Thursday, February 3, 2011

Discover the Space Center, fantastic indoor theme park in Bremen, Germany

Today, this article will let you know everything about a great indoor theme park - the Space Center Bremen in Germany. A theme park with fantastic theming, that you would have loved instantly. Why “would” ? Because, nine months after its opening, the Space Center closed its doors....and, very unfortunately, will never re-open. I will explain why below, but let’s begin first by the beginning.

So, in 2004, exactly four years ago, a new European theme park opened in Bremen, a town on the north Germany (where some of Europe's space industry is located). Called "Space Center Bremen", this brand new attraction was Europe's largest indoor theme park - 70,000 square feet!

And guess who was the show-producer of Space Center Bremen? Bill Gorgensen. And who is Bill Gorgensen?, you ask. Well, Bill - photo below - worked for many years for the Walt Disney Company in their Imagineering division. Gorgensen was associate show producer with Chris Tietz on the Adventureland section of the Disneyland Paris theme park. He supervised the creation of DLP's "Pirates of Caribbean." And - outside the theme park - Bill helped to create the resort's Disney village area - the "Downtown Disney" of Disneyland Paris. Bill Gorgensen is a man who is well known in themed entertainment circles for delivering a top quality product.

"So what's the back story on Space Center Bremen?" you query. Well, the original idea for the park came from a German nuclear physician, Dr Wilke - photo below. Which is perhaps why the entrance area of the theme park is played very straight. With a 200 foot high mock-up of the Ariane rocket towering overhead and replicas of Spoutnik on display nearby.
But don't let those displays of old spacesuits fool you. Space Center Bremen was a real theme park. One that's loaded with thrill rides, a 4D movie, simulators, an interactive dark ride as well as a brand new roller coaster featuring state-of-the-art technology! Plus licensed attractions like "Star Trek: Borg Encounter" and "Star Gate SG 3000."

At first glance, the exterior of the Space Center Bremen building looked like a fairly standard structure. Until you notice that the shape of the building's walls look very much like the exterior of a spaceship.

This seemingly insignificant detail actually has some importance. For it's all part of Space Center Bremen's "inside story." In fact, the "back story" of SCB is that the building that the theme park is housed in was actually supposed to be this giant space ship in which "windows" are open to various different time periods: For example, the "Star Gate" window was supposed to allow you to "enter" the year 3000, the "Star Trek" window allows you access to 2400, etc.

Getting back to the theme park's entrance: As soon as you saw this, you just knew that Space Center Bremen was going to be great. Giant boosters welcomed you with light and sound to the Futuristic Corridor - a kind of "Main Street U.S.A." - which leads to the Quantum Turbine and the giant Cosmosphere, the icon of Space Center Bremen.

The Quantum Turbine was a place where images from the conquest of space that have taken place over the past few centuries could be seen. This was the section of the theme park that supposedly "transports" guests into the space time continuum of the Cosmosphere.

All along the Futuristic Corridor, the theming, music and lightning was all "Disney quality-like" and the use of this interior space was wonderful.

Here is a first movie which is a long travelling from the entrance to the Quantum Turbine, and going through the "Mission control" area till the central hub. Please note that all videos were shot by me in 2004 with a non-HD camera so the quality is more low-res than high-res. Still, it's the only way to discover this now extinct wonderful theme park. Don't hesitate, too, to click on each picture to see them in high-res size!

This part of Space Center Bremen, leading up to the park's giant hub and the Cosmosphere was so well done, it would have easily fit in Epcot. Each half hour, the space ship's giant computer presented an elaborate and dazzling laser light and sound show. This whole part of the theme park was a real E Ticket. Here is a rendering of it...

...two photos of the central sphere show...

And a movie of the whole show !

Also along the Futuristic Corridor, was the entrance to "Mission Control," a place where you could have watch - live - the launch of the next Ariane rocket or locate the exact position of the International Space station (which is orbiting high above the Earth).

From here, guests entered the theme park's IMAX theatre. Where you could watch an edited down version of the recent IMAX film that was shot on the space station - narrated by Tom Cruise. This film - which was shot in 3D - features some wonderful effects as well as some just plain amazing views of the Earth.

Then you arrived at Space Center Bremen's "Hub," where the theme park's guests had the choice of visiting four different time periods. Let's start with the first one on the right, "Moon Base One." After entering a replica of the Space Station corridor, you arrived on the moon base where there were four attractions to choose from.

"Moon Base One's" main attraction was "Galaxy Express," an indoor roller coaster that features new technology. On this unique virtual reality adventure, guests could take a high-speed ride along a track that travels through the entire Space Center. As they journey through this attraction, guests - as they were well seated in their train - wear a kind of helmet..

