Archive for the ‘Ferris Wheel’ Category

How to enter Spreepark?

That never really was a question. I knew I would find my way into Germany’s most famous abandoned theme park, though I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to. When I first saw the sad leftovers of what once was Spreepark im Plänterwald on a sunny early Monday afternoon my heart sank a bit – all the horror stories about vandalism at famous abandoned places in Europe seemed to have come true at first sight, even from the outside. I just had arrived in Berlin to abysmal weather forecasts (rain, rain, rain and… rain), so I headed there immediately after I dropped some luggage at my freshly booked hotel – a mild disaster in comparison to what I am used to living in Japan. In Japan you go to the clearly labelled tourist information and you name your budget and the part of the city you are interested in. At Tegel Airport I first had to ask somebody if there was a tourist information at all and the first reaction I got there upon voicing my general request was „We charge three Euros for a hotel reservation!“ – I guess it’s needless to say that it’s a free of charge service in Japan. After not being asked, I tried to state my budget and the area of the city I was interested in, to which I had to deal with a rather rude „First I have to find out what’s available!“ Jawohl, mein Fräulein! Of course the hotel she found was 50% above my budget, which provoked her to the following snarky comment: „You can go to the city center and try to find a cheaper hotel on your own!“ After booking, the tourist information “lady” tried to send me on my way with the hotel’s address printed on top of a legal document 5 pages long, but without a map or information about how to get to the damn city center. Gosh, you gotta love Berlin… (It turned out that the hotel was not only over the price I had in mind, but it was also overpriced. Breakfast was 10 EUR extra per day, WiFi in the room an additional 5 EUR, the room had no fridge or complimentary toiletries like a toothbrush, and the bed was about half as wide of what I am used to from Japan – where I pay about half as much per night, but including all of the above!) If you think I sometimes rant too much about Japan, don’t get me started about Germany! 😉

Well, there I was, finally, at the Spreepark, just 15 minutes on foot away from the S-Bahn station Plänterwald, named after the city forest of the same name. The park opened in 1969 as the only amusement park in the German Democratic Republic a.k.a. East Germany. Called Kulturpark Plänterwald (cultural park Plänterwald) back then, it was privatized and renamed in 1991, one year after Germany’s reunification. Originally a pay as you go amusement park, the concept was changed in 90s as the Spreepark Berlin GmbH under owner Norbert Witte added more and more attractions – nevertheless visitor numbers dropped from 1.5 million per year to 400.000 per year, followed by the bankruptcy of the GmbH in 2001. In early 2002, Witte, his family and some employees made authorities believe that they would ship 6 attractions to repair, instead they sent them to Lima, Peru, where they opened a new theme park called Lunapark – later Witte and his son were convicted for trying to smuggle 167 kilograms of drugs upon returning back to Germany. The gutted park itself closed for the public in 2002 and became a famous spot for urban explorers, despite round the clock security. Taking advantage of that huge interest, a company offered official photo tours from August 2009 on, a café called Mythos opened in April 2011 on the weekends and from Mai 2011 on the park’s train Santa Fe Express became its first official active attraction again – and Spreepark turned into a zombie amusement park; looking (and probably smelling) dead, but being somewhat alive…
In early 2014 the city took over and I was told that for the first time in 12 years there were neither security nor official tours – and by coincidence I went to Berlin anyway, so I had a look myself. Remains of the park can be found as far as 500 meters away from the entrance, where I saw a huge ad box for the park, promoting raffles for free tickets. From there a path lead through the forest to the main entrance, damaged lamp posts from the GDR era on both sides of the way. Upon arrival the first thing I saw was a parked car right inside the gates, so I assumed somebody was on the premises, which made me have a look around first. A couple of minutes later I found several spots to enter Spreepark comfortably, but at the same time the sun was gone and it began to rain… heavily… at least for a while – the forecast was right after all. I took shelter in a little hut right next to the Spree and when the sun came out again I continued to circle Spreepark in full, amazed that the fence had more holes than Swiss cheese! On the way I saw several vandalized signs, a vandalized wooden kiosk and a locked up, fenced off and slightly vandalized restaurant for day-trippers called “Zum Eierhäuschen” (The Egg House), dating back to the 19th century and made famous by Theodor Fontane’s novel Der Stechlin.
Upon getting closer to the main entrance again, I finally saw the park’s landmark, a Ferris wheel 45 meters high – and to my surprise it was moving! I took a quick video, when I saw some people inside of the park, walking towards one of the gates… Half a dozen left, one stayed behind, so I talked to the guy and asked him when the next tour would start – it turned out that he wasn’t a tour guide, but security. Damn! He also told me that he kicks everybody out straight away and calls the police when he sees somebody twice – and that I was notice. Damn! And the Ferris wheel wasn’t running, it was moved by the wind… damn! Not my day…
Well, after a dozen years of vandalism and removing attraction, Spreepark was a rundown piece of crap anyway – and after 5 years of official tours and thousands of people entering illegally, there was no way I could have taken a photo inside you haven’t seen a million times on the internet anyway. So I decided to stay outside, taking some pictures from there – not spectacular ones, but new ones, stuff you probably haven’t seen yet; and to enjoy the atmosphere there for another hour or two. Minutes later I talked to a group of British students on a school trip to Berlin, who were eager to enter, but couldn’t decide whether or not to risk it. Then I went back to the Ferris wheel to have another look, when all of a sudden I saw a guy inside running like crazy, followed by a police car outside. The guy was able to hide and the police car left without catching him, but to me this was great – I am not used to that doing urbex in Japan, it’s a lot more mellow here! I headed back to the main entrance, when I saw two young women inside, just carelessly walking around, obviously not the slightest worried about security or the police – an attitude I saw repeatedly on two more locations the following day; people in Berlin don’t seem to have a sense of guilt whatsoever, their level of entitlement was amazing to see – though I guess some of them get crushed at the police station… 🙂 Despite that, I still had no urge to get inside and take some photos – again, there was close to nothing for me to gain. One big element of urbex is risk assessment. Spreepark is photographed to death and I have been to much better abandoned amusement parks in the past. *Nara Dreamland* for example – I was willing to take the risk to go there five years ago, when it was virtually unknown. Now it’s a vandalized piece of garbage much like Spreepark, and I pity the fools who nowadays risk getting caught by security and the Japanese police. At the same time I don’t mind taking a risk if it’s worth it – just three days ago I explored an abandoned capsule hotel right across the street from a police station, because it’s a unique location and I was able to take some amazing photos that no one has ever taken before; *click here for a first impression on Facebook*.
Anyway, I sat down on a bench, looking through the photos on my camera, when I was approached by an older man. We talked for a while and it turned out that he lived in the area for like 40 years and knew all about the park and its history, not happy with the current situation. He confirmed that the Ferris wheel hasn’t been used in a while and that it is actually very dangerous to get close to it as the authorities are worried that the whole thing might fall over as the foundations are completely rotten and a very strong wind could bring it down.

