Coaster Kingdom

Euro-MIR (Europa Park)

The real MIR (Russian for 'Peace') was born in 1986, the time of the Cold War and succeeded in as many things as it failed. Whilst Russia had lost the race to put the first man on the moon, MIR was the first home in space, and by 1995 had taught the two superpowers, the USSR and USA, to co-operate.

Whilst MIR’s contribution to material science was limited, MIR itself was a scientific feat of epic proportions. The 135 tonne structure remained in space for fifteen years, orbited earth  88,000 times and played host to a hundred cosmonauts from countries all over the world.

Whilst for the first years living aboard MIR was described as pure and unadulterated tedium, many were more white knuckle than any coaster could ever be with often near fatal consequences.

Numerous incidents later, its fate was sealed. 2.2 billion miles had passed since it was first commissioned, and Russian President Putin announced MIR was to be ditched into the sea in the middle of 2000.

So-called space tourism has become a fundamental part of the Russian space program, funding space stations such as MIR, ISS and the missions to and from these destinations. Only basic training is given to civilians so that they can pay millions to travel into space. Dennis Tito was one of the first and most certainly the most famous. 

Europa Park has chosen to celebrate the accomplishments of many countries, predominantly European, by lovingly recreating local architecture, culture and even food.

Euro MIR honours the Russian space programme, predominantly MIR itself.

From the outset, Euro MIR demands your attention. Five cylindrical mirrored towers form the ride, capturing the surrounding architecture in all their electric-blue incandescent glory, around the summit of which the colourful four car trains slalom, and around the front of which, the track sweeps around in large, plunging arcs down towards the water and lawns below.

The entrance is underneath the training capsule as used by the crew of MIR, suspended from a glass roof, before you enter the darkened corridor that forms the start of the queue.

A darkened staircase lit in UV climbs a storey, black-lit constellations litter the wall, and a rich, dreamy dance track effectively builds the excitement. The station is fantastically organised. A couple of zig-zags line the room before you are filtered off behind the gates on the edge of the platform.

Trains seat sixteen riders in four trains with pairs of riders sitting back to back. They come in bright shades of metallic green, red, mauve and blue and the ride has been  known to make use of a people-gobbling nine trains.

It makes no difference as to whether you sit forwards or backwards – the direction in which you travel is as random as the numbers drawn on a Saturday evening’s lottery, which of course helps with the loading of trains.

We load the trains. In a demonstration of German efficiency, single riders are hastily paired up clearing the queue of another two people before the comfortable single lap bars are locked, thumbs up are given and the train is powered into the darkness.

As you turn a corner, almost immediately, the smooth rotation of the trains begins. At approximately one rotation every four seconds, it is enough to disorientate, even more so as you pass through a violet tunnel, revolving around the track in a particularly trippy moment of disorientation.

The train pauses as it passes a scene of astronauts working on a space station before you are pulled up into an anti-clockwise spiral lift. The cars once again begin revolving, and an uplifting dance track thumps away with lighting effects en-route.

Every so often, the inside of this tower will light, and a glance upwards will show another train on the lift above you. It is also here that you realise how simple the lift actually is, using a revolving drum in the centre to catch onto a small arm on the train and effectively push it up.

Soon, the drum revolving in the centre becomes just a frame work with a Russian space rocket in the centre and not long after this, you break away from the enormous spiral with a pair of doors sliding open as you approach the outside.

As you exit, the cars once again begin rotating. An unnerving feeling of height is experienced here, with contrasting visions of yourself being reflected from the luminescent towers or of just plain nothing due to the lack of supporting structure.

The track weaving around the top turns 190-degrees before heading off to another tower, around which it turns once again. All the while you are becoming increasingly curious as to which direction you will be travelling for the majority of the ride.

Many turns later, the revolving stops and the train dramatically swoops towards the ground,  almost skimming the bushes below, before climbing back up towards the mirrored towers that form the backdrop of the ride.

As you reach the top, another 180-degree rotation from the train means that the last half of the ride is taken in the opposite direction to the first half. This is where you hope that the first drop was taken forwards.

Another swooping turn takes you around the back of the towers, re-emerging around the front, swooping over the swampland below. You quickly turn around one of the towers, swooping down into a helix.

The pace gets more and more frantic as each turn gets sharper. A quick flash as you head through the base of one of the towers, quickly doing a turn around the back of this tower before tightening into a tight and gutsy helix.

Into another tunnel, this time slightly longer and behind the water that cascades around the rocky base of the towers, before you skim the swamp, water sprays from the sides as a final turn sends you into the brake run and back into the station.

Euro MIR is almost a story, evolving chapter-by-chapter, and building up to a surprisingly climatic ending. The first half almost lulls you into a false sense of security – it could almost be that you’re on the wrong ride, enjoying well themed scenes, dramatic lighting and a beautiful dance track.

Once you’re outside – it dawns – this is a roller coaster. But to pad it out, the ride is almost like a sedate people mover, slowly gyrating at great height, almost as if to remind you of just how high you are.

And as soon as you swoop into the first arc, the ride is non-stop. It remains well paced, getting more and more intense throughout. The highlight is the tight helix towards the end, and whilst the trend throughout it smaller and smaller turns, when backwards this really takes you by surprise.

Riding Euro MIR is a lottery. You never know which way you’re going to be going, to do the second half backwards, though, is to experience Euro MIR at its best. The turning is novel and unique, but it isn’t as pointless as standing up (for example) where too much emphasis is burdened on this innovation.

The enclosed section and final roller coaster section of the ride go to prove that this ride is far more than just a turning roller coaster.

5*/5 Marcus Sheen