Which allows them to see CGI movie that visually propels the guest through the infinite vastness of the universe. This clever combination of real coaster movement synchronized to computer generated imagery really plays tricks on your body and your mind. It makes regular roller-coaster speed seem like the speed of light, every curve becomes a desperate, last minute, planet-evasion maneuver. "Galaxy Express" may be a bit short in length, but it was a great new coaster experience.

On "Moon Base One," younger members of the family could experienced what it was like to be space travelers by visiting the "Moon Playground" for kids. At the "Destination Moon" attraction, you were able to see what the Earth looks like from the Moon through a beautiful and emotional 6-minute-long film.

Have a look to the two next movies, and discover the "Destination Moon" movie, and the "Moon Base One"

On the interactive "Robot Rescue" ride, guests travelled in lunar vehicles through a deuterium-3 mine. Your mission was to reboot all the robots that you saw in the mine (which have been stricken with a mysterious virus) by firing at them with your laser beam. It was cute, but fun.

Space Center Bremen's next "land" .... Oops! I mean next "stop" was "Planet Quest". This was a dark ride that was loaded with 3D screens. Its storyline supposedly recreates a trip into an unknown world. What I liked best about this ride is that it had a kind-of "Adventure through Inner Space" feeling, that old beloved Disneyland attraction.
Not that "Planet Quest" looks or feels "old," mind you. Far from it. Here you have a ride that was supposed to be this pseudo-serious scientific exploration of extra-terrestrial worlds, similar to "JTIS"'s somewhat serious trip through inner space. But here you had perfect 3D effects that "follow" the movement of your vehicle (Similar to what happens when you're riding through "The Amazing Spiderman" attraction at Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure). Admittedly, the show's story was a bit jumbled and somewhat hard to understand. But - what with "Planet Quest"'s excellent 3D sequences as well as the ride's great post-show were - this Space Center Bremen area was well worth a look see.

You can discover the whole Planet Quest ride on this video below - sorry, the 3D glasses are not provided!

Okay, now it's time to talk about the theme park's two licensed attractions. First up was "Star Gate SG 3000." Making its world premiere here at the Space Center Bremen park, "Stargate SG-3000" was inspired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios' TV-series, "Stargate SG-1." After a pre-show in a room which features the famous "Star Gate", guests then walked in one of the three high-tech simulators. 35 guests at a time experienced what happens when a gateway opens to various different dimensions.

The realization of this attraction was not based merely on various visual themes. But - rather - the visitors were completely immersed in the world of "Stargate SG-1." So, Space Center Bremen visitors were caught up in a race to get the Stargate key from the low-down Satra, a character specially created for the "Stargate SG-3000" experience.

Need to sit down and grab a quick snack before your next out-of-this-world adventure. Then you could eat at Bistro 3000, a wonderfully themed restaurant that seats over 450 and featured various show kitchens. A variety of good and not-very-expensive fare was offered there - everything from hamburgers to pasta to oriental food. The futuristic theming decor of Bistro 3000 was really great. And - given that this restaurant was right next door to the Cosmosphere - you often got a laser light show (featuring "liquid architecture" and changing light projections) while you dine.

Have a closer look to the Space Center restaurant area on the video below!

Next up was the "Star Trek: Borg Encounter" attraction. This one was Space Station Bremen's real good E-ticket. Your journey started aboard the U.S.S. Voyager (a pretty impressive pre-show unto itself). The next thing you knew, the starship that you were on was under attack by the Borg. So it was time to board one of Voyager's large shuttle craft in an effort to escape.

This 250 seat theatre was absolutely wonderfully designed. And - because you were supposed to be inside a shuttle - some of the members of Voyager's crew actually participated in the show.

This "4D" movie was absolutely great for any "Star Trek" lover. The attraction's 3D effects worked well and the in-theatre special effects (mainly in your seat) were just as good as any you find at a Disney or Universal theme park. (FYI: Space Center Bremen's "Star Trek: Borg Encounter" film is being produced by Paramount Pictures. This attraction is an exact copy of the ride film that is now at the Las Vegas Hilton. It was designed by Herman Zimmerman, the well-known production designer for "Star Trek".)

Space Center Bremen sounds pretty impressive so far, doesn't it? Well, wait. I'm not finished yet. There's still one attraction that you had to experience at this theme park. One that's actually located outside of this highly themed indoor attraction. Yes, I know. Space Center Bremen was supposed to be an indoor theme park. But this last ride was just too big to fit inside the building!

Close - just 5 meters away - from the giant Ariane rocket near the building's entrance, the "Space Shot" ride catapulted theme park guests 65 meters straight up, exposing them to a force of four G's. Then -- suddenly - "Space Shot" stopped. Which was when the guests experience free fall. Weightlessness for just under two seconds. Then your "space capsule" glides safely back down back to Earth.

