Friday, 14 December 2012

13: Germany’s Tropical Island

After a few months settled in with my girlfriend, she suggested we “do something different.” I pointed out we’d already bathed naked in public with German socialists and done organised hitchhiking. “This is something really special,” she tells me, with the smile of a woman who has spent hours organising a surprise event.

That same evening we are sat on a regional train heading slowly out of Berlin and into the night. As the train drifts southeast out of the city, people stare more. Accents are different. Shaved heads take over from haircuts and the train conductor has a different look about him. “Where are we going?” I ask. “Somewhere special,” is the answer. 

An hour later, around 10 pm, we arrive in a deserted station with no lights beside a field.  It feels like a location of a PD James murder mystery and for several minutes I cannot banish the thought of the inevitable murder-by-axe.

“What’s this?” I inquire. My girlfriend is busy reading a map at this point and ignores me. I look around and see nothing but fields and hear only the sound of night breeze: further public transport has not yet reached this part of the land. An oldish man is sat on the other side of the station, smoking a pipe and staring at me. I wonder if he is the axe murderer. “Let’s go,” says my partner. 

We walk through fields and forests, occasionally finding a path, following a bright light in the distance like sailors guided by a lighthouse at sea. We reach what at first appears to be a large farm barn, but as we approach, it looks like a giant volleyball stadium. “I love volleyball,” I mutter casually. My girlfriend takes my hand and leads me inside.

“Welcome to Tropical Island,” says a sign above the information desk. My girlfriend points to it and smiles at me, as if she wants me to snap a Kodak moment.

We pay our entrance fee and change. 

Tropical Island is something only Germans could have really conceived of, a 66,000 square metre Robinson Crusoe set from the 70s that has somehow survived the commercialisation of real holidays offered by the likes of Ryanair and Easyjet. Fake palm trees are dotted around a number of pools and plastic water lilies float between wobbling middle-aged Germans. White tipis form a camp at one end of the complex, beside an artificial beach with deck chairs. The place looks like a Chinese holiday camp: steel girders hang above the pool and the swimwear looks tailor-issued.  A bar serving chips and fried sausages with Trinidadian flaglets runs down the middle. Both my girlfriend and I find ourselves relieved at the warmth and head straight for the sauna, followed by the jacuzzi. 

The German Caribbean.
Of course, Tropical Island is particularly un-tropical. For starters, everybody is white at Tropical Island. The music sounds like Calypso and Zouk, but sung by Germans. The disconcerting number of speedos merely demystifies the place further.

 But for Germans it’s perfect. It allows them to pretend they are in the Caribbean without having to actually go there. What’s more, they don’t have to share the beaches with locals fastidiously trying to remind them it's their country. The food is sauerkraut-friendly and the slides are infinitely more sinuous and well-designed than  anything in Bermuda. “It’s a must see for architects,” my gay engineer friend tells me on my return. It’s certainly something.

Being poor Berliners, we only paid the entrance fee and then squatted a tipi for free. This is highly advisable. The Germans are far too polite and discreet to check the tipis at night and as long as you wake up before 7am, you’ll be back in the ‘Tropical Sea’ lagoon sipping a pint of filter coffee before anybody knows.  Unfortunately they check after seven and found us fast asleep without a receipt for the night. We ended up leaving the reservoir lumbered with a big fat bill to carry on our walk back to the deserted train station. As I watched the stainless steel bowl disappear into the distance, I felt happy to be returning to the civilisation of Berlin.


  1. Thanks for this post!

  2. The place looks like a Chinese holiday camp and for Germans it’s perfect.Thanks for the post.

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