Kulturpark Plänterwald, as the fairground was known when it first opened in 1969 in the neighborhood of Treptow, was a marquee project of the communist East German government, and it remained a popular attraction until the wall fell in 1989. It was bought in 1990 by Norbert Witte, “the descendent of a line of German carnival performers and operators,” and his wife, Pia, and reopened the next year as a 74-acre amusement park. Although Spreepark had an early burst of success, with 1.5 million annual visitors, by 2001 dwindling ticket sales forced Witte to declare insolvency. The park closed, and the family moved to Peru, taking six rides with them.
There, things got worse for Witte. He suffered multiple heart attacks and failed in his attempts to open a new theme park. Finally, he and his son were arrested in 2003 when they tried to smuggle 400 pounds of cocaine back into Germany; the drugs were found stuffed inside the machinery of a ride called the Flying Carpet.
After he was released from jail, Witte lived in a caravan on the abandoned park grounds, which gradually returned to nature. Witte’s daughter gave weekend guided tours of the rotted swan boats, the rusted ferris wheel, the overturned dinosaurs, and the swamped-in log ride. The postapocalyptic scene was used as a location for the 2011 action movie “Hanna.”
In March, the Berlin government bought the lease to the land and ordered the previous owners to clear the rusting structures. It hoped to turn the grounds into a family park. There’s no immediate word on whether the fire will change those plans. But Spreepark’s most visible legacy is in the thousands of photos taken of the grounds by curious visitors who hopped the broken fence. Here’s a selection.