Tropical paradise emerges in wintry Germany
21 December 2004 , BERLIN - A tropical island paradise, 30 miles south-east of Berlin? The idea may sound fanciful, but not for Colin Au, a dapper, 55-year-old Malaysian multi-millionaire businessman. What Au claims is the world's largest indoor tropical island attraction, complete with a lagoon, silky stretches of beach and a rain forest, which opened this week, in a gala ceremony attended by 2,000 guests. Curiosity surrounds the entrepreneur's EUR 70 million tropical paradise theme park, not least becaus
21 December 2004
BERLIN - A tropical island paradise, 30 miles south-east of Berlin? The idea may sound fanciful, but not for Colin Au, a dapper, 55-year-old Malaysian multi-millionaire businessman.
What Au claims is the world's largest indoor tropical island attraction, complete with a lagoon, silky stretches of beach and a rain forest, which opened this week, in a gala ceremony attended by 2,000 guests.
Curiosity surrounds the entrepreneur's EUR 70 million tropical paradise theme park, not least because of its location - in a huge 107-metre high hall, originally built for an ambitious zeppelin cargo project that was, in the late 1990s, abandoned at an advanced stage after its backers went bust.
Au, a former shipping cruise operator, explains what led him to conceive the world's first covered tropical paradise. "You know in Germany it is very cold and grey in winter. Nine months of the year its too cold even to sit outside at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin or at the Sony Centre.
"And Germans cannot afford to fly to Majorca or Cuba just because its too cold at home at weekends. Instead they can come here," he says.
They can drive to a beautiful place at 3pm in the afternoon, slip into bathing costumes, relax in the warmth of year-round 25-30 degree temperatures, before taking a swim or perhaps a stroll along the shore, enjoying a nice dinner and seeing a good show - all at very reasonable prices, he says.
The island is ringed with tropical plants, and studded with authentic hill-side Borneo and Bali houses and temples.
Au dismisses suggestions his tropical island is a risk project which could flop like Britain's Millennium Dome in East London, and says that unlike the Eden Project in Cornwall in southern England guests will be able to swim in the lagoon and, if they wanted to, even sleep on the beach at night in hired tents.
Open round the clock, he predicts it will be a magnet for sun- seekers, not only from nearby Berlin, but from all parts of Germany and neighbouring Poland. Like the Germans, the Poles love tropical islands, he enthuses. Early morning visitors would be able to indulge in meditation classes, aerobics, and power walking in the rain forest.
Escorting a recent group of foreign journalists round the complex, Au said one of his main challenges has been dealing with German building bureaucracy, making railings and steps in accordance with the country's strict regulations.
"In Asia you get beautiful mosaic baths. Here the water has to be drinking standard quality, and everything must be done with stainless steel. But we lighten things up with fibre optics, with beautiful green colour and so on. So from a marketing standpoint it is what we term a new type of product, a tropical island built to German standards," he said.
In 2006 there are plans to build a hotel for 1,000 guests on the site, which is located in one of Germany's most depressed regions. Unemployment is more than 20 percent in some parts.
Buffeted by the collapse of a big high-tech chip-making facility, and several other state-financed projects in recent years, Brandenburg, the eastern state encircling Berlin, had hoped the airship cargo project would create hundreds of jobs in the 1990s. When it failed, German taxpayers were left with a whopping EUR 80 million bill.
Its demise enabled Colin Au to acquire the giant dome-like structure at a bargain price of EUR 14 million. Should the island project prove a success, he plans other pleasure theme parks in other parts of north-eastern Europe.
The sun facility is about an hours drive from Berlin, in the hamlet of Brand, close to the Spreewald, a vast lush green expanse of pine forest and waterways where holidaymakers like to take river trips, and walkers and kayakers are active. But, notes Au, Spreewald has the disadvantage of having little else to offer visitors at night-time.
At the Tropical Island entertainment is offered throughout the day, with dancing troupes from India, Thailand, Bali and China, he says. In the evenings, visitors will be treated to a Brazilian show extravaganza, depicting the history of that country, complete with an ensemble of semi-naked Indians, crew-cut Roman Catholic priests and Portuguese soldiers. There will be a late-night techno night club for younger visitors.
Asked about nudity at the facility, he said: "We won't go to the extent of FKK (nudists) but there will be a section where, if women want to be topless, that will be allowed. A right hand section of the beach will be for more relaxed levels. The left-hand side of the beach for families.
When asked how much of his own personal fortune had gone into the Brandenburg project, the British-educated Au replied: "About 25 percent of it. The rest was put up by a partner company in Malaysia. To break even on the project we will need one-a-half-million visitors a year. If we get 2.5 million to three million people a year we should be fine."
Subject: German news