Not Following Rules Key For German Team Building Tulsa's Gathering Place Playground

Tuesday, May 3rd 2016, 5:07 pm
By: News On 6

When the first phase of Tulsa's Gathering Place opens in late 2017, it will be home to a playground that will be the world's envy.

Most of it's being built at a small family-owned German woodshop that took on the biggest job they've ever had, with the same simple goal they've always followed, take care of the children.

When Peter Heuken came home to Frasdorf with news he'd landed the Richter Company's largest-ever contract, $13 million to build parts of The Gathering Place's playgrounds, he was quite pleased.

"I go out, I like hunting or like fishing and I really caught a big fish, but as always when I come home with a big fish everybody says "Oh, Peter, another big fish, how shall we handle it?  Go away with your big fish and I say, 'Hey guys, this is a superb big fish," said Peter Heuken, Richter Project Manager.

"In principal, catastrophic.  Too huge, too great, too wonderful," said Julian Richter, Sr. 

4/28/2016: Related Story: German Engineers Take Pride In Massive Structures For Tulsa's Gathering Place

Julian Richter Senior oversees the playground building company begun by his mother.

"The whole company said, 'Oh, God, another one,' and I said 'OK, first let's be happy that his order was coming.  Then let's try to find out how to do it in a good way,'" Julian Richter said.

"So if you ask if we had a huge party when I came home with this job the answer is no, we had big debates," Peter Heuken said.

But those big debates resulted in these big designs.

Richter is known to build the world's finest playgrounds, but even for them, the Tulsa job is a chance to make a spectacular splash. Built on Richter's fundamental belief that children, and children's needs, are their only guides.

"And play, play is for me characterized not by following rules," Richter said, "Play is defined by not following rules."

Which is why Florian Pichler, the wood engineer on whose computer Tulsa's play towers have come to life, has taken to thinking like a child since coming to work here, and when leaving in the evening.

Florian Pichler, a wood engineer for Richter, said ,"Just going out of the door and running to the car. Not walking as every adult does, run like children do. They run without intention. They just run, because it's funny." 

The way Stephan Hellthaler's children did the evening he had us to his home for a traditional German meal. He sometimes takes his children, Korbinian and Magdalena, with him to the woodshop to try out the Tulsa equipment, which he's in charge of putting together.

They are his giggling guiding stars.

"Do you have to be a kid to work here? It helps, it helps, it helps, yes," Hellthaler said.

And whether it's in the next village over, where in a converted barn the water-hurling whirligigs and giant metal slides bound for Tulsa are being bent into shape.

Or a few blocks away in Frasdorf, where coppersmith Tomas Fischer steps into the 16th century every workday, fashioning the gargoyles that will guard one Tulsa tower in a nod to those that stand watch atop the town's 550-year-old Catholic Church...

Coppersmith Toman Fischer said, "Mr. Heuken said to me make envassaspiel, and you are free, you can do what you want."

That tower has already arrived in Tulsa, held in storage, waiting for the others. Before Richter sent it off, everyone in the company climbed on for a photograph. Built with pride. And the joy of children, all grown up.

Heuken said, "Sometimes you don't see here in the woodshop what we do because it's assembled elsewhere but this one was assembled in the yard and all the company was climbing in it and enjoying it.  And we really shared the joy of achieving this."

Five of the six giant towers have been delivered to Tulsa. The last, the big water tower, is on a ship in the Atlantic, bound for the Port of Houston.