Spreepark, August 2012

No interesting travel at the moment, so it's time for something closer to home.

Spreepark Logo

We had a sort of 'company trip' (or at least the department I am working in) and while that was essentially a barbeque, we had a bit of a warm-up attraction that turned out to be interesting.

There's an abandoned amusement park in Berlin. And they are doing guided tours.

I had been aware that the place existed (obviously, it's hard not to notice an amusement park with a big Ferris Wheel), I had seen it on a sightseeing flight and I had seen pictures of overgrown attractions on some web sites, but I didn't pay much attention to it.

So most of the stuff I thought I knew turned out to be wrong. I had recalled that it had existed as an amusement park when the wall came down and assumed that it just hadn't been commercially successful afterwards and closed down soon afterwards.


While it had been a sort of an amusement park in East Berlin, almost the only thing that still dates from that time is the big Ferris Wheel. And the reason why nothing else is left was somewhat unexpected - technically it never had been an amusement park, but more like a fun fair that didn't move. The difference being (mainly) that an amusement park is operated by one company, while on a fun fair, every attraction (usually) has another owner.

And after the wall came down, the place was taken over by one family and the others took their attractions elsewhere. And then an amusement park was built, so all the attractions (except for the Ferris Wheel) came later. So it wasn't some old attraction that "didn't make the transition" - most of it was built in the 90's.

But then some strange political power plays started - some parts of the administration in Berlin supported the place, while others seemed intent on blocking it. So suddenly parts of the park were declared a protected ecological area, access to the park was reduced and, probably worst of all for an attraction like this, no parking places could be provided.

Of course, being political, it's very difficult to figure out what was actually going on (and conspiracy theories abound), but the effect was that the place went bankrupt. And the large attractions (that couldn't be moved and used elsewhere) started to vanish under the vegetation, only to be seen and photographed by people who climbed the fences. (And a couple of movies were shot there. As it is an unusual location, unused and fenced off, it is well suited for things like that.)

But now there are official guided tours, so the place can be visited again legally.

And we got (accidentally) a bit of a special treatment.

Usually the tours are done by an enthusiast, who is also providing the park web site.

But for some scheduling reason, our tour was given by Sabrina Witte. Her family did take a long term lease on of the park area and operated the amusement park (or maybe they still have a lease - some legal issues are unresolved). So the whole story was more from a personal viewpoint than expected. Especially since her father had become a 'famous criminal' later on. The 'criminal' part of that is fairly undisputed, but there was a lot of lurid coverage in the sensationalist press, which made him a bit of a household name in Berlin.

This made things a bit awkward at first, since there were some rather tasteless references to this among our group, before it turned out that our guide was his daughter.

I'm not going into any background details of the story here (there's a documentary feature about the whole thing, which presumably covers it pretty well), but will just stick with describing the place itself.

As everything else, the entrance area has been quite unused for a while.

Spreepark Entrance Spreepark Entrance

And the guide to the attractions is pretty outdated these days.

Spreepark Map

Some of the prehistoric animals (such as the mammoth, the brontosaurus and a triceratops) had been moved to the entrance area, to provide some attractions there.

Spreepark Mammoth Spreepark Mammoth Spreepark Brontosaur Spreepark Brontosaur

There's a reason for moving some of the stuff around. While the park remains closed as an amusement park, the entrance area is open on summer weekends as an open-air cafe, so the animal sculptures and other things from the park provide some ambience.

There is also one attraction operating again. There used to be a miniature train running around the park and that has been re-activated. It's also one of the few things that still can be used. The park has been cut off from the power grid, so none of the big attractions can be used. And since the power has not only been cut off, but the whole power line leading to the park has been removed, it's unlikely that it will ever be restored. So electricity has to be provided by power generators - sufficient for a cafe or a carousel, but impossible for a rollercoaster. But the miniature train runs on fuel, so it can still be operated.

Spreepark Miniature Train

Even though the tracks sometime look a bit deserted.

Spreepark Train Tracks Spreepark Train Tracks

The biggest of the remaining attractions is the 'Grand Canyon' water ride. (There also used to be a very large rollercoaster with four loopings, but that was sold, basically for scrap metal value, after the park closed, so nothing but some anchor points remain.) While the whole ride looks like it's ready for the junkyard, most of the damage is superficial.

