After sitting vacant, with debts in the millions still owed in taxes and to banks - not to mention an eBay listing for its sale - the city apparently made a deal to buy the place a couple of weeks ago and is now offering official tours, no risk of guard dog attack necessary. But there's a catch: they are only being offered until the sale is finalized at the end of the month. After that, speculation is high that the city will do what it is working to do with much of Berlin's land: affordable housing. As a fairly new, non-German Berliner myself, I understand the impulse, but what a shame to dismantle something that has been a part of this city's history for so long. Furthermore, I dare any of these folks whining about affordable housing in Berlin to go find something 'affordable' where I'm from in the San Francisco Bay area. Take it from me, living in one of the greatest cities in the world could be a lot worse. I once saw a yurt - that's right, essentially a glorified tent - for sale in the Santa Cruz mountains for half a mil. No joke. But I digress...
On a very serendipitous outing last weekend while meandering Treptower Park for my park series, I happened upon the Spreepark's open gates and learned of its new status. With the rather uncertain air around the whole thing, not to mention the declining state of the weather forecast for the following week, we jumped on the opportunity and booked the tour for the very next day. Word travels fast in Berlin, because reserving a spot did little for massive line we had to wait in, pushing our tour time back by nearly an hour. At least there were beers and soft-serve to enjoy while you wait. Those Germans sure understand the important things in life.
When I first learned the guided tour was two hours long, I was skeptical at exactly how detailed this needed to be and pictured a dry, German guide, painstakingly recounting every date in the park's history and slapping our hands with sticks if we ventured off the path. But within the first few minutes of meeting our tour guide - the daughter of the park's last owner - and she started in on the stories of all her siblings being forced to dress up as park mascots, being talked into letting guys into the park during the closed winter season so they could take bets on who would jump into the slushy log ride pond in -10°C weather and oh yeah, that time her dad got caught trying to smuggle nearly 200 kilos of cocaine into the country in the now infamous and fittingly named magic carpet ride, I knew this wasn't going to be a stuffy, formal 'tour' after all. Sabrina continued to regale us with stories of growing up at the park, while letting us meander freely on the rides and around the grounds, giving us plenty of time to explore, take photos and just take in the sad place the Spreepark had become. Hearing her inside story (well, all of the German that I could understand, anyway) was worth the admission fee alone. Not having to constantly look over one's shoulder for fear of being pounced on by security or finally discover what cold handcuffs feel like were also major perks.
So if you live in Berlin, are planning a trip here, or just have an amusement park obsession, don't miss the twice-a-day weekend tours through the end of April. After that, it's likely this place will be as extinct as the fiberglass dinosaurs littering the park grounds.