The abandoned amusement park “Spreepark” in East Berlin will be open to visitors once again this April. The Soviet era site was abandoned in 2002 due to low visitor numbers. For years, the only way to visit this uncanny attraction would be to climb the fence and trespass, or hope to get a place on one of the rare tours. Now, as part of the multi-year re-opening process, guided tours of the forlorn amusement park will be offered every weekend in both English and German.
East Germany’s family fun-park
Anyone who lived in East Berlin after 1969 might have visited Spreepark – at the time, it was the city’s only permanent amusement park. Built to celebrate East Germany’s 20th anniversary, the park was originally named “Kulturpark Plänterwald”. Visitors could ride on the large ferris wheel, or explore the 30 hectares of park. Since they couldn’t visit anything outside of the Soviet zone, the park was one of the few leisure destinations for East Germans.
The park was so successful that in 1989 the ferris wheel was renovated and enlarged with some more carriages. However, the fall of the Berlin Wall in the same year and the overall fragmentation of the Soviet Union left the park in an awkward position. Why would people want to visit a small park in East Germany when they could now visit all the larger and fancier amusement parks in the West?
An entrepeneur named Norbert Witte bid for the park in 1991, with the promise of renovating the park. There was optimism about the new project: visitor numbers were expected to reach 1.5 million a year. More rides were added, and overall the park became more like a modern theme park. It was a promising start for the newly renamed Spreepark.
Unfortunately, the success did not last. Despite Witte’s investments, visitor numbers dropped massively by 2001. A lack of parking spaces for visitors was blamed. The owner fled abroad and the park was abandoned. Nobody would buy the site because of the debts that came with it.
For 20 years, nature took over the site. Old carnival rides were left to rust. The Ferris wheel creaked in the wind. Visitors were no longer welcome.
Spreepark for the future
The new plans are less ambitious than what Witte had in mind. The site was handed over to the state in 2014, and since then there have been extensive community engagement projects about how to transform the park.
There will be no new roller coasters and rides. The buzzwords used by the planners now are “Arts, Culture, Nature”, and they show a very different vision. There will be a focus on maintaining the heritage of the area, as well as promoting the natural surroundings of the park.
The ferris wheel will be taken apart, repaired, and reconstructed, and by 2026, the site will be cleaned and prepared for the public once again. The lack of parking spaces that doomed Spreepark in 2001 is no longer a problem. Future visitors might visit by public transport, bikes, e-scooters, or even boats.
For those who want to be enchanted by this bizarre slice of Berlin’s history, official guided tours will be offered from April onwards.