By Marriette Rough
If you are wandering along the River Spree, in Treptower Park, you may well see amidst the trees a fairground. One long since abandoned to the elements. A fairground with a story right out of a Hollywood film.
Originally opened as ‘Kulturpark Plänterwald’ in 1969, on the 20th Anniversary of the GDR. It was the only permanent fairground in the East Germany and the only one in either East or West Berlin. It was hugely popular, host to over 1.5 million visitors a year in it’s peak. And it was a property the GDR was very proud to show off, especially with it’s 40 metre Ferris Wheel – which is what you would be seeing amidst the afore mentioned tree tops.
After the fall of the wall, when the GDR was no longer able to pick up the tab for the Kulturpark, it was put up for sale. It could no longer compete with the more state of the art fairgrounds located over in the former west. In 1991 it was sold to a private investor called Norbert Witte and it became the Spreepark. Witte was a man with an already chequered history. Ten years earlier he had owned a fairground in Hamburg, host to one of the most prolific fairground accidents in German history. A carousel crashed into a crane, killing seven people and injuring many more.
Witte and his wife Pia believed they could bring back the visitors to East Germany’s favourite theme park. The numbers never really recovered and in 2001 they filed for bankruptcy, revealing a debt of €15 Million not too mention multiple rides badly in need of repair.
Here’s where it gets a little weird. In 2002 Witte has the hair-brained idea to pack up their six most popular rides and jump ship to Lima, Peru. It turns out Lima wasn’t really in the such dire need for a Spreepark and the debts multiplied. In 2004 they brought all their rides back to Germany. Unfortunately for Witte their extra baggage, 167kg of cocaine to be exact – stored within The Flying Carpet ride, did not go noticed. Norman Witte was imprisoned in Germany for just four years, whilst his son got the much harsher sentence of 20 years in a Peruvian jail. Which I am sure is no walk in the Spreepark.
In 2014 the council bought back the site for €2 Million and erected a fence to protect it. Build a fence and people will inevitably want to climb it. Especially in Berlin. So for years it has attracted urban explorers from around the world. Wandering at night through past the swan shaped gondolas and amongst the graveyard of fallen dinosaurs, certainly has it’s appeal. Especially if you add in the excitement of having to avoid the security guards. The lease originally given to Witte in 1989 stipulated that the land must remain in use as an recreational park until 2061, so hopefully it’s future will have a Ferris Wheel’ed shape. Plans are in motion to develop it the park properly, but for the moment guided tours of the area surrounding the park are given.
Spreepark, like most places in Berlin, has a rich and unusual history. If this tale of dinosaurs, cocaine and fairground ride’s has sparked your interest, you can watch the Peter Dörfler Documentary ‘Achterbahn’, featuring the real life Witte family. Or you can try and sneak in yourself…