It all began on 15th June 1969 with two jugs of wine, a bag of sausages and a grill. Two men walked by and asked: “What is this?”. Bruno replied: “It’s a restaurant”, and Ai Pioppi was born. Located in Nervesa della Battaglia in the north east of Italy, the family run restaurant still operates to this day, over 45 years later. But this is not just a restaurant…
Bruno Ferrin, born in 1937, was working early morning, selling baker’s yeast. Having quite a lot of spare time during the afternoon, he decided with his wife Marisa Zaghis to build a shack in the woods, using metal sheets. For the initial opening, he prepared some wooden tables and started to sell wine, sausages and grilled meat. He hung the food on a tree and set the grill under it. However, he needed some hooks from which he could hang the food. He approached the local blacksmith. Unfortunately, the blacksmith didn’t have the time to help him. Instead he showed Bruno the welding torch and said he could use this to build the hooks himself. Through this chance encounter, he discovered a passion for metalwork, the pleasure of building things of his own creation.
As a way to attract more customers, Bruno began to build rides by hand to attract families and provide a memorable experience for the kids who would, in turn, encourage their parents to return. After he constructed the first swing, his dreams became more ambitious and over time and on his own he built slides, seesaws, gyroscopes and roller coasters.
Some of the rides are more modest, as they are produced in his own workshop with recycled materials, whilst for larger ones he has used the services of an engineering firm. For these, he purchases new materials and welds the rides together in a carpentry workshop. His inspiration comes from observing the nature: a stone rolling or a leaf falling become an idea for a new ride. His ideas are then checked for feasibility and security (by an engineering firm) before building starts.
Today, Ai Pioppi has a big tavern on the ground floor with many seats available, a large restaurant on the first floor and a playground available just for the tavern and restaurant’s customers free of charge (the only requirement is that food is purchased and consumed from Ai Pioppi).
The Playground currently has about fifty non-motorized attractions spread over 30,000 square meters (3/4 acre) of land and the park’s plants were all sown by Bruno as well. With the exception of one ride, all the remaining ones are completely mechanical: they don’t need engine or electricity, but just the strength of the legs and the arms of the visitors (both children and adults) who use them. Human strength and force of gravity move weights, counterweights, racks, pulleys, pinions and cables. So the rides have 0% environmental impact and ensure 100% fun, while the electricity bill doesn’t exceed €90 per year!
Obviously, this is a different type of fun: at Disneyworld in Orlando or at Gardaland in Italy, you pay a ticket, sit and go. Everything is passive. While at Bruno’s amusement park, you need to work hard and sweat to enjoy: you have fun by doing exercise and respecting the environment.
This is an example of a sustainable innovation coming from the civil society. Bruno has shown that nature is not a resource to drain, but something to listen to and be inspired by, in the hope of a world where the logic of growth and profit can coexist with human beings’ and environmental needs.