Sunday, November 4, 2012

Nazis, Wedgies and Waterslides -- My Trip to Tropical Islands

Tropical Islands -- AKA"Europe's largest tropical holiday world!" -- is filled with a myriad of things, including Germany's tallest water slide, hot-air balloons, rides (AKA a slight jostling while seated) tipis, Mayan temples (not real), and clouds (totes not real).

Remember that scene in the Truman Show when Jim Carrey's character opened a small door in a wall painted with clouds? Well, spend a day at Tropical Island and eventually you'll want to pull a Jim Carrey and escape its fake, plastic world, too.

Why did I feel like I was in a Russian commercial for Disneyland? And how many Pina Coladas would I have to drink before it felt fun?

Like most attractions in Germany (even heavily-marketed family-friendly vacation destinations, apparently), Tropical Islands has a bloody history. The area surrounding the park was first used by the Nazis as an airfield, then taken over by the Red Army as a training ground for fighter planes. 10 years after the reunification of Germany, a company called Cargolifter AG decided to use the site to create world's largest airship hanger.

Construction began in 2000 on what would become the world's largest building (by volume). 360 meters long, 210 meters wide and 107 meters high, the hanger was large enough to contain the Eiffel Tower. But apparently the market for Zeppelins was not enough to sustain Cargolifter, and the company went bankrupt soon after the building was completed. Seizing the opportunity to own such an enormous building, a Malaysian company called Tanjong installed the world's largest tropical indoor resort inside of it because really, why the fuck not?

(Pic from

But no matter how hard you try to keep your eyes below tree line at Tropical Island, you can never quite forget you're inside a giant hanger. The scenery comes close, but not quite close enough, to add up to something greater than the sum of its parts; a strawberry daiquiri might help, but they're 8 euros. A more convincing wall of clouds might also help, but that would cost 5,000 more euros, and you're basically next door to Poland so stop complaining (no offense, Poland).

After spending about an hour trying to find a comfortable way of "enjoying" the fake beach, my boyfriend and I gave up and made our way to the water slides.

I was climbing up the stairs to the water slide when I decided I wanted to climb down them instead so I could see Eyal's face as he emerged from the tallest water slide of them all. Called simply "Water Slide A," it was a covered blue slide which curved around the structure like a snake. It was so fast that when someone slid down it, the entire staircase shook.

I suddenly really wanted to see Eyal's face after experiencing that kind of insanity, so I switched directions and walked down the stairs, clutching the railings. But the stairs were covered with water. That's when I lost control of my feet and, like an old lady, slid down a dozen wet, steel stairs until I hit my knee on a pole. I tried to get up but my leg was numb and tingly, like a prosthesis. I watched helplessly as a thin stream of blood weaved its way down my kneecap, through the metal stairs and (probably) on to someone's head.

The rest of the day was spent clutching my leg, limping, and enduring the sting of chlorine to gain access to the pools. I'm a loser.

But still, I can say this: tropical Islands is weeeeeird. And oddly unsatisfying.

An entire day could be spent searching for a convincing illusion of paradise. Walking through the park's "rainforest" was kind of like watching a film and constantly seeing the boom mics above the actors or McDonald's golden arches peeking through a studio set supposed to look like the desert: no matter where you looked, you could see not only the beautiful lush greenery but also the ugly airport hanger behind it.

The German design team tried to take their cues from Walt Disney, but it's hard to create multiple themed lands on a limited budget so you see lots of symbolism jutting up against each other; one area that's themed like a beach side bar sits adjacent to a shack house made of sheet metal. Poverty chic meets island resort. Perhaps they're aiming for some commentary on globalization? It's hard to tell.

Next time I want to spend 10 hours in an artificial universe with a bunch of people I don't know, I'll just watch TV.