Tim’s Turn: Travels Through Europe
I was nearly hit in the head by a fast-flying wing of a Dutch windmill several years ago. I was in the Netherlands with an IAAPA tour group, and I lingered inside an authentic windmill to take additional photos following our official tour. In a hurry to catch up with the group, I ran down the steps, out the door, stepped over a small barrier, and started running across an open field for my group.
“Look out, Tim; duck.” I heard that order from someone in our group who was waiting for me on the proper path. He had a good view of what I was about to encounter. I looked up just in time. I ducked and heard the windmill’s arm go swishing by at a very high speed. I dropped my camera and ended up with grass stains on my knees.
I picked myself up off the ground and caught up with the late Will Koch, then head of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana. It was he who saw me taking the shortcut and shouted a yell that saved me. I bought him a drink later at the hotel.
Thankfully, all of my European travels have not been brushes with death. Most of them have been amazing adventures with incredible insights into the best this industry has to offer. I started writing about Euro Disneyland (now Disneyland Paris) before groundbreaking in 1987, and it was quite fun to set foot into that version of the Magic Kingdom during the grand opening in 1992.
I remember that initial step being like déjà vu all over again. It all seemed so familiar, but yet so different. Imagineer Marty Sklar, always a great interview, introduced me to Tony Baxter, who was the creative lead for the design of the park. Little did I realize that Tony and I would become friends and that 13 years later, I would write Tony’s official biography, “Tony Baxter, First of the Second Generation of Walt Disney Imagineers.”
During my active years chronicling the industry, I had the opportunity to visit Parc Astérix and its charismatic leader Olivier de Bosredon several times and was always amazed how European-centric the park was. That is still the reason it has been able to stay competitive.
Other European adventures include the day Philippe Reverchon picked me up at a rail station, treated me to a tour of his company’s bumper car manufacturing plant in Samois-sur-Seine, France, and then treated me to lunch at a riverside café along the Seine. We then headed to Fontainebleau, where I got to see where Napoleon lived before he met his Waterloo.
My other European memories include the several times I visited the Zamperla plant in Vicenza, Italy, where I was always greeted with a smile and open arms by Alberto Zamperla. It was here that I sampled my first taste of “real” Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan cheese). In Rust, Germany, while visiting Europa-Park, Michael Kreft von Byern, now general manager of Rulantica, drove me to the top of the fog-draped Black Forest, where I purchased a genuine cuckoo clock.
Oh, such memories. And these don’t include the time I ate my first hamburger in Hamburg, Germany, or my first frankfurter in Frankfurt, Germany; ate my first Swedish meatball in Sweden; froze my ears off in Liseberg’s ice bar; or forgot where I was after a day of drinking at Oktoberfest in Munich. We’ll leave those stories for another time.
Tim O’Brien is a veteran outdoor entertainment journalist and is a longtime Funworld contributor. He has authored many books chronicling the industry’s attractions and personalities and is the only journalist in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.