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Germany can do theme parks too

This week I’ve been in Europa Park, Germany’s biggest theme park and the park that has won the Golden Ticket Awards, the major award for all theme parks all over the world.

Like most things in Germany, it is well put together, both technically and with humour and attention to detail. Besides all the rides, I particularly liked the shows, which retain a lot of traditional showtime performance skills. And unlike the big corporate theme parks, such as Disney and Universal, with the whole movie world behind them, Europa Park is the brainchild of one family, the Macks. The fact that it has grown so big (equivalent to Disneyland Paris) is a tribute to their endeavour, and to their sensible pricing: a visit here will be around half the cost of Disneyland Paris.

The Macks, who also make rides for other theme parks (it’s how they started out), are innovating. I tried out their new digital headset on the Alpine Express, one of their earliest rollercoasters. You can either ride it au naturel, in its original form, or you can put on the headset and immerse yourself in an animated world, crashing through a variety of landscapes on a runaway cart, leaping voids and landing on the back of dragons. The movement on screen of course matches the movement of the coaster.

Although the cartoon animation was not quite my thing, I could admire the thinking. It is far easier and cheaper to come up with some new on-screen imagery than to replace an ageing rollercoaster with something completely new. The cartoon Alpine Express may have been a bit juvenile for me, but it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a more adult concept. In fact, if you developed this idea, you could ride the same rollercoaster in multiple different ways, round and round again.

In theory, this should be great for repeat business, and in terms of investment it makes sense, but in the end people come to theme parks for the hard, not the virtual, reality. There were plenty of queues for Europa Park’s rollercoasters, but not at the Alpine Express.

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