Vienna Prater goes back to the future
Vienna’s Prater has gone back to the future with the opening of Riesenradplatz (Giant Wheel Square), giving a starring role to the park’s iconic 1897 Ferris Wheel. Those that make the effort to peer inside one of the faux period buildings that surround this new entrance plaza will also find two exciting multimedia attractions. Owen Ralph reports.
As readers of this publication will be only too aware, the Prater is undergoing a gradual “renaissance” as the Vienna authorities attempt to bring it into the modern era, while paying tribute to its past. Following a masterplanby Imaginvest of Paris, the local firm Explore 5D was selected to design, develop and implement the entire Riesenradplatz project – a big opportunity for this young company.
Designed as a city square, the plaza covers 16,000 square metres, including new restaurants and shops and a service area with ticketing, retail, and an information point/lost property office. The latter is significant, as the Prater never had a guest service point before.
Managing the project has been a delicate process for Explore 5D. “The regeneration is challenging at many levels,” confirms the company’s CEO, Dr Gerhard Frank. “There are many different families that own the individual attractions and we have had to work closely with them, the city authorities and investors to ensure future developments are to everyone’s satisfaction.”
One of the biggest challenges has been convincing operators, many of whom have been at the Prater for several generations, to think differently. With over four million visitors passing through the park each year, but as many as 80 individual operators, many use bright lights and loud music to compete for a slice of the action. It works to some extent, but it’s made harder for those operators whose attractions are duplicated across the park. Ghost Trains and bumper cars, for example, are there in abundance.
Taking the plunge by coming on board to operate the two hi-tech new attractions in the Riesenradplatz was the Calafatti company, whose owners include Peter Petritsch, operator of the famous Ferris Wheel. With Miraculum (a “5D” effects theatre) and Vienna Airlines (a next generation flight simulator), Calafatti can now offer a package of attractions for the coach tours that stop off at the Prater as part of their tour of Vienna.
Yet it has still been a steep leaning curve for the operator: “At first they had a little difficulty understanding how to market attractions like this,” notes Andreas Kornprobst, Explore 5D’s executive vice-president, “but now we are supporting them with a few ideas to convey the excitement of what goes on inside the buildings to the passers-by outside.”
Already believed to be increasing dwell time, the Riesenradplatz provides a relaxing new area that is both an antidote and a precursor to the thrills that lie beyond. The ambience here is underpinned by a custom-produced soundtrack, which plays throughout the day.
There are, however, some attractions that bridge the gap between park and plaza. A Wave Swinger ride operated by the AET Group has been moved from elsewhere in the Prater and fits into the area perfectly thanks to its classic theming. And behind the period façade of one of the new buildings, a giant nightclub will open this October for those guests leaving the park and wanting to keep the energy levels high until the early hours.
“People dream of flying like a bird,” says Gerhard Frank. Now his company is giving the people of Vienna a chance to do almost that – right over the rooftops of their own city.
Vienna Airlines (pictured above) is a next generation flight simulator developed in association with international partners including Bosch-Rexroth, which supplied the mighty motion base that sits beneath the 33-person ride platform. The attraction uses Explore’s unique Flyboard passenger support devices, in which riders stand leaning forward at angles of up to 35 degrees. Right away they feel part of the action.
In the beautifully-themed pre-show area, guests are shown an introductory film explaining Vienna’s role in the early days of human flight. The Prater was, in the 1900s, one of the preferred places for daredevil pilots to land their flying machines and Vienna Airlines passengers experience some of that excitement for themselves.
Although permission could not be granted to gather footage during a real flight over the city, Explore 5D has nevertheless managed to produce a very convincing ride film that fuses digitised images of real Vienna landmarks together with CGI to create a breathtaking fantasy journey. Bursting out of the side of the building they are in, riders feel the wind in their faces as they skim across the River Danube, travel underground through the U-Bahn railway, out across well-known sights and back to the Prater, culminating with a swift tour around the perimeter of the Ferris Wheel.
