“In GDR, you amused park…,” I always laughed to myself. The reason I’d never been inside had nothing to do with my repressed fear of all things clown, circus, carny or even county fair. No. And neither did the idea of an abandoned Communist-built amusement park completely horrify me. Nope.
“There were no ghosts,” I told myself.
(Below is a video mash-up of early March sunrises in Treptower park, mixed with images of the abandoned fun park, Spreepark, some of which I posted here)
Actually, from outside the park didn’t look like much–a few broken rides on one end, the ferris wheel, and then a big octagonal tent thing at the other is all you can really see. Stumbling inside that first time, I was blown away. I found a beautiful mysterious world, an overgrown fun park as one might imagine, much larger than it looked from outside. An it was a frozen, clear and crisp day. And doing a bit of research, I found out it wasn’t even really a Communist ruin anyway. So I lost my fear of the place. I wanted pictures of the Ferris wheel, I might even climb up the sucker. So a few mornings later, I returned.
Yes, the fun park was opened back in 1969 by the GDR as the Kulturpark Planterswald, and you might think that would be right up my GDR fetish avenue, but the fact is, having done a bit of research, almost none of the park is the way it was before the Wall fell. Rather than a Communist one, it is actually a Capitalist ruin.
Back in the day, the park was an asphalted lot with a collection of rides set up. Like a county fair, but permanent. Typical socialist…they even had to wait in lines.
It was only after 1989 and after the old commie park was sold to the highest bidder that the new owners remodeled along capital imperialist amusement park standards, the most obvious change that the rides were built into the landscape and the park took on its current form. Not even the Ferris wheel is original, the proletariat revolutionary Ferris wheel was replaced in 1992, of course, with a larger Bourgeoisie reactionary Ferris wheel.
And no longer did you have to wait in the socialist lines! (Because the park was empty.)
Actually the year I first moved to Berlin, 2002, was the year the park was closed after the company running the park went bankrupt. Back then it wasn’t a ruin…they were talking about reopening it any day now. That, of course, never happened. Twenty new shopping malls in Berlin, but no one wants an amusement park. We have Iphones…we are amused enough.
And at this point, ten years later, the park looks a bit different.
First there is the overgrowth and erosion and weather damage, the nature reclaimed fairy tale landscape of the fun park, in the middle of one of Berlin’s largest parks, and on the river Spree no less, with all its birds and ducks and wildlife and whatever other fauna have you. Vines hang from rusted metal beams, moss shades every surface green, plants grow in the cracked walls of buildings, small trees grow from roof-tops.
Second, the park has been used for everything from rap videos and tv drama sets to the location for a local schools urban garden experiment, but mostly it has been used for parties. This is Berlin, after all. And the place has been ravaged. No surface has been left ungraffitied, no window or light unbroken, nothing left unaltered in some way or another. It’s pretty sexy really. And relatively dangerous.
Third, add the two huge smokestacks and echos of industrial noise emanating from the cement factory and power station on the facing river bank, almost smack dab in the middle of Treptower park, and directly across the river from Spreepark. The Klinkenberg power station. A sort of dramatic Terminator background noise, and the motion of the steam cloud from the chimneys looms threatening above.
Put these together at 5:30 on a weekday, chilly mid-march morning. It’s Mad Max, Blade Runner post apocalyptic etc.
Yes, it is a creepy atmosphere, but any ghosts would have moved away, disturbed by the constant noise, I thought as I returned to the park, this time hoping to get video of the sunrise and the Ferris wheel. It was nearly still pitch black when I carefully crossed the maze of wooden bridges over to the base of the enormous wheel, like scampering around the legs of a steel spider.
I had brought a rope to get up to the service ladder, but now I found I needed a raft, too, or at least some tall rubber boots just to get over the perhaps 20 yards of water hazard to the island that the Ferris wheel leg with the service ladder turned out to be on, which I hadn’t noticed before.
“Nuts,” I thought, and I contemplated rolling up my pants and stepping into the icy water. Shoeless or with shoes? I wondered for a second. All the lightbulbs floating in the moat left me leaning toward ‘with shoes.’ And with all the partying here it was surely rife with beer-bottle glass. My beloved hiking boots submerged in that nasty muck. Aww, they’re just stupid boots. What am I, chicken? Dammit.
And looking down at the murky water I saw the reflection of a dark blue lumpy stucco texture and I looked up at what dawn was beginning to define of the sky and it was becoming clear that anyway the morning would be too cloudy for the sun to break through…so I decided it wasn’t worth being a hero and to just sit and take some pictures and video from next to the wheel.
Yes, Chicken. But still alive
And so it was that I was actually looking long and hard at the wheel to figure how I might best ascend in the future–this is after I would get me a raft and paddle across the damn pond–I could probably climb on the wheel frame across to the ladder island–then I would have to climb up to the ladder, some 20 feet up clinging to 90 degree nearly vertical metal, and then with a hop, over to the bottom of the ladder…and then up the hundred feet or more of ladder, up to the wheel axle service platform way up there. Would be a brilliant view from up there…or a quick death if you fell.
It’s easy to have courage when you’re planning, I find. And I was climbing with my eyes once slowly along and then up the wheel where I thought might work, at least if the wheel was solid. If the wheel moved that would be bad, but they probably welded it solid or something, or at least the motors wouldn’t let it move. it would be dangerous otherwise. And I am climbing with my eyes and thinking how dangerous it would be if the fucker would spin when I were up there clinging to one of the spokes… and suddenly I could have sworn the whole fucker moved.
Or at least I thought the wheel had…had it?
Fuck, I’m tired. Left the house at 4 am on my little adventure here.
For perhaps ten or so minutes I stared at the wheel, and every so often it would appear to wink at me, to move a little, and I would rub my eyes and open them and it wouldn’t be moving and I would stare again and we would repeat our flirt. Was it moving or not?
Finally, I thought I might go home and go to bed if I was tired enough to hallucinate.
And then it happened.
A low and, I must say, intensely creepy whine began across the park and every one of the hairs I have been needing to trim on the back of my neck stood up at primal attention, and my senses were suddenly Matrix fast and I realised, I could feel, the sound was coming from the Ferris wheel and the wheel was moving and moving ever faster and began spinning as if someone had turned it on. And then it slowed again and stopped.
It took me a moment to get my head back together after that.
Now, coincidently this took place as the wind began to blow and all you nay-sayers will probably want me to believe that it was the this that moved the Ferris wheel, but I know what I saw out there.
Spreepark is not haunted. Spreepark is alive.
I saw the spirit of the fun park stretching as it woke in the morning, the Ferris wheel was yawning with the dawn. I felt like a Lilliputian who happened to be resting between two toes when Gulliver woke up. Luckily it went back to sleep and I snuck away.
Got a video of it, too. Unfortunately my mic didn’t pick up the noise in any substantial way.