"And how much did this amazing indoor theme park cost?" you ask. $250 Millions. No kidding. Of which at least $120 million was spent in the building itself.
All in all, Space Center Bremen was a great way to spend a day...and it was successful! 500.000 visitors enjoyed it during the 9 months when it was opened. Including legendary imagineer Tony Baxter and some of Disneyland Paris imagineers who came to discover this new indoor theme park. In fact, Tony was even impressed by the quality of the theming.

So, what happened, why this wonderful indoor theme park closed just nine months after its opening? Well, that happened for various reasons. First, a shopping center was attached to it, but no shops opened. Two, there was a misunderstanding in the area as to what it was. Most thought it was a Science Center, so there was little local support. Three, the state and banks wanted 1.5 million visitors in the first year and, when there wasn't, because of the shopping center, there was a disappointment factor. Four, it had more castmembers than needed so the overheads were larger than necessary.
Five, there was next to no awareness in the surrounding cities that Space Center existed. And, six, Some say it was just in the wrong place. All this finally killed the Space Center, and there is no chance at all, now, that it may re-open again.
It’s really a pity, because all of you would have loved it. Some of the attractions could have been improved, but the whole park was great. It’s a sad story, i know, but sometime this can happen. So, if you didn’t looked to the videos above yet, do it now, because they are your last chance to have a glimpse at this wonderful Space Center Bremen!

Photos: copyright Space Center Bremen and Alain Littaye


Jones said...

250 million USD? Amazing (and Germany is certainly not kown for its low labour costs)- makes me wonder how Imagineering manages to spend 34 million on a Dumbo clone at TDS... or a reported 100 - 150 million on TDLs Pooh...

FZ said...

Having watched the videos and everything, I find your adoration of the park to be ridiculously over the top.

Other than when you first enter, the theming seems rather spartan.

The computer light show is mediocre at best, I have no clue how you got "real E-ticket" out of it.

The IMAX movie is nothing more than a truncated version of a movie you can see in any IMAX theater. Nothing special.

Galaxy Express for all it's visual gloss is just a glorified version of those "program your own roller coaster" simulators you find all over. And really short too.

You have an okay shooting gallery ride, a few short films (nowhere near as good as at other parks) and a playground. Whoopee.

The restaurant looks okay, but again, it looks more spartan than spectacular to me.

The SG-3 attraction just looks like an average simulator ride. The Star Trek attraction is simply a clone of the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas.

Space Shot looks and sounds like a glorified off the rack 'Parachute Drop." Again, the excitement baffles me.

I can see how the park came in at 250 million. It relies heavily on computer generated graphics, films and simulation type experiences, which are obviously much cheaper than say something like Pooh at TDL or even older Disneyland attractions like the Haunted Mansion or Pirates which require lots of physical space and actual physical construction of the figures, settings, and ride track.

The other stuff that isn't filmic in nature (like the shooting gallery ride and the Space Shot) probably didn't cost that much due to their "off-the-rack" and rather basic nature.

With all due respect, I don't think I would have loved it. It's very glossy, but underneath all that style there is not much substance. And plus I don't see much (if any) repeat visit appeal. Once you've seen it, you've seen it. I think it'd be a half a day one-time experience at best.

Alain Littaye said...

This article was written in 2004 when the park opened and if you judge the park you have to judge it remembering that it opened in 2004.

Believe me they did a great job with $250M. The low-res video may not show the quality of the theming, but i can assure you that we would be happy to have an indoor theme park like this at DLP's Disney Village, for instance.

Same for the computer light show, it doesn't show on the video, but it was great.

About the rides, now. In 2004 no roller coaster like the Galaxy Express was existing, The Star Trek attraction indeed exist in Las Vegas but it opened first at the Space Center months before it opened in Vegas Star Trek Experience. The 3D dark ride was almost a premiere too - and very good - and although the IMAX movie was just like any Space IMAX movie that you can see in IMAX theaters the pre-show decor was extremely good (same for the Star Trek attraction pre-show).

Yes, it was a half-day indoor theme park but that's not the problem if your half-day is of very good quality. And for 90% of the rides, AND considering that the theming and the attractions were built with a budget of $130M only they did a fantastic job and WDI Imagineers who came to see the park - including Tony Baxter - loved it. And WDI Imagineers know for sure when something is good or not.

dlrp123 said...

Alain, I think we can some of the designer's Disney roots, with the 'hidden Mickey' you can see in the design of the building in the bottom right side of the aerial shot of the building. Whether it was intentional or not, it looks like one! Anyway, thanks Alain for doing such a great blog for us all, keep up the good work.