40 years of family fun
Austria’s largest family fun park recently completed its most ambitious expansion to date. With the help of European Union funds, Märchenpark added three new rides for its 40th anniversary season, including its first ever rollercoaster. Owen Ralph visits Neusiedlersee.
Located on a hilltop outside the town of St Margarethen in Burgenland, the skyline of this 12-hectare park has been transformed this season by the arrival of Götterblitz (pictured below) and the Roman Tower (above). The two attractions, a YoungStar family coaster from Mack and a Maypole Tower by ABC Rides, are clearly visible above everything else as guests approach this charming park from the road outside. “We are a small park, but this is the next step towards us becoming a middle-sized park,” confirms owner Mario Müller.
Müller began adding the first major rides in 1992 after inheriting what for many years had been an animal and sculpture park from his father. A year later he signed up to the German trade association VDFU, and was soon embraced by other members of the industry.
“In 1994 we made a trip to the USA with Helmut Fischer from Tripsdrill,” Müller recalls. “It was great fun, and very inspirational. I was impressed with the theming at Dollywood, but also found some of the older parks very interesting too.”
A lot of the early rides at Märchenpark were pretty standard fare, things like a balloon ride, truck ride and cable car, but in recent years the park has started adopting more idiosyncratic attractions from manufacturers in Germany and Switzerland. And anyone that has visited Tripsdrill will find that Fischer’s style has clearly been an influence in Neusiedlersee too.
Both parks have become good customers of ABC Rides, which supplied not only The Roman Tower (pictured above), similar to Tripdrill’s Maypole Tower, but also the cute Kroko-Wasserbahn children’s flume and Traktorbahn ride, complete with authentic replicas of classic Austrian Steyr tractors. “ABC are very good,” says Müller, “and it is always interesting to work with [owner] Willy Walser.”
Comprising eight basket-style gondolas, the Roman Tower spins slowly as the baskets rise and fall, controlled by passengers via the use of a joystick. Halfway through the ride, the tower speeds up and the baskets swing outwards as the interactive feature is overridden in favour of a pre-programmed sequence. The ride also offers tremendous views out over nearby Lake Neusiedl (Neusiedlersee).
When it came to choosing a rollercoaster, the YoungStar from Mack appealed to Müller for two reasons: “I rode the original ride, called Pegasus, at Europa-Park together with my children, and they had a very good feeling. I also liked the quality. And because we already had a Roman area at our park, we did not need to do any new theming!“
Featuring a Trojan horse-themed train, Götterblitz, like Pegasus, is suitable for children as small as four years or one metre in height, yet it is still a thrilling ride with remarkable smoothness. Also new this season is the Duck Parade from Metallbau Emmeln, another tried and tested Tripsdrill attraction.
Many of the original fairytale scenes created by Ermin Müller can be still be found inside Märchenpark, in amongst the woods. In fact, this area of the park was extended in 2007 to give guests more room to relax. Though not all the figures have weathered well over the years, there are also a number of newer animated features, such as the interactive Dwarves’ Mine, to keep young guests entertained. The aforementioned tractor ride is also great fun from start to finish, with talking scarecrows, squawking ducks and singing frogs all adding to the excitement. But of course it is the real farmyard animals at Märchenpark that remain a favourite with many kids, and they still take up over a quarter of the park.
A number of interactive attractions from Heege can now be found near the entrance, including the Filippo Tower (named after the park’s cat mascot), Luna Loop, Flic Flac (Butterfly) and Comet motorised swing. Elsewhere the selection is remarkably low-tech, including a water slide, pirate raft and numerous playground features. Swamp Castle, meanwhile, is a huge fantasy treehouse play structure from Jürgen Bergmann, completed in his trademark style.
Buying land in this beautiful part of Burgenland, Austria’s seventh largest province, does not come to cheap. Neusiedlersee is a popular tourist area comprising hills, lakes, well kept villages and vineyards, and it is the latter that makes most surrounding property so expensive. Nevertheless, Muller hopes to add a bigger water ride in future to come to take advantage of the good weather in the region, which is better than Germany and generally the sunniest in Austria.
Adding the larger attractions he has so far has been a bold move for the park’s owner. Götterblitz and the Roman Tower, for example are part of the 20,000-square-metre Filippo’s Abenteuerinsel area opened in 2004. Together with the Duck Parade, their introduction was made possible with support from the European Union (EU), which first offered financial assistance in 1996/7.
Located in the North East of Austria, Märchenpark sits close to the border with new EU member states Hungary and Slovakia, where there is increased spending power and a thirst for leisure. It is guests from these countries that have contributed significantly to a 25% year-on-year attendance increase in recent times, and this season the park broke the 300,000 barrier for the first time.
A standard admission is priced at ?15, although this season a ?1.50 discount was offered on as part of the park’s anniversary celebrations. Priced at just ?42, the season ticket is also a popular choice, with one particular guest visiting 50 times during 2007!
Although there are five restaurants on site, Märchenpark employs a relaxed attitude with food and beverage: “Our restaurants are reasonably priced, but we don’t want to force people to buy our food,” says park assistant Birgit Payer. “If they want to bring a picnic that is okay with us.”
Management also refuses to charge for car parking. If all this sounds like the Müllers are missing a trick, then maybe it’s also a clever move that brings in more money long term, including those season ticket sales. Besides, says Payer, there’s one thing guests can’t bring with them: “They still spend a lot on ice cream!” she smiles.
Märchenpark began life in April 1966 as Märchenwald (Fairytale Forest), a collection of sculptures displayed in the woods at Schützen am Gebirge.
Painstakingly created by Mario Müller’s late father, Erwin Müller, numerous sculptures were built depicting characters from famous children’s novels.
After two years, the lease at Schützen was not renewed, so Märchenwald mark II was created on the park’s present site at St Margarethen. The figure of St Georg, which stands outside the entrance today, was one of Erwin’s original sculptures and took 1,000 hours to construct.
In 1970 an animal corner was created and this together with the park’s new surroundings gave Erwin fresh inspiration. After creating figures for many years out of stone, he began making wooden sculptures of animals instead.
The park was taken over by Mario Müller in 1984 and renamed Märchenpark and Zoo a few years later. Mario now runs the park together with his wife Ulrike.