A 15-metre high elliptical screen means riders’ are never divorced from the action as the ride vehicle performs a series of dramatic movements during the two-and-a-half-minute ride. Despite this, the movements are smooth, and the picture is sharp. Normally on motion rides you cannot only feel the movements, but hear them too, yet thanks to a state-of-the-art electric (rather than hydraulic) drive system, that noise has been eliminated.
“Bosch Rexroth has done a tremendous job,” says Explore 5D’s chief technology officer, David Vatcher. “The motion base produces very fluid movements and that’s important because people must not think about the machine they are riding, rather they should concentrate on the feeling of flight.”
The reactions of those riding when Park World visited during the summer appeared to confirm that this is indeed an attraction not to be missed by either by local residents or those who, dare we say it, simply want something a little more fast-paced than the city sightseeing tours can offer. Indeed, Kornprobst envisages numerous tourist applications for future Flyboard installations: “This would be a great attraction for any iconic location that wants to give its guests a bird’s eye view,” he says
It was in the mid-1800s that impresario and illusionist Basilio Calafatti introduced many of the Prater’s great innovations. Now his great-great-great-great-grandson “Basilio C Junior” is back at the Vienna park as star of the new Miraculum “5D” special effects theatre from Explore 5D. This, the company’s first such project, features a custom-produced 3D film in which Basilio Junior, played by a live actor, conducts an 11-minute magic lesson in front of an inquisitive class. The students’ “whispers” can be heard at the back of the theatre thanks to an impressive surround sound system, which makes the auditorium appear full even on the quietest of days.
Integrated with the action on screen and a full suite of special effects, the high fidelity sound helps create what Gerhard Frank describes as a “psychological 5D experience.” To immerse them in the action even further, viewers must stand throughout the performance. This of course increases capacity for the operator (108 at a time, plus space for 10 wheelchairs), but also keeps audiences on their toes.
During the show, Basilio Junior attempts to teach some of his ancestor’s tricks, with mixed results, leading to several unexpected yet entertaining mishaps. Along the way there are knowing references to Harry Potter and Indiana Jones, as Basilio performs a variety of tasks, culminating in an encounter with a basilisk, the mythical part chicken, part frog and part snake reptile that can kill a man with a simple stare. Yet Basilio has a secret weapon – his 3D glasses – and as he puts them on, he gets a glimpse of the curious creature before it swoops out over the audience and up into the rafters.
The swirling wind that accompanies the basilisk in flight is one of the most impressive effects inside the Miraculum, particularly when used in an earlier sequence that sees the theatre plunged into darkness, heightening guests’ senses. A vertical drop is another “wow.” Audiences members are plunged but a matter of millimetres – but their hearts appear to plunge significantly further. “Like all special effects the drop sounds much more aggressive than it really is,” notes Vatcher, “but the very loud sound (steel to steel) is important to immerse guests in the action.”
Now the challenge for Explore 5D is to get the effects theatre and Flyboard into other parks. Several high profile clients have already been to see the attractions at the Prater, while several of the park’s operators have apparently approached Explore 5D to work with them on other projects. With the Riesenradplatz, the company has the perfect showroom.
More Calafatti Magic
Basilio Calafatti also gives his name to a new gravity ride added to the Prater this season.
Calafatti’s Magic Rotor, operated by Thomas Sittler, is a Chance-manufactured construction previously operated in the States and given a new Oriental theme.
In Calafatti Platz, meanwhile, is another new addition for 2008, a refurbished Huss Top Spin operated by Stefan Sittler. Meanwhile the Dostal family has opened a new eight-seater Screamin’ Swing by S&S called Turbo. Starting in October, a laser show is planned each night around midnight at the new Stargate/Future Zone nightclub, part of the Riesenradplatz complex.
The Prater’s 65-metre Giant Wheel, or Riesenrad, is a world-famous attraction. Constructed in 1897, it was inspired by the original Ferris Wheel at the Chicago Exposition of 1893. Ride proprietor Peter Petritsch has recently gone on record saying he is in talks to bring in Merlin Entertainments as operator of the attraction, although neither side appear to want a change ownership. Clearly Merlin’s track record with the London Eye, and its marketing nous, would make this an interesting proposition. We’ll keep an “Eye” on it.