May 01, 2013


David Ellis

WE'VE never really considered Berlin the place to go for a tropical holiday.

So when a British-based colleague told us in January he was ducking over there to swap the Poms' winter snow and zero-temperatures for a week of tropical 26-degree temperatures, maybe camp in a rainforest, play golf in shorts and T-shirts, and get a suntan on a sandy beach, we considered he'd gone, well, maybe a little bit troppo.

After all, if it was winter in Britain, it was winter in Germany. And that meant anything but the balmy likes of the tropics, until he sent us photos of all the things he told us he'd do – and done. Plus others be-sporting himself amongst longhouses, temples, a falĂ© and grass huts straight out of Borneo, Thailand, Samoa, Bali and South America, and amid the rainforest he'd boasted had waterfalls, palms, macaws, strutting pheasants and even flamingos.

And he said he'd done it all 35km south of Berlin – with thanks partly to an Australian who now lives in Bali. Now it was us wondering which of us may have gone a little bit troppo…

But it turns out we're both quite normal: our colleague had taken his holiday at Tropical Islands, an extraordinary 66,000 square metre man-made bolt-hole that's been created within a gigantic dome built to house massive freight-carrying German airships. But the company that built the dome went belly-up in 2002 without a single airship being completed.

At 360m long, 210m wide and 107m high their hanger was – and still is – the world's biggest free-standing, pillar-less hall – high enough for the Statue of Liberty to stand in its centre, long enough to house five football fields side-by-side, and big enough for the Eiffel Tower to be laid lengthways inside it.

And its 70,000 square metre roof is strong enough to carry consistently falling snow throughout winter, and any amount of rain year-round – and with UV-transparent film panels on the southern (equator) side, warming sunshine washes over those on the inside and gives a natural tan.

After the failure of the airship venture, the group that came up with the idea of an indoor tropically-themed waterpark recruited Bali-based architect, Made Wijaya – who was born Michael White in Australia – to design the core Bali Lagoon for them.

A specialist in exotic gardens with some 600 to his credit world-wide, Made worked hand-in-glove with other landscape architects and designers from South America, Sri Lanka, England and Germany who were charged with designing the world's largest indoor rainforest, between them all creating an indoor theme-park as close to reality as possible to the real tropics.

Opened in 2004 and being right on Berlin's doorstep, Tropical Islands is today an escape-hole for not only Berliners but other Germans and Europeans, by-passing the need to have to fly to the other side of the world for a day, a week or longer in "the tropics."

Here in the 30,000 cubic metre Rainforest are 50,000 plants, bushes and groundcovers comprising some 600 species from palms to ferns, mangroves and diverse tropical fruits, a swamp that's home to Amazon black pacus, Asian archer fish, Japanese koi and Columbian shark catfish to name a few. And flitting through it all parakeets, Chinese blue-breasted quail, silver pheasants, zebra finches – even a pair of macaws.

And guides along the kilometre-long pathway will answer questions about the rainforest's plants and wildlife, and solve such navel-gazing questions as why are bananas bent?

Tropical Islands' 1,200 square metre Bali Lagoon is a constant 32-degrees with waterslides, whirlpools, a waterfall and grotto, while a Tropical Sea zone sprawls over 3,000 square metres (three times an Olympic swimming pool,) it's waters a pleasant 28-degrees and has a sandy beach, sun-lounges, children's paddling pool, Germany's highest waterslide, 18-hole mini-golf, and under that UV roof you can get a natural suntan.

And a Tropical World has a shopping boulevard, sauna and spa, games for the kids, and an accommodation block and lodges can sleep 520 any night – or you can camp-out in tents back in the Rainforest, or even on the beach. Everything's 26-degrees, 24-hrs a day, year-round.

There are also thirteen restaurants and bars offering self-service or a la carte tropical-countries' themed-dining, and spectacular evening stage shows.

If you think we've gone troppo, checkout



[] BALMY days by beach and pool – in the middle of a Berlin Winter.

[] A TOUCH of Borneo at Berlin's extraordinary Tropical Islands.

[] GRAND dining like you were on the other side of the world.

[] WORLD class nightly entertainment.

[] WHERE it's all at – defunct airship factory that's taken on a taste of the tropics in Berlin.

(All photos with thanks to Tropical Islands)

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