Stava with the Kaiser Foundation said, “We're gonna bring the most state-of-the-art playground, safe and exciting for kids of all ages in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”
And to work here is to think like, and be, a kid, with a most charming measure of success.
“There's shouting and laughing and giggling, and if I hear this cloud of children's noise over the playground, I know, good job," said Richter project director, Peter Heuken.
And they're quite sure, across the miles, they will hear the laughter coming all the way from Oklahoma.
“And I hope the children in Tulsa have this feeling as well, and that they have many days and weeks and years to explore the tower and its different functions and what is possible,” said Julian Richter Jr. with Richter Spielgerate.
The water tower has been taken apart and packed in crates, waiting for a sea voyage to Houston and a truck trip to Tulsa, and it comes along with an instruction book on putting it back together.
When all the towers are here, they'll be paraded to the site and you'll be invited to watch them roll past.