Top theme parks
No Hollywood imports here; the big-hitters are all home grown.
A nation which is naturally good at making things doesn’t just restrict itself to cars and household appliances; it prefers its theme parks to be homegrown, rather than imported from the likes of the USA.
The two biggest names are Phantasialand in Brühl, south of Cologne, and Europa-Park in Rust, down by the Black Forest. Both are all-singing, all-dancing, theme park resorts, with a choice of on-site hotels and a day ticket price of around €39, and open between April and October. Europa-Park also has a winter season which starts at the end of November and runs until the beginning of January.
As Europa-Park’s name suggests, the park’s 95 hectares round up the iconic buildings and distinctive features of 14 European countries, some of which are turned into rides (as pictured above). The England zone, for example, has a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe, crazy London taxis (effectively dodgems) and a hovering London bus. A recent addition is the spectacular wooden rollercoaster ‘WODAN -Timburcoaster’ located in the Icelandic-themed area. Greece offers a journey through antiquity with its Poseidon water ride. In France, Silver Star and Eurosat await all brave rollercoaster fans, while visitors can speed round bends on the Swiss Matterhorn-Blitz next door. Overall it’s an ambitious, thoughtful creation, with over 100 attractions and shows, sufficiently varied to merit a couple of days.
Phantasialand, on the other hand, draws its inspiration from more exotic destinations such as China and Mexico, and it prefers the Indiana Jones vision of the world, where exotic places are full of (sometimes threatening) surprises. The shows – dancing, acrobatics, laser shows, comedy etc – are particularly good, and it too is worth an overnight stay. Both are suitable for all age groups.
The nation’s smaller parks tend also to be more specialised, and priced at around €20 for a day. Thus, for example, Filmpark Babelsberg in Potsdam, west of Berlin, has taken its film studio origins to a logical conclusion, introducing stunt shows, action cinema, be-a-newsreader recordings and recreations of famous scenes and sets, usually from German films. This year Potsdam as a whole is celebrating its 100th year in the film business, with a host of special events.
Further north, the Hansapark by Lübeck is using the history of the Hanseatic League as its backdrop, creating settings from Hanseatic trading towns such as Lübeck itself, Gdansk, Rostock and Bruges. It also has theme park staple adventure worlds like the Wild West, Mayan temples and log flume rides.
Hansapark’s main competition, the Heide Park at Soltau, south of Hamburg, is less thematically organised and more focused on out-and-out fast rollercoasters and manifold rides of various speeds and degrees of wetness. Its day ticket is accordingly a bit more expensive at €37.
If you prefer your family outings to be more educational, Germany has plenty of science-based attractions, particularly Phaeno in the car-making city of Wolfsburg (which also has VW’s car-themed leisure park Autostadt) and Bremen’s Universum which has sections on the themes of mankind, earth and cosmos as well as experiments on wind and weather.
And finally, right down south (for most of the above theme parks are in the northern half of Germany) there’s Ravensburger Spieleland at Liebenau near Lake Constanz. This theme park is based on the creations of the Ravensburger group, famous for the production of jigsaws, puzzles and games, along with additional cartoon characters like Captain Blaubär. It is clearly aimed at a younger age group, but there are still enough rides and outdoor climbing activities in this extensive park to wear out the whole family by the end of the day.