When I was little, my siblings and I played this game in a park, “Hot Lava Tag,” where you couldn’t touch the grass (it was the hot lava), and to evade the person who was “It,” you had to hop around on shiny, flat, rectangular stones set into the ground.
Well, that “park” turned out to be the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, those shiny flat stones — gravestone markers; and when our mother found out what we’d been doing, our bottoms learned some hard truths about showing respect to the dead.
But now I’ve found a place in Berlin where you can play AND pay respect. Leise Park was created on the site of the former St. Marien-St. Nicolai cemetery in Prenzlauer Berg. Some of the grave markers and headstones were left intact in the park. Park benches, hammocks and even some playground equipment (!) were put in.
The Visit Berlin site says that seeing the grave stones “doesn’t put you off at all,” but I am here to tell you it is a little weird to see headstones and a family playing jumprope within 10 feet of each other.
But the atmosphere is not creepy or spooky at all. Families and tons of kids gather here. The park rings with high, young voices whooping and galloping about. Single denizens come, too. Although it’s not a large park, it’s still possible to find a quiet corner or two to read a book.
I laughed at the idea of taking naps in a hammock close to a headstone, but I think I have found my new favorite urban/rural juxtaposition. I am fascinated by the entire space. Like much of Berlin, it is green, green, green. (Fun fact: Berlin has more than 2,500 parks and gardens and almost a fifth of the city is covered in trees, according to visitberlin.de)
Main dirt paths branch off into smaller trails, some barely more than indentations among the tall, overgrown plants. Like I said, it’s not a large park, but the meandering, small trails make it feel bigger than it is. And walking these trails can be quite the adventure. Next time I go, I will know to wear pants and not a skirt. Many of the park’s plants have been left to their own devices and grow in wild abandon; this is not the place to see well-manicured topiaries or prize-winning rose bushes.
If, however, you feel like spreading a blanket and having a picnic, or enjoy running around in your swimsuit while wielding a water gun, this just might be the place for you.