From vision to reality: Europa-Park is born
Franz Mack and his son Roland came up with the idea of opening their own theme park with entertainment for all ages during a tour of the USA in 1972. At the same time, they wanted it to be an exhibition space for products manufactured in Waldkirch by Mack Rides, so that potential customers could see how the amusement rides worked in practice. It took three years to implement the project, and Europa-Park opened its doors for the first time in 1975. Once the family was back in Germany, the first task was to find a suitable site. At that time German parks had a primarily regional focus, but the Macks’ vision was much broader from the start. The current location in Rust was not the site under consideration at the beginning. There was a piece of land by a small artificial lake called ‘Europa-See’ in Breisach, a town dating back over 4,000 years and located right on the Franco-German border, which initially seemed perfect for the plans.
Despite advanced preparations and numerous permits having been put in place, the project fell through because of an objection from the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration, which had its own plans for the land. The one thing that does, however, remain from Breisach – the town that back in 1950 was the first European town to implement a pilot poll (initiated by ‘Europa-Union Deutschland’) on the formation of a European federal state and has since really bought into the European concept – is the name of the park: Europa-Park.
The subsequent search for a new site then threw up a piece of land directly on the motorway between Karlsruhe and Basel, near Neuenburg. Plans got underway immediately, only to once again be thwarted by an authority: the Stuttgart motorway administration demanded the widening of a motorway underpass, which would have cost considerable time and money.
Nevertheless, anyone thinking that the project would be stopped because of the difficulties finding a location was quickly corrected by the project’s bosses. Eventually they became aware of a centuries-old castle gardens on a piece of land in Rust – also not far from the Karlsruhe/Basel motorway – which was owned by the local authority. The fishing village of Rust, which at the time had fewer than 3,000 inhabitants, supported the theme park project from the start. The village’s mayor – the meanwhile deceased Erich Spoth and freeman of the park – was particularly active in his support for the planners, and made the park and castle on the banks of the ‘Alte Elz’ available to them. An adjacent fairy tale park was also purchased, taking the total area up to 16 hectares. After drawn-out negotiations with authorities and administrations, it was finally time to begin construction.
1975-1985: The early years, growth despite initial opposition
The development of Europa-Park is a textbook success story. The workshops of Waldkirch were already famous in the eighteenth century for their skills in cart building. In 1870 the jump was made to circus car and carrousel building. By 1915 the company Mack Rides was already ‘purveyor to the court’ of Circus Krone; in 1921 it created the first rollercoaster. From 1930 onwards the family business specialised in circus trucks, carrousels, ghost trains and rollercoasters. In 1951 the company Mack built the first bobsleigh run out of wood; only a year later, the company took the plunge into business in the United States of America. Under the leadership of Franz Mack, the company went global. The foundations of this successful rise were innovative concepts for rides and entrance into the theme park business. The latter happened in 1975 with the founding of Europa-Park in Rust, partially a sort of ‘display window’ for the in-house products. Under the leadership of Franz Mack and his sons, Roland and (later) Jürgen, there was an optimal combination of parks, entertainment, culture and the thrill of fun rides – almost all of them constructed by the parent company Mack Rides in Waldkirch.
But not everyone believed in the success story right away: there was a lot of scepticism in the beginning. Headlines such as ‘The vultures are hovering over Rust’ and ‘What’ll happen to the ruins of the theme park in Baden’s fishing village?’ were some of the initial, not-exactly-euphoric reactions of the press to the Macks’ idea to build a theme park in Rust. But the visitor numbers proved them wrong: 250,000 visitors came in 1975, as many as 700,000 descended a year later, and the million mark was met for the first time in 1978. One key step was the opening of the Italian-themed area in 1982, and the implementation of the European theme concept in collaboration with stage designer and film architect, Ulrich Damrau.
1985-1996: European orientation, market leader, first awards
The European theme concept was pursued systematically, with careful attention to detail: Holland, England, France, Scandinavia, Spain and the German Alley were added in 1984, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1996 respectively. The concept proved to be visionary, particularly in view of the political reorganisation of Europe going on at that time. Signed in 1985, the Schengen Agreement opened up the borders between the member states over the next ten years.
The Mack brothers’ great ambition to achieve high quality began to pay off. Whether in the catering, rides, gardens or shows, the priority was always utmost quality. Europa-Park was the only German theme park to be graded as ‘very good’ by consumer organisation Stiftung Warentest in 1990. Two million people visited the park in 1991.