Wow, this visit really had it all – security, police, neighbors, wannabe explorers, risk takers; and me enjoying the atmosphere.
About four weeks later Spreepark made national news when four men started two fires that destroyed parts of the park. The city’s reaction? Increased security, a new fence all around the park… and new photo tours, probably starting in 2015.

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I love abandoned amusement parks. Who doesn’t? There is nothing like a deserted merry-go-round, a brittle jungle gym or a rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint.
Japan’s most famous rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint is the very iconic one at the Kejonuma Leisure Land – a lot of urbex photographers actually give the impression that there is nothing else left of Kejonuma Leisure Land, yet there is so much more to see!
When *Mike* suggested the *road trip to Tohoku* a while ago, I realized that the leisure land would be on our way north, and a perfect opportunity to break up the long drive on the first day. Luckily both Mike and *Ben* agreed – and so we reached our first location after about 6 hours on the road…

Kejonuma Leisure Land was opened in 1979 as Kejonuma Hojou Land (writer’s note: hojou means recreation) and had up to 200.000 visitors per year, which is quite an impressive number for a not so densely populated area like Tohoku. It seems like KLL was a pay as you go amusement park, featuring not only the rather famous Ferris wheel, but in addition to that a lot more attractions, like a go-kart track, a merry-go-round, “coffee cups”, trampolines, a huge jungle gym, a driving range, a six hole golf course, an indoor gateball venue and a Fuji Heavy Industries FA-200 airplane on a hydraulics stand! It even offered three different kinds of accommodations in form of a campsite, about a dozen small huts and a hotel – plus a small amphitheater for concerts and probably theater productions.
In 2000 the park was closed, but somewhat maintained, as the owner still kept an interest in his property. In fact he started to drill for hot water in 2003 and actually succeeded, paving the way for an onsen hotel or even resort. I found a flyer for a Kejonuma Park Hotel, which mentions the golf facilities and the hot springs, but none of the amusement park rides, so there is a good chance that the hotel was expanded and open for business for quite a few years after the theme park closed. (On advertising bags that still mention the KLL, the hotel was called Kejonuma Tourist Hotel…)
Although technically not abandoned, Kejonuma Leisure Land is mostly overgrown now and partly inaccessible depending on the season. Despite that, the owner of the land and everything on it is known for granting access permission to photographers and film crews, with the result that KLL is on national TV every once in a while. If you enter the premises without said permission though… be prepared to face the consequences!

