No matter how hard you try, you
simply can't prepare yourself for your first visit to a German fair.
However high your expectations, I defy anyone not to spend their entire
visit uttering the words "How can that thing travel?" every
thirty seconds or so. Even when you should be used to it, there are some
rides that retain this sense of mystique and wonder, and none more so than
Eurostar. This epic tangle of dark purple track would be a jaw-dropping
sight at any theme park, but the very idea that the whole thing is
temporary simply catapults the ride over the edge of believability. As if
that weren't enough, it also just happens to be one of the most frantic,
intense, and exhilarating coasters you could ever wish to ride.
Debuting in 1995, just eighteen
months after Alton Towers' Nemesis became Europe's first inverted coaster,
Eurostar is a testament to the fierce rivalry that exists between German
showmen. Indeed, the idea that anyone ever seriously thought about making
a travelling inverter of this size is amazing, but to then make it a
reality is quite simply mind-blowing.
Until Eurostar came along,
Germany's tradition of large travelling coasters had stalled slightly.
Anton Schwarzkopf, the mastermind behind the likes of Thriller and Dreier
Looping, had fallen ill. His last major travelling coaster was 1989's
Olympia Looping, while the only other major coaster to appear in this
respite had been 1992's enclosed family ride, "Magic Mountain"
(now "Star World"). Oscar Bruch, Germany's most famous showman,
had been touring his two large coasters, Thriller and Alpina Bahn, for
over ten years, and wanted to add something new to his line-up.
Meanwhile, B&M was setting
the theme park world alight with their new inverted coasters, and so this
seemed the obvious direction for Bruch to take. The trouble was that few
people were willing or able to take on the massive task of a full-size
travelling inverter. As a result, the project came to involve people and
companies from all over the continent, an arrangement that provided the
inspiration for the ride's eventual name.
Officially, the ride comes from
Intamin, although much of the work was sub-contracted to Giovanola, a
company that had worked with B&M and would later go on to build
coasters under their own name. As for the design, this came from the
then-relatively unknown Werner Stengel, who had worked extensively with
Anton Schwarzkopf on previous travelling coasters. In addition, the Bruch
family were also heavily involved with the design, both in terms of how
they wanted it to ride, and how the massive structure could be made easier
It's worth pausing to think
exactly what considerations needed to be made in designing this ride, as
they go far beyond anything a theme park ride would need to worry about,
and make it easier for us to appreciate what a huge accomplishment Eurostar
Firstly, the ride needed to be
comparable to previous travelling coasters both in terms of ground space,
and the time required to build and dismantle. As such, the ride used a
similar "plug and socket" structure to the Schwarzkopf coasters.
This allowed the ride to be pieced together with minimal fuss, allowing it
to be booked onto as many fairs as possible each year, while minimising
the need to hire local people to help build and dismantle the ride at each
Secondly, while the structure
needed to be strong enough to cope with the enormous stresses involved, it
needed to be slender enough to pack onto as few lorries as possible in
order to reduce the transportation costs. It's no use having a world-class
coaster if you have to charge people more to ride it than they're willing
Thirdly, anyone who has visited a
busy German fair will know that the crowds can be colossal. Indeed, the
top German fairs attract more people in their 1-2 two week run than most
major theme parks get all year. As such, a major coaster needs to have an
astronomically high capacity, as you obviously want to get as many people
through the gate as the fair's opening hours allow. As such, Eurostar
needed to match the ferocious capacity of Schwarzkopf's legendary crowd-crunchers,
and is capable of running four 28-seat trains at peak times, forcing staff
to maintain loading times far faster than most theme park coasters.
Fourthly, the ride simply needed
to look good. Remember, the ride operates in a pay-per-ride environment,
and needs all its elements to be clearly visible in order
spectators to the paybox. Again, you could have the greatest coaster on
the planet, but if it doesn't grab the interest of passers-by and make
them want to open their wallets for tickets, it will fail. Schwarzkopf's
travelling coasters were a masterclass of "staging", with the
lift hill and bigger drops at the back of the ride, and other major
elements, such as inversions, perched in the foreground, and often right
above the paybox for maximum visual impact.
Finally, and most obviously, it
has to be a good ride. It doesn't take a genius to work out that you can
at least double your revenue by offering a coaster that people will want
to re-ride. If you get off the ride without having enjoyed it, that's one
more ticket that will go unsold.
So there you have it. Versprung
durch Technik. Would you fancy trying to design a coaster within these
limitations? No, and neither did a lot of other people. It was immensely
brave of Werner Stengel to accept the challenge, especially as he was not
the legendary figure he is today. Indeed, Eurostar was arguably the first
time that Stengel would be regarded as the "star" designer,
rather than remaining an anonymous back-room boffin.
Despite opening late at its first
few fairs, Bruch's battalion of staff soon managed to find ways of
building the ride in less and less time, and using less and less trucks.
Nowadays, the whole process goes with military precision, and the ride is
always ready for business when the fair opens.
So, we find ourselves standing
before the mountain of steel that is Eurostar. Certainly, the need to look
good has been met. The ride is staged beautifully, with the twisted first
drop in the background, the huge loop dominating the mid-ground, and a
lightning fast in-line twist being performed above the paybox and queue.
Keep watching, and you'll see the train plough through the twin corkscrews
that form one of the ride's many high-speed, high-drama, high-G
highlights. At night, the subtle floodlighting reflects beautifully on the
structure, giving the ride a gloriously intimidating aura as the trains
blur past in all directions.