In 1996 Stiftung Warentest came to a clear conclusion: ‘Overall, Europa-Park in Rust has the broadest and most high-quality offering at a reasonable price – particularly compared with Disneyland Paris.’ Tourism expert Prof. Dr. Horst W. Opaschowski from Hamburg went a step further, immortalising himself with the following entry in Europa-Park’s guest book: ‘Experience your life – that’s the prognosis for the future. Here in Rust, the future has long since begun.’
1995-2016: Development into a short break destination, Roland Mack becomes president of the international association, ‘Ammolite – The Lighthouse Restaurant’ becomes the only starred restaurant in a theme park
A new era began in 1995 with the opening of ‘El Andaluz’, the first hotel in a German theme park. Longer stays – resulting from the park having more and more to offer – led to an increase in the pressure on accommodation. The 4* hotel was booked up at a rate of 87 per cent in the first year. The ‘Castillo Alcazar’, another 4* hotel, was then built in 1999. Demand was enormous: total hotel occupancy in the year 2000 was 97.7 per cent. A new record was achieved in the park: three million visitors.
In 2001/2002 Europa-Park became the first theme park in Germany to open its doors for a winter season. 180,000 visitors came during the six weeks that it was open. With the site’s prominence as a tourist magnet growing, the park opened its own motorway exit in spring 2002, after decades of wrestling with the issue.
In 2002 MackMedia was founded as part of the Mack International Group. With this company, Managing Director Michael Mack aimed to create new entertainment experiences and make their presence even stronger outside of the park. MackMedia was created to take the world of Europa-Park into a digital future.
It was only a matter of time before a third 4* themed hotel was built. The Italian/Roman-style ‘Colosseo’, opened in 2004, was the largest individual hotel in southern Baden, boasting 1,450 beds. Open all year round, the 4* Superior hotel ‘Colosseo’ managed to chalk up a dream occupancy rate of 95 per cent in the first year. This was followed by the 4* Superior themed hotel, ‘Santa Isabel’, built in the style of a Portuguese monastery, in 2007. The fifth themed hotel, ‘Bell Rock’, was opened in 2012. In this latest 4* Superior hotel, designed in the New England style, visitors can follow in the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers and explorers who once ventured to new shores and crossed the Atlantic on an adventurous voyage to the New World. Together with ‘El Andaluz’, ‘Castillo Alcazar’, ‘Colosseo’ and ‘Santa Isabel’, the ‘Bell Rock’ became part of the biggest hotel resort in Germany, adding a further 1,000 beds to the wide range of accommodation available. Thanks to the increased hotel capacity, the number of two-day visitors began to rise continually and the zone of influence began to expand. This has led to many overnight stays being booked at both the Europa-Park hotels and other hotels in the tourist region of the Black Forest.
In 2005 Franz Mack was delighted to receive a very special award: the senior boss of the Mack corporate group was accepted into the ‘Hall of Fame’ in Atlanta as one of the ‘pioneers of the international success of amusement parks.’ He was awarded the accolade at the world’s largest trade fair for amusement parks in Atlanta, by President of the IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions), Clark Robinson.
Corporate business also grew with the increased range of event and meeting rooms on offer. More than 1,300 events a year are now handled by Confertainment, founded in 1998. Alongside this, Europa-Park began to gain significance as a media location: today it is a popular set for national and international film and TV productions. Around 200 TV shows are recorded at the park each year.
In 2009 Europa-Park was expanded by 15 hectares. The new Iceland themed section, with the gigantic ‘blue fire Megacoaster’, covered an area of two hectares. Iceland expanded the European countries concept further and featured Europe’s highest loop on a catapult coaster. In 2012 the area of Europa-Park was expanded once again, this time by five hectares: the fifth themed hotel, ‘Bell Rock’, complete with modern fitness club, and the spectacular wooden rollercoaster ‘WODAN – Timburcoaster’ were built. In erecting the first wooden rollercoaster, Europa-Park was following in the footsteps of its parent firm, Mack Rides in Waldkirch, which had been manufacturing rides of this type since 1921. Just under 100 years later ‘WODAN – Timburcoaster’ was integrated into the park. With a length of 1,050 metres, height of 40 metres, speed of over 100 kilometres an hour and maximum vertical acceleration of up to 3.5 G, it guarantees a fast ride full of myths and legends, and plenty of adrenaline!