Ben, Mike and I arrived at Kejonuma Leisure Land at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a mostly sunny day – and it was just beautiful to shoot. Like I said, most urban explorers associate “Ferris wheel” when thinking of KLL, but the place has so much more to offer – especially the derailed mini train named Fairyland Pegasas (sic!) kept me coming back time and again. The Ferris wheel itself totally lived up to its reputation and I could have easily spent an hour just shooting that one attraction. But the clock of course kept on ticking and there was plenty to see. My favorite discovery I made on the metal steps of the rusty trampoline framework – a lizard enjoying the afternoon sun. It even didn’t mind that I took a couple of photos…
From the amusement park area we moved up to a dozen small abandoned huts with blue roofs and from there to the driving range. I never played golf, so I was surprised to see the dozens of tee machines with Taito labels, “heso roboα“ (へそロボα). If you are into video games, you might remember Taito for classics like Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt or Bubble Bobble. It turns out that the company started in 1953, producing vending machines and jukeboxes, yet neither the English nor the Japanese Wikipedia page mentions golf equipment; nevertheless the heso robo (heso = navel or center) seems to be a staple at Japanese driving ranges.
The rest of the exploration was a little bit rushed again – the sun was setting and we were running out of light. Plane outside, through the auditorium, a quick look at the very tempting looking Kejonuma Park Hotel before heading back to the main area for a quick walkthrough video and some final photos.

When adding the Kejonuma Leisure Land to our itinerary I had quite high expectations, but I didn’t expect the close to perfect exploration I actually experienced. *Nara Dreamland’s* little cousin turned out to be everything I was hoping for, plus a little extra. A safe outdoor exploration of an abandoned amusement park on a lovely spring day with a beautiful sunset… that’s as good as it gets!

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Urban exploration in China is something I thought I would never do – and actually only did by chance. In October of 2013 I was on my way to a second trip to North Korea; not *Pyongyang and the southern parts* again, but North Hamgyong province and the Special City Rason in the north of the DPRK. To reach those areas you don’t fly into Pyongyang via Beijing, but you enter and exit by land. Meeting point for those trips is the Chinese city Yanji, an up and coming 400.000 people town quite close to Russia and less than an hour away from the North Korean border. The tour to Korea ended on a Monday evening… and since Korean Air doesn’t offer any flights on Tuesdays I was stuck in Yanji for a whole day. My buddy Nikolai, who spent a couple of months learning Korean in this town without any tourist attractions at all, told me about a half-abandoned amusement park in the city center. “Half-abandoned” sounded like a dying amusement park to me, one with fewer visitors than necessary, one that is supposed to close soon. Little did I know that he meant an amusement park where literally half of the attractions were abandoned. And that’s not even the weirdest thing about it!

The People’s Park (人民公園) in Yanji looks like a normal public park when entering from the south – a big pond full of water plants, a couple of peddlers selling food and plastic toys, some sculptures (including tasteful nudes), a few benches, and senior citizens playing games at tables. After a couple of minutes you’ll reach animal cages and stalls filled with all kind of more or less exotic animals… as the People’s Park features a free public zoo. But that’s not all! Right where the zoo ends is a small dump area with a couple of abandoned seats, small stands and parts of carnival rides – and at first I thought that was what Nikolai meant when talking about the half-abandoned park. Boy, was I wrong!

Within earshot of the rusty remains I spotted small Ferris wheel, blasting some music into the silence of this sunny Tuesday noon. Customers? None. Potential customers? Only a few more.
The (not so) big wheel was surrounded by 15 to 20 other carnival rides. Two or three of them were also open and running, half a dozen others looked more or less well maintained – and the rest of them were actually abandoned, except for the single demolished one; paint flaking off, weeds growing through a mini roller coaster, seats weathering, concrete crumbling.
This place was so friggin weird! It looked like an abandoned pay-as-you-go amusement park, but it wasn’t, because every other minute you would run into some sweethearts looking for entertainment, and there was music playing in the background all the time; some of it being karaoke sung by a few senior citizens further up the hill. It was so creepy and bizarre – and calming yet very exciting at the same time! Usually I have to sneak around and jump some fences, especially when exploring abandoned theme parks… but not this time! Relaxed I made my way from attraction to attraction and took pictures of whatever I wanted at my own speed, not worrying about anything. When I thought it couldn’t get any better (except for being there on a misty day!) I hit the weirdo jackpot!
I’ve seen a haunted house or two in my lifetime, but none with a naked female torso breaking through the wall on the upper floor, a big hand trying to hold her back, partly covering one boob – next to a monstrous mutant face. But that’s not all! To the left and mid-air was a nude couple (male and female) in a grotesque pose, attacked by two gigantic green snakes – the guy’s face full of panic, the girl’s face barely visible, but clearly in agony, one of the snakes biting into her left shoulder and half of the exposed torso.
The back of the abandoned haunted house wasn’t a tiny bit less bizarre and probably my favorite area in the whole park. There I found a couple of concrete or gypsum animals lying on the ground and standing around, the greyish material spalling off in huge chunks, revealing steel wires underneath. Next to a path nearby was a huge Buddha statue rotting away, made of a Styrofoam looking material – accompanied by the concrete statue of a naked Chinese fairy, right in front of a white rabbit with red eyes carrying a gigantic mushroom… which at this point I felt I must have smoked earlier!