Spreepark water ride Spreepark water ride Spreepark water ride boats Spreepark water ride boats
Spreepark water ride Spreepark water ride Spreepark water ride Spreepark water ride
Spreepark water ride main control

The underlying structure is still sound and even though most of the control units have been damaged; the heavy machinery (i.e. the pumps) is still useable. So after draining most of the (artificial) lake, getting the algae and other plants out, putting in fresh water, giving the whole place a few new coats of paints, the pumps some general overhaul and putting in some new control switches, the attraction could be working again - provided there would be electrical power available.

Spreepark former foods stand Spreepark scenery Spreepark scenery Spreepark scenery

Another big attraction that is still standing is the 'Spreeblitz' rollercoaster, which, for some reason, runs through the mouth of a large psychedelic cat.

Spreepark Rollercoaster Cat Spreepark Rollercoaster Cat backside Spreepark Rollercoaster track Spreepark Rollercoaster Graffiti
Spreepark Rollercoaster train Spreepark Rollercoaster train Spreepark Rollercoaster wheels Spreepark Rollercoaster wheels
Spreepark Rollercoaster wheels Spreepark Rollercoaster w Spreepark Rollercoaster technology Spreepark Rollercoaster Graffiti

From all over the area there were glimpses of the large Ferris Wheel.

Spreepark Swans and Ferris Wheel Spreepark Swans and Ferris Wheel Spreepark Swans and Ferris Wheel

The swans were part of another water ride nearby, but are (mostly) stored on solid ground now (though there are two in the water close to the Ferris Wheel as well). I didn't notice it at first (and I don't think that it was originally painted that way), but one of the swans (on the third picture above) has the instructions for folding an origami swan on its neck.

Spreepark Swans in Storage

Next to the swans are also some more dinosaurs - these have not been moved to the entrance area due to damage. Two of them have their heads cut off and the Tyrannosaurus is missing one leg.

Spreepark Dinosaurs Spreepark Dinosaurs Spreepark Dinosaurs Spreepark Dinosaurs Spreepark Dinosaurs

If you ever wondered what the inside of a dinosaur looks like, here are two images. The second shows the inside of the head, with the tongue clearly visible.

Spreepark Tyrannosaurus interior Spreepark Tyrannosaurus interior

As with any place that has been abandoned for some time, there is lots of graffiti around.

Spreepark graffiti Spreepark graffiti Spreepark graffiti

The 'Grand Canyon' and the 'Swan Ride' weren't the only water rides in the park. Another one was built, but as far as I can tell, it was never completed.

Spreepark unfinished water ride Spreepark unfinished water ride Spreepark unfinished water ride Spreepark unfinished water ride

There was also an 'Old-English Town' around a show stage. But the town doesn't look 'Old-English' at all, since it was re-painted for more of a fairy-tale look for a movie shoot.

Spreepark old-english town Spreepark show stage

Next stop was the most visible attraction of the park, the Ferris Wheel.

Spreepark Ferris Wheel

It was located in the center of a lake and a boat ride was going around it, so the path to the wheel was via some slightly rotten looking wooden paths. While the boat ride around the Ferris Wheel didn't originally use the swan boats, but slightly more ordinary looking boats, two of the swan boats are floating here. So far, they didn't attract any real swans, but a couple of ducks feel quite at home around them.

Spreepark wooden walkways Spreepark wooden walkways Spreepark swan boat Spreepark duck

On the way to the Ferris Wheel, there's also a (quite rotten) pirate ship, which was used for stunt shows. The stunt show was operated by people from the Stuntcrew Babelsberg. Which I found interesting, since I had attended a stunt training weekend by people from that crew, so it might be possible that someone teaching at that event was also working here at the park once.

Spreepark pirate ship Spreepark pirate ship

While the wheel is, of course, not operational, it is quite surprising how easy it is to move. A single person can just push on the rim and turn the whole (42 meter diameter) wheel.

Spreepark Ferris Wheel Spreepark Ferris Wheel Spreepark Ferris Wheel Spreepark Ferris Wheel
Spreepark Ferris Wheel control room Spreepark Ferris Wheel Spreepark Ferris Wheel

Another attraction that is mostly gone now is the Kentucky-Ride, a ride for kids. Almost all of the horses have been stolen, so there is now only a sole black horse left.

Spreepark Horse Ride Spreepark Horse Ride

And then we were back at the starting point and it was time to head for the barbeque. But the tour of the Spreepark was unexpectedly interesting and turned out to be a bigger attraction than the barbeque that followed.

Spreepark Carousel Detail

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