When I was a student I took part in a couple of German exchange trips, going from Whittlesey to Dortmund. How exactly Whittlesey got to swap with such an awesome, industrious place will continue to boggle the mind – as much as I adore Whittlesey it can barely compare with Dortmund, although this will be covered in more detail in future blog posts so I’ll skim over the setting for now… So I was in Germany and the schools had arranged a few excursions including a fateful trip to a theme park. Now how close to death could I possibly have gotten at a theme park? Surely Health and Safety keeps everyone as safe as possible? Surely? Nope. Not. Even. Remotely.
The day started – as most of my ‘near death’ days do – quietly with a huge Germanic breakfast of bread, sausages and cheese and awkward glances between my German host’s older sister after a mix up with doors led me not to my bedroom but the adjoining bathroom. To say I caught a ‘glimpse’ would be a huge lie, I saw everything in the sort of detail that a fifteen-year old mind could not quite comprehend as she was laid spread eagle in the bathtub, for want of a better word, enjoying the shower head. Now I quickly apologised, obviously, but I am sure the exit from the room was not as hasty as it should have been. That night I can’t say I slept too well, partially from the titilation of the encounter, but mostly out of fear that a German father was about to kick the door down and murder me with an axe.*
The breakfast, as I said was awkward but tasty and filled a hole – if you excuse the pun – before my Exchange partner and I were driven to the pick up point for the bus. We were off to Phantasialand, a theme park in Brühl. At that time I was a HUGE fan of theme parks – mostly as a direct result of my childhood being spent in a lot of fairgrounds as my Grandfather organised them locally – and was the go to person when it came to Theme Park Strategy.
(Theme Park Strategy is essentially based around looking at the maps and layouts, and predicting the busy areas. Using this information I then plan out a route to hit the big rides early, and then ensure that all other areas are covered within the time limit. I started doing this after visiting Alton Towers in the early Nineties)
I had a map, I had a plan, but I was also distracted by the events of the night before and as a result I was off the ball when it came to planning out the day. I am proud enough to admit that this single moment set me on course for a day of disappointment – I would only get to see about half of the park, partly due to lack of thought and party as a result of the sheer fact that a lot of attractions were hidden inside buildings. Without planning I ended up tagging along with another group, and I was happy enough, snapping away with my old 35mm camera and taking the mickey out of one of the girls for having a weak stomach.
I shouldn’t have laughed. Within an hour I would be screaming like a girl myself, inches from being crushed to death.
It was decided that the group of us would ride this huge tower-based ride called The Kodak Tower**:
Now as you can see it is a beast of a ride, and it did it’s job well, shaking us all up quite significantly – and if the photo doesn’t get you in the right frame of mind here’s a video, you unimaginative wanker:
I clearly remember a second group from our school going for a ride also, and I took photos of them on it – sadly the photos I took those years in Germany would be lost forever as a result of my parents separating and the film canisters getting lost in the move that occurred afterwards – looking rather green indeed. I stuck my camera back in my pocket and off we went to explore.
Phantasia Land was an awesomely weird theme park to visit for someone who is used to the very British Alton Towers park – not to mention the numerous street fairs I’d visited in the various market towns around Cambridgeshire/Lincolnshire over the years. The majority of the attractions were inside buildings – which meant that we missed out on quite a few – and we liked the look of a ‘mine’ ride that we assumed would be like the Runaway Mine Train at the aforementioned Alton Towers. We were wrong, it was more a ride with animatronics – something Phantasia Land does very well, see later post on the Hollywood Tour for more on that – giving a taste of the life in a Frontier town. All rather odd.
We rode rides, ate spicy sausages and experienced a water ride that I’d rather forget thanks to an incident involving a bird, a balloon and a Wotsit.
It was at this point that I realised that I hadn’t been taking many photos, and as I had managed to get into a group with my school days crush I wanted at least one photo of the two of us together – purely for delusional reasons – so reached into my pocket to get my camera out of it’s case. But there was no case! I’d lost it.
Now I’m sure at this point you – like I am now, with retrospect – are thinking: “It’s just a camera case, don’t worry” but I didn’t have cold logic, I just had a panic involving a potential piece of paper being inside the case, and I NEEDED that piece of paper*** and I HAD to back-track to find it. I left my group and headed back to the last ride I remembered taking pictures of. The Kodak Tower…
So I look around and notice that the camera case had been found, and rather helpfully left by the ride operator’s booth. Easy. So I ducked under the barriers and strolled on over to pick it up – the thought of getting my scrappy bit of paper back keeping me oblivious from the obvious risk usually associated with a theme park ride with closed barriers. I was oblivious, but the ride operator wasn’t. I am confident of this because of the look of fear he had in his eyes as he looked at me, up in the air, then back at me again before waving his arms wildly. I found this behaviour to be very odd until I looked up above me to see those four arms spinning wildly mere metres above my head.
Now I’m happy to admit now that I panicked at this point. I had three options in mind:
1) Run for the barrier
2) Lay down and hope that the cars don’t come down fully
3) Try and squash up against the central column and wait
I went for number 1, then number 2 before settling on number three.
To an witnesses – and there were DOZENS – it looked more like I fell over and then ran to the central column, but I assure you that it was not the case.
Perhaps it was the case.
It was the case.
I pressed myself back against the column, screamed a little bit, and closed my eyes.
I could feel the breeze coming from the spinning cars, as it slowed down and I clearly remember an English voice shrieking about the ‘dead person in the middle’ I assume that was me…
I know I should have stayed put but I ran off and hid round the back of a food stand thing. I was embarrassed and sweating profusely. I decided to stroll off and pretend nothing had happened, and to this day I’ve only probably told about five people about it. Although it’s on my website now, so another four people will know.
So yeah I went about the rest of the day as normal and found the BEST ride ever, The Hollywood Tour. But that’s – as I keep saying – for another day.
So there you go, a simple tale of near-death, naked Germans and a mysterious scrap of paper.
* I wasn’t suffering from a massively over-active imagination, the father of the family owned three axes that he sharpened daily…
** It was sponsored by Kodak when I visited, after the deal expired it became the Condor and was in ‘service’ until 2006.
*** No I won’t tell you what was on the piece of paper. Consider it my ‘Golden thing in Pulp Fiction Suitcase’