The *second abandoned Japanese sex museum* meets *Nara Dreamland*… with no security standards whatsoever. One of the remaining running rides was a monorail through half of the park. It’s height? About two meters – and no protection at all. I was able to touch the rail at any time and even smaller people carelessly stretching could get hurt seriously by one of the monowheel looking cars. Trash, broken glass and mirrors, rusty metal, brittle animal figures – everything was scattered in the woods around the park and nobody seemed to care about it.
The carnival section of the People’s Park in Yanji was one long bizarre exploration and one of my favorite abandoned amusement parks overall. Deserted theme parks are generally creepy, but the fact that this one was only half-abandoned took it to a whole new level!

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Abandoned ferris wheels usually come with abandoned theme parks. But when I visited *Expoland* in Osaka the ferris wheel was just demolished. And so were the giant wheels in all the other *abandoned amusement parks* I visited – except for the *big wheel in Pripyat* – which was actually pretty small… So usually the ferris wheel is one of the first things to be demolished when an amusement park closes – to be re-built at another park or to be sold for scrap metal. Not in the case of Igosu 108…
You might have seen photos of this abandoned ferris wheel at other blogs and you might ask yourself “Why is Florian calling the ferris wheel ‘Igosu 108’ – it says びわ湖タワー (Biwako Tower) in huge letters right in the middle of the thing and everybody calls it that way when writing about it?!”. Well, my Japanese might not be the best, but just because something is written somewhere doesn’t mean it’s the name of the place. And in this case it isn’t. The name of the ferris wheel is Igosu 108 – the name of the surrounding amusement park, now mostly gone, was Biwako Tower. To be more precise: The name of an observation tower, now gone, was Biwako Tower. This tower was 63.5 meters high and had a rotating observation platform that went up and down to give visitors a spectacular view across Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. Biwako Tower was built in 1965 and extended to an amusement park in 1967. In addition to the observation platform there was a small ferris wheel, a rollercoaster, a pachinko parlor, water bumper car and several other small rides. But that’s not all! Biwako Tower also included an onsen (hot spring / spa) and a wedding hall – plus the usual array of restaurants, shops and stuff like that. Thanks to free parking and no entrance fee Biwako Tower was hugely successful and attracted up to 50.000 people a day!
In 1992 the last attraction was built – now the last one standing: Igosu 108 (イーゴス108). I can’t say for sure, but I guess the name is a combination of sugoi (すごい, meaning “great”) backward and 108 – the height of the ferris wheel, at the time the largest ferris wheel in the world. It was soon considered a landmark of Shiga prefecture and Lake Biwa, but couldn’t stop the downfall of Biwako Tower. Speaking of which: Since the ferris wheel was higher than the name-giving attraction Biwako Tower was transformer into a bungee jumping platform.
On August 31st of 2001 Biwako Tower finally closed its doors – just half a year after Universal Studios Japan opened in Osaka. Most of Biwako Tower was demolished in late 2003 / early 2004 with the exception of Igosu 108. Some small attractions survived partly (like a fortune teller booth, Fantasy Land and Bumper Boat), but the rest was transformed into big supermarkets and other stores, their parking lot replacing the pachinko parlor. Two sources claim that Igosu 108 still has an owner who announced in 2007 that the ferris wheel will re-open in 2008, but that never happened. According to them an operator puts Igosu 108 into motion once a month to make sure that everything is still working.
Having visited what’s left of Biwako Tower in December of 2010 (together with Damon and Andrew right after leaving the *Love Hotel Gion*) I kinda doubt that claim. While the outer part is easy to access Igosu 108 is protected by a typical Japanese orange site fence. The noisy kind that doesn’t have a door to let people in and out easily. I didn’t have a closer look at the controls of the ferris wheel, but the whole place looked quite rusty and run-down. To reactivate Igosu 108 you would need way more than just a bucket of paint and a “Reopened!” sign…
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Addendum 2013-11-28: Igosu 108 was dismantled in autumn of 2013…

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