It was only seconds before the children discovered the rondel of the water-spitting fountain and stormed with a roaring noise. After another ten minutes, everyone was soaking wet – not only the first graders, but also Daniel Zimmermann. The mayor of Monheim had let his childlike side run free and also climbed into the fountain by the Danish artist Jeppe Hein. It didn't seem to bother the first citizen of the 42,000-inhabitant city on the Rhine that his sunny yellow jacket was getting wet and wetter. With almost stoic indifference, he observed the throng in and around the “Monheim Water Pavilion”.
Jeppe Hein's bubbling sculpture is just part of the redesign of Eierplatz. Its name is not an invention of a marketing agency, but the traditional name of the place where eggs were sold in the former fishing village. The city council had declared this place, lined with a modern shopping mile with cafés and shops, to be the center of "Monheim Mitte".
Associated with this was the task of enlivening this square. This includes the fountain and the "Playground Eierplatz Monheim" just a few meters from Mayor Zimmermann's wet feet - also a work of Jeppe Hein. Playground could simply be translated as a playground, but this adventure area has little in common with the mostly unsightly and outdated places with worn-out horizontal bars, squeaky swings and dirty sandpits.
Anyone familiar with Jeppe Hein's work will quickly recognize the signature of the internationally renowned artist in the "Eierplatz Playground". In recent years he has developed a repertoire of curious sculptures. At first glance, they are conventional park benches, but the conversions are difficult, for example if parts of the seat are left out or the feet are unequal in length. There are also street lamp sculptures whose poles are shaped as if a whirlwind had twisted and bent them.
They all have one thing in common: They arouse the impulse to immediately try out these impossible forms, to sit on the benches, to hang from the lanterns – even if one runs the risk of making oneself ridiculous.
Individual objects such as the fountains, the benches, which are officially called "modified social benches", and the lanterns can be seen in many places around the world. In Bonn, a fountain splashes in front of the Bundeskunsthalle, Hein's benches are in the Gräflicher Park in Bad Driburg - and were also on display at the 2019 Venice Biennale.
For the Monheim playground, Hein has expanded his program and combined it into an ensemble – he converted lampposts into swings and horizontal bars, benches into climbing frames and slides. The fact that this can be viewed as art is not an issue for the children. They simply take over the playground, push themselves up on the horizontal bar, dangle from the climbing frame - or frolic around on the well-padded green floor.
It didn't take a lot of persuasion to get Hein to design the square. The idea of designing a playground appealed to him, he says in an interview. With this playground, his idea that “art should touch” is now being put to the test on a larger scale. In general, his art is always about touching in the sense of sensing, feeling, breathing. He has the words “Breathe with me” tattooed on his right forearm. After a burnout many years ago, conscious breathing has become an essential part of his life and it leaves its mark on his work.
During the United Nations climate summit in 2019, he set up man-high screens in New York's Central Park. Passers-by were asked to draw a line from top to bottom with blue paint and breathe out consciously. This project was intended to draw attention to the fact that "the air we breathe is part of our common world," he said at the time.
He also carried this mission to Monheim when he carried out a painting campaign there with 100 children. But before the brushes were allowed to be dipped in the blue paint, one had to take a deep breath. Hein did it: Breathe in - breathe out - breathe in - breathe out - breathe in - breathe out.
For Jeppe Hein, blue is the color of breathing and concentration, while yellow, like in the playground, symbolizes sun and energy. Daniel Zimmermann can also have a say when it comes to energy. Since he was elected mayor 13 years ago with his youth party Peto and now has an absolute majority in the city council, he has been trying to make Monheim a model and feel-good community. The reduction in trade tax helped him in this regard. New companies settled, which enabled the city to offer kindergarten places free of charge, to lay fiber optic cables across the board and to have a self-driving city bus trundle through the old town.
But that's not all: the 40-year-old is now concerned with designing the new center of Monheim. His credo "The center should be a meeting place for all citizens" could be part of a Sunday speech. But the Monheim city administration markets the space itself. "It's not just about maximizing profits," says Zimmermann. That's why you take your time with the rental and rely on a mix of retail shops.
Jeppe Hein says he is impressed by how playful the city is with this place. Especially since his work is not a solitaire, but follows an art concept. The roundabouts on Rheinufer-Strasse were enlivened by expansive sculptures, such as Thomas Stricker's "Monheimer Geyser" and Inges Idea's "Haste Melodie" record player.
Of course, things can go wrong in Monheim, too, like Markus Lüpertz's "Leda", an awkward female figure who looks like a pastiche of the city mascot, the goose lilies. But fortunately, Jeppe Hein's Playground once again sets a positive tone.