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Amusement parks in NRW: Phantasialand sees closure as "groundless discrimination"

Amusement parks in NRW : Phantasialand sees closure as "groundless discrimination"

Zoos, swimming pools and even beer gardens are allowed to open, but there is no concrete date yet for the start of amusement parks in NRW. The situation is different in other German states and abroad. The Phantasialand in Brühl does not want to accept this.

Amusement park operators in NRW are annoyed. Many of them had hoped for an opening at Whitsun - they cleaned the facilities, brought the rides out of hibernation and watched their colleagues in other federal states and neighboring countries open their parks. In NRW, there is still no concrete date for a possible start of the season, while other sectors are already benefiting from relaxations.

At Phantasialand in Brühl, people are reacting with incomprehension to the lack of opening prospects. "This is a groundless disadvantage that we cannot accept," says the theme park speaker, the park still attracted more than two million visitors in 2019. Phantasialand's biggest competitor is Europa-Park Rust, and for years the two parks have been battling for the top spot in Germany. In 2019, the amusement park in Baden-Württemberg came out on top - and that will probably remain the case this year. Because Europa-Park Rust has already been open since May 22. Amusement parks in Belgium and the Netherlands have also been open since the middle of the month. "We feel that this is discriminatory," says a Phantasialand spokesperson.

"The beer garden is open, but the children can not play in the amusement park," also criticizes Julian Eichenhofer from the management of the Ketteler Hof in Haltern am See. Shortly before Whitsun, the amusement park operators jointly drafted a "cry for help." In it, the Association of German Amusement Parks and Leisure Companies (VDFU) criticizes not only the unequal treatment compared to other federal states, but also the differences for individual industries in NRW. "Amusement parks are closed without factual justification, while zoos are open regardless of incidences," it says. Yet both belong to recreational facilities, it adds. Meanwhile, miniature golf courses, climbing parks and high ropes courses are also allowed to welcome visitors.

The association also faults the order of openings. In the first lockdown, amusement parks opened before lodging establishments and movie theaters; now it could be the other way around. "Although it has been scientifically proven that outdoor facilities are much less harmful to infection incidence," the VDFU letter says.

While others are already opening, amusement park operators are running out of time. Normally, the season starts at the end of March, and from then on the clock is ticking. Visitors come for about seven months - after that, the season is over. One third of the annual turnover has already been lost due to the loss of the Easter business, according to the VDFU. Yet even the first year of the pandemic was economically challenging.

"We had a total of 250,000 visitors in 2020, in 2019 it was still 450,000," says Julian Eichenhofer of Ketteler Hof. This year it would probably be even less, because the opening is delayed. If Ketteler Hof is to be ready for an opening at any time, there is always work to be done. "Half of the park is a mixed forest," Eichenhofer says. "We clean the facilities, remove leaves, prepare intensively. But if there's no movement in the park, nature reclaims everything pretty quickly." In addition, according to VDFU, there is also a certain amount of lead time that every operator needs for an opening. They have to hire seasonal staff, order food or have rides approved by the TÜV. Every week of delay in opening actually postpones the start of the season by three weeks, he said.

The operators are now left with the hope of a good summer. Some of them are banking on it and are even investing in new attractions. At Bottrop's Movie Park, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, there is a new roller coaster. The "Multi Dimension Coaster" is designed to immerse visitors in various movie scenes and sets from Hollywood. New attractions are also ready for launch at Fort Fun in Sauerland, including an outdoor playground and a new video system for the summer toboggan run - one of the highlights at Fort Fun. At Phantasialand, many visitors will likely be new to the Rookburgh themed world, which opened just last fall.

But what if the openings are delayed even further? The worst-case scenario would probably be closures - this time for good. In that case, the VDFU has a grim prognosis. "It can be assumed that no new park would be created if business ceased," the association's call for help reads. Most amusement parks in NRW have been run by the same family for generations, it said, and there are no new startups. "Every lost park would leave a gap," the association warns.

Original text: Viktor Marinov and Carolin Streckmann

Translation: Mareike Graepel

(ga)