Carousels & Cocaine In East Berlin
Opened in 1969 behind the long shadow of the Berlin Wall, East Germany’s Kulturpark Planterwald drew 1.5 million visitors per annum in its heyday...
Opened in 1969 behind the long shadow of the Berlin Wall, East Germany’s Kulturpark Planterwald drew 1.5 million visitors per annum in its heyday. Now, its abandoned ruins doze silently in a corner of the Berlin’s rambling Treptower Park, having outlasted the Soviet Union but not its operator’s unchecked ambitions.
Rollercoaster tracks are choked by overhanging trees. A swan boat floats listless and half-submerged in a stagnant pond. In overgrown fields, once-whimsical dinosaur sculptures have tumbled sorrowfully to the ground. It’s the piercing sadness of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisted” writ large. A real-life equivalent of the setting of Hanna’s epically eerie carnival fight scene, though pictures of the park reveal that no one has fought for this place in a long time.
You have to wonder if Norman Witte ever thought about what would become of his fantasyland when he decided to smuggle 76lbs of pure cocaine out of Peru in one of its old rides. If he did, the onetime owner of Kulturpark (he changed its name to Spreepark, after the adjacent river) certainly never acted fazed by the potential consequences, packing 211 small disks of the white powder into the 39ft steel mast of his magic carpet ride. Prior to its involvement in Witte’s narcotics scheme, this very ride had thrilled Germans & Peruvians alike at the “King of Carousels’” two failed amusement parks.
His cover at customs? The ride had broken down and could only be fixed by German mechanics. Not a bad story, considering Witte was essentially carnie royalty in Deutscheland.
Unfortunately for he and Marcel (his eldest son & accomplice), their drug connection turned out to be an informant, and in November 2003, they were both arrested on international drug charges. Norman did 4 years in a German penitentiary. Having been arrested in South America rather than Europe, Marcel got the worse deal: he’s currently serving a 20 year prison sentence in Peru’s most dangerous, overcrowded prison.
Spreepark/Kulturpark’s 29.5 hectares of colorful rides, buildings, and attractions now sit dormant, having sunken into bankruptcy as a result of the $21 million in debt that Witte amassed over his time at the helm. And that might have been where the story ended, if not for Spiegel International’s June 2009 story about the Wittes’ folly, which thrust the slumbering funland back into the German & international conscious.
Three years later, 30 self-proclaimed German & American “visionaries” founded a Kickstarter to ask the internet for help retaking Kulturpark from the jungle that ensconces it. By the beginning of May 2012, they’d hit their goal of $26,000. They’ll be taking to Treptower starting June 1st for a month-long expo of living art installations, lectures & workshops.
While the future beyond July is anyone’s guess, a dedicated team of researchers and urban planners will use the month as inspiration for a grassroots proposal for the park’s future. With any luck, the shrieks of laughter will once again be heard from this old Soviet leisureland on the banks of the river Spree.
All photos via Ode to Capitalism and the Kulturpark Planterwald Kickstarter. Check out the Spiegel International article for a deeper look at the downfall of Germany’s prominent carnival family, and Kulturpark.org for updates on the progress of the park’s urban plan. Auf wiedersehen…
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