Coaster Kingdom


Wild Wasser (3), German Fairs

If I were to say to you that I had found possibly the best Log Flume in Europe, what would you say? How about if I went on to say that it features two forward drops, a backward one, tunnels, excellent theming, animatronic scenery, and a finale that sees water flying around in every conceivable direction? I don't want to put words into your mouth, but I assume you'd say "That sounds splendid, old chum. Where the dickens will I find it?", a question that leads to the rather unusual answer "It depends on the time of year".

How so? Well, Wildwasser ("Wild Water" for anyone with a god-awful grasp of German) is just one of many jaw-dropping masterpieces that travel the German fair circuit. There really seems no limit to what German showmen can pack into a fleet of lorries and take on tour, and this particular treasure has been living the nomadic life since it left the relative stability of the Mack factory in 1992, and shows no sign of tiring whatsoever.

Now, for anyone unfamiliar with German fairs, the idea of praising a portable log flume may be enough to bring a smirk to your face. If this is the case, I suggest that a few seconds spent watching it in action will be all it takes to have you smirking on the other side of your face (not a pretty sight, I imagine). Standing before this behemoth, it is simply beyond belief that the entire thing is temporary. It would be amazing enough if the ride were only moved once or twice a year, but the idea that it should constantly be on the move is staggering. The trough weaves its way through every gap in the structure, while if you look a massive 98ft into the air, the final two drops form a triple-decker tower that proudly announces the ride's fleeting residency far and wide.

If you wish to take part in this transportable tour-de-force, pull a few Euros from your pocket and head toward the pay box, stopping en route to notice that it is, of course, fully themed, and features an animatronic figure constantly encouraging the crowds to come hither. Prices are extremely reasonable, and after quickly swapping your cash for a ticket, it's time to join the queue. Well, sort of.

Wildwasser doesn't have a queue in the theme park sense of the word. Sure, it has a pathway full of people that leads to the station, but the ferocious efficiency of the staff, coupled with the vast number of boats the ride can handle, means that all you really do is join a line of people who are continually advancing at a perfectly normal walking pace. Even if the queue area is full to bursting, the throng moves at a speed that means you'd get on the ride no later than if the place were deserted. You almost don't get chance to notice the fact that the station is, again, fully themed, with animatronic figures sitting on the roof, and western lanterns hanging from the ceiling. For the more observant rider, it also bears the name of the ride's owner, Joachim Löwenthal, a man who should be very proud of his charge.

Having been "escorted" to your seat (i.e. practically picked up by the arm and slung into the boat), the pace at last slows slightly. From the station, the barrel-themed boat passes the fully themed control box, and heads up the first lift hill, disappearing into the first tunnel as it does so. As you reach the summit, your on-ride photo is taken, and a turntable gets you into position for the backward drop.

As the boat splashes down, it briefly emerges back into the open air before being consumed by another tunnel, and passing the first of several animatronic scenes, depicting cowboys working in the gold mines of the old west. In the darkness, a second turntable rights the boat, ready to continue about its business. Other scenes depict a minor panic as water floods into the mine, and the strains of moving mine-carts further and further into the pit. It's not a pleasant life for these Old West workers, but they do manage to break the drudgery with the occasional little ditty. Obviously western miners don't take their work as seriously as German log flume operators, or the gold would be pouring out by the bucketful.

Emerging from the tunnel, we quickly flit past the station, and get paraded past the gathered crowds before engaging the second lift, which marks the start of the ride's towering multi-storey centrepiece. Topping out, the trough does an about turn to the third and final lift. What is highly notable here is that, despite being so short, the effort is nonetheless made to fill this section of the trough with water, whereas many theme parks would be quite happy to save money by using tyre-drives to power the boats around. The third and final lift takes the boat high above the crowd and will invariably give spectacular views of whatever fair it might be attending. Just to remind you that of the ride's "no expense spared" philosophy, the entire section is covered by wooden arches declaring such things as "Too late to turn back!" in various languages.

Although not huge, the final drops are more than big enough to keep riders happy, and get them wet enough to be enjoyable without going to excess. The two drops are separated by another mid-air turnaround, during which the boat constantly bobs up and down due to the after effects of the frequent splashdowns occurring behind. Having taken the final drop, the ride's tight footprint forces the boat to hurl itself into the next turn, which gives a feeling more like a Wild Mouse than a Log Flume. Still, with all the drops over, surely all that's left to do is for the boat to bob leisurely back to the station?

Not so. The trough again parades you in front of the spectators, and suddenly water starts to fly all over the place. First, you pass a water tower that periodically blurts its contents all over the place. Next, a series of ornate fountains arch overhead, only for others take a different line of fire and hurl water into riders' faces. An animatronic cowboy blesses your safe return by singing "Hallelujah", only for a cheeky beaver to poke his head out of a barrel behind him and start squirting water indiscriminately over riders and spectators alike.

From here, it is straight back into the unadulterated mania of the station. Amusingly, the normal "theme park rules" go straight out of the window, as staff actively encourage you to be standing and ready to go long before you reach the station, then proceed to physically yank you out of the boat and pack you off in the direction of the ride's beautifully themed photo-stall. This really isn't the best time to stop and chat with your friends about how you found the ride, as the occupants of the next boat will be along in a matter of nanoseconds.

What makes Wildwasser such a fantastic flume ride is its incredible attention to detail. It is immaculately themed, with the entire trough superbly decorated, and all manner of delicate touches. Similarly, while it would be considered a nice touch simply to erect a tunnel to block riders' views of the ride's trucks and cranes, Wildwasser goes a step further, and fills the tunnel with high-quality animatronic scenes, summing up the ride's obvious belief that riders should never be allowed to go more than a few seconds without something grabbing their attention. Suffice to say that theming, even by theme park standards, is excellent throughout, including at night, when the whole ride subtly lit to maintain the wild-west atmosphere beautifully.

Even more incredibly, despite cropping up in many different cities through the year, the ride was specifically designed to suit one particular fair. Ride it at the Düsseldorf Rheinkirmes in July, and you'll discover why the two turnarounds between the final lifts and drops are at the height they are. They deliberately align themselves with the suspension bridge that runs a few feet from the ride's regular position, giving it an extra way to advertise its presence to passers-by. Such a feature would be praiseworthy of any theme park ride, but to deliberately tailor the ride to a site on which it will spend little more than a week each year is truly staggering.

Wildwasser really does go way beyond the call of duty in every way. Whereas it would be reasonable to expect a transportable flume to lack some of the finesse of the theme park rides, Wildwasser is actually more than capable of eclipsing any European theme park flume you'd care to mention. No concession is made to the fact that it is not a permanent ride. No corners are cut, and no easy options taken if they mean compromising the enjoyment of either the rider or spectator. If Wildwasser were at a park, I would give it the highest of praise. The fact, however, that you can ride this masterpiece in the knowledge that the site will sit empty a few days later just makes the whole thing all the more outstanding.

JP 3 August 2005

Good points:

▪ Excellent flume by any standards
▪ Impeccable theming
▪ Wonderful finale
▪ Supremely efficient operation  

Bad points:

Ride has lots of drops as opposed to one major drop



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