At the paybox, a ticket is
received for less money than you might reasonably expect, and it is time
to join the fast-moving queue. As with many German fair rides,
"queue" is not really the appropriate word, as it tends to move
at close to walking pace, and so what might look like an hour's queue
dissolves in minutes.
As you approach the station,
prepare to be in awe of the staff. Usually, when we praise ride staff, it
is for their friendliness, but here it is for the ferocious efficiency
with which they operate the ride. Forget about politeness, if your group
can fill those last few seats, prepare to be virtually grabbed by the neck
and thrown into the train. For theme park devotees, this will be yet
another indication of the fact that the German fairs are a whole new
world, with an unprecedented sense of haste and urgency.
The trains themselves resemble
stripped-down B&M cars, with none of the niceties that we associate
with Walter and Claude's luxury vehicles. No seatbelts, no moving floors,
just the bare minimum needed to hold you in your seat, and to keep the
trains running like clockwork. Indeed, when you've ridden Eurostar, the
B&M inverters suddenly seem needlessly complex.
At the sound of a hooter, the
train charges away to the rear of the ride, where it engages the deafening
lift hill. From here, we are thrown straight into an inverted equivalent
of the famous Schwarzkopf twisting first drop, and into the vertical loop
with all the speed and fury of a rampaging rhinoceros. Front seat riders
will get the first of many scares, as pieces of structure fly past at a
proximity that makes them half-expect the ride to trim their toenails for
No time to recover, as the train
barges into an overbanked turn, ripping wildly to the left as it prepares
to soar across the station roof and into the ferocious in-line twist. As
with much of the ride, it may lack the grace of the B&M inverters, but
what it lacks in finesse, it more than makes up for in sheer aggression.
No coaster, Nemesis included, makes you feel so puny in the face of a
rampaging typhoon of a ride.
Tearing out of the inline twist,
it's time to hit the first set of brakes. Now, it's conventional to bemoan
the braking of coasters, but Eurostar is slightly different. While the
brakes need to be there to allow the operation of so many trains, the fact
that the train slows to a crawl actually serves as a well-earned breather,
before hurtling back into the unadulterated mania of the ride. Indeed, if
the train were allowed to charge on at full speed, it's doubtful that the
riders would live to tell the tale.
The next section simply oozes
quality. After a swift drop, the train curls straight into two consecutive
corkscrews, both tighter than you would ever think possible at this speed.
With its passengers thoroughly disorientated, the train finds itself
needing to perform a turn that may well rank as the most intense piece of
coaster track on Earth. If you are still conscious enough to know what is
going on, this near-hairpin turn pulls enough G-force to send blood
rushing straight to your feet, a sensation quite unlike anything other
coasters can offer.
Into another brake run, and the
train again slows to a crawl. With all the inversions over, is this the
point where the ride calms down? Not a bit of it, for Eurostar has one
last trick up its sleeve. Twisting to the right, the track drops into a
helix. The speeds get higher and higher, and the turn gets tighter and
tighter, and soon riders are feeling the kind of G-force make them fear
that the fillings are going to be ripped from their teeth. After what
seems like an eternity, the train is effortlessly spat into the final
brakes, which accurately simulate the feeling of being smashed into a
badly placed brick wall.
The organised chaos of the
station throws you onto the exit platform, and down an exit path that
continues the intimidation by sending trains roaring past at furious
speeds. This primeval language of roars and screams can only translate to
a challenge to re-ride.
Eurostar is devastatingly awesome. No
ride can match it for maniacally grabbing riders by the throat and taking
them to the limits of endurance. If you are looking for a passive, calming
experience, look elsewhere; Eurostar caters for those of us who like a
coaster to show no mercy, to seize us and challenge us to battle it out,
to prove our mettle. Once you have ridden Eurostar, it is difficult not to
snigger at the thought of Alton Towers advertising Nemesis as "The
world's most intense roller coaster experience". Compared to Eurostar,
Nemesis is about as intimidating as a newborn kitten.
There is, however, one accusation
that many riders levy, and it one that that I intend to rebuke with every
breath in my body. Ladies and gentlemen, Eurostar is not - I repeat NOT -
too rough. Not by a long chalk. Let me explain:
Sure, it's not smooth in the
B&M sense of the word, but that certainly isn't something that should
be seen as negative. If anything, its undoubted brutality simply serves to
emphasise the sense of incredible dominance the ride has over its pray.
Even in the back seats, where the G-forces are enough to totally
disorientate riders, the experience never crosses the line into
discomfort. When you ride Eurostar, you simply have to do exactly that -
RIDE it, in the way you would a bucking bronco. There really is no point
in sitting impassively in your seat and expecting to glide through its
impossibly tight corners, as you'll come off second best. Eurostar is
fierce, ferocious, wild, untamed and menacing. As a rider, it demands that
you are prepared to do battle, and for those who are, the effort is
rewarded tenfold, as the ride will get the adrenalin pumping in a way that
few other coasters can ever hope to match.
As someone who loves a ride that
makes it clear who wears the trousers, I firmly believe Eurostar to be
everything you could possibly want a coaster to be, and is one of the
greatest rides you could ever hope to find. It has no airs or graces, it
doesn't mollycoddle riders, it just does its job of terrorising hapless
riders, and does it to perfection. It exudes a tangible aura of pure
aggression, and never lets you forget that you are on its territory and
have to play by its rules. Do that, and you'll soon realise that the real
king of wild-and-furious inverted coasters does not reside in a
Staffordshire crater, but is instead constantly prowling around the
showgrounds of Germany. Long may it reign.
JP 22 August 2004
Some of the most intense elements ever built
Impeccable operation and
▪ Many find the ride too