At the end of November 2011 Europa-Park was accorded a great honour: Roland Mack was the first German to be appointed President of the IAAPA. Together with his colleagues on the board, he dedicated himself first and foremost to the strategic development of the sector, international exchange of experiences and further harmonisation of safety standards.
Europa-Park is also hard to beat when it comes to gastronomy. The world’s first ever looping restaurant, ‘FoodLoop’, has been offering visitors an entirely new rollercoaster experience since 2011. Here the staff turn the concept of eating on its head – almost literally!
2012 brought the first 4D film from MackMedia to visitors. In ‘The Secret of Balthasar Castle’, Ed Euromaus and his friends make the leap to the big screen. Together they solve the mystery of the mysterious Balthasar Castle and go on an exciting adventure.
Another highlight: the fine dining restaurant ‘Ammolite – The Lighthouse Restaurant’ integrated into the 4* Superior hotel ‘Bell Rock’ was awarded two Michelin stars and 16 Gault&Millau points in 2014, just two years after it was opened. This makes Europa-Park the first theme park in the world to have a starred restaurant!
Since the 2014 season Europa-Park has also been spiriting its visitors away into a mini-world of superlatives: at the family attraction ‘ARTHUR – In the Minimoys Kingdom’, nature becomes a great adventure. The gigantic realisation of the lovingly detailed scenery from the star director Luc Besson's successful film trilogy ‘Arthur and the Invisibles’ shows off the secret world of the small characters.
Europa-Park turned 40 in 2015 and celebrated its jubilee year with numerous new features and surprises. One of these was the new Express Lane. This ensures that visitors start enjoying the numerous attractions even sooner: the conveyor from the car park to the main entrance provides hassle-free transportation of guests to Europa-Park. A further highlight was the redesign of the Euro-Tower in the French themed area. With the help of MackMedia, the ‘Alpenexpress VR-Ride’ – a world first – was unveiled in September 2015. Passengers in the Austrian themed section can enjoy an adventure never experienced before using virtual reality glasses. This year MackMedia will also be producing the first casual game, ‘The Mystery Maze of Balthasar Castle’, making another addition to Europa-Park’s media offering. In the Magic Cinema 4D, visitors will also be able to immerse themselves in the new 4D film, ‘The Time Carousel’. Ed Euromaus and his friends will be sent on a crazy journey through time by the evil Nachtkrabb.
3,600 members of staff – including 102 trainees – ensure that everything runs smoothly behind and in front of the scenes during the season at Europa-Park, and are educated and trained at the site’s own academy. Apart from this, the park secures up to 8,500 jobs indirectly, making it one of the biggest employers in the region.
Europa-Park is part of an international family: with over a million employees, about a billion visitors every year and an estimated total turnover of over 30 billion US dollars, leisure parks throughout the world have developed into an important industry. As the international association for leisure companies, the IAAPA deals with all matters affecting the leisure industry. About 4,500 companies in more than 90 countries, including over 1,000 well-known leisure parks, are members of this organisation.
Future and change of generations
The Macks have a lot planned for the coming years: alongside optimisation of existing facilities, this primarily means continual growth and creation of new attractions and themed areas. They took an initial step in this direction back in 2012 when they converted and expanded the long-standing parent company in Waldkirch. The construction of a brand new water park – the biggest investment in the family firm’s history – starting in 2016 represents another important foundation for the future: indoor and outdoor activities all involving water are to be created on a 46-hectare expansion site in the south-east of the district of Rust over the next few years. In order to meet the associated increased demand for accommodation options, Europa-Park is also planning to build another hotel.
The next generation of Macks is facing up to these challenges and taking on great responsibility. Since 2007 Michael and Thomas Mack, Roland Mack’s sons, have been providing support to the Board of Directors. Michael Mack, who has a degree in international business administration, has been responsible for Mack Solutions, MackMedia, the company’s strategic development and the marketing and construction management divisions as part of operative management since April 2007. In addition, he is the extended arm of the production firm, Mack Rides, in Waldkirch. His brother Thomas Mack, a qualified Diplom Hotelier, is responsible for the Europa-Park hotel resort, the park and event food catering, and the entertainment department.
The amusement industry of tomorrow considered, developed and implemented by Mack today – a concept that also applies to the future. Satisfied visitors are one of the most important factors for success. As such, Europa-Park continues to focus consistently on quality and innovation. ‘Our visitors deserve nothing but the best, and that’s exactly what they get from us’, says Roland Mack, owner of Europa-Park.
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