Building a tropical resort in Northern Germany

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February 10, 2005 Where do you find a tenant when the world's largest self-supporting building suddenly becomes vacant? You think outside the square! That's what Malaysian businessman Colin Au did. He decided to build a tropical paradise with X Y and Z, and create a holiday destination for the locals who wanted relief from the cold and grey weather in Germany. "Not many people do not have enough time or money to go on extensive holiday trips abroad. That's when I had the idea for Tropical Islands." A former cruise line operator, Au reversed the principle of cruising: Instead of taking people to the tropics, he took the tropics to where they were most needed.

The failure of an ambitious bulk air carrier project in Germany in 2003 has become the catalyst for one of the most interesting tourist destinations on the planet.

The CargoLifter AG was in the process of building a zeppelin-like semi-rigid airship capable of carrying enormous loads directly from their point of manufacture to the point of destination, without ever touching the ground.

Seen by some as a flying crane, had it reached market, it would certainly have been handy in the recent Tsunami relief operation - with a payload of 160 metric tons, and a range of up to 10,000 km, just one of the CargoLifter CL 160 could have transported enough food to feed 25,000 people for a fortnight.

It was not to be and when financial problems set in, the massive CargoLifter-Airship hangar in Brand, an hour's drive from Berlin, stood for many months without a tenant - after all, not many companies have a need for the world's largest self-supporting building.

Constructed with the sole purpose of building the massive Carglifter airships, the building is truly gargantuan with five million cubic metres of interior space. By example, it is tall enough to contain the Statue of Liberty standing upright, the Eiffel Tower on its side or to envelope the entire Louisiana Superdome with room to spare.

The structure is 360 metres in length, 210 metres wide and 107 metres high.

The originator of the Tropical islands project was Malaysian-based entrepreneur Colin Au, the former CEO of Star Cruises, a leading cruise line in the Asian-Pacific region. He surveyed the needs of his future visitors closely and designed the offerings of the Tropical Islands Resort accordingly.

The Tropical Islands Resort finally opened on December 19, 2004, a 24 hour-a-day holiday destination with an ever-pleasant 25°-28° centigrade climate and a tropical habitat of warn water, exotic plants and palmtrees.

As the tropics do not know closing hours, Europe's biggest lifestyle resort opens. Every train stopping at Brand station is met by a free shuttle service to and from Tropical Islands Resort.

An attentive staff of 500 drawn from tropical regions in Asia, Africa, South Pacific, South America and the Caribbean service the guests whilst wearing their national dresses, and the resort has such a diversity of offerings most everyone is catered for.

Every three months a new tropical region is highlighted, and there's flower, arts and craft markets, and performing artists and musicians.

Those who just want bask in the warmth can do so on the white sandy beach in one of 850 deckchairs and the view goes all the way to the horizon, where a massive visual array projects sunrise and sunset at appropriate times.

Behind the beach is a rainforest with its diversity of more than 500 species of plants, palm trees up to 14 metres in height, and a waterfall gushes directly into the Balinese lagoon.

During daytime 30 minute cultural presentations are conducted every two hours, with groups of artists from different Asian countries performing traditional music and dance - Sarawak (Malaysia), Thailand, Bali, India, The Philippines, Laos and Yunnan (South China).

On a three-monthly basis, the main focus changes to other regions and artistic groups from the countries of Polynesia, Africa and South America follow, enabling regular visitors to return without a repetitive envionment.

At nights, the audience experiences a mass theatrical show on one of Europe's largest roofed water stages (140 x 50 metres). The first three month show is now drawing to a close - a musical extravaganza entitled "Viva Brazil" with 90 artists telling the the story of 1,000 years of Brazilian history. The show can accommodate up to 2,400 visitors with full dining facilities and the finale is a Brazilian carnivale. After the Brazilian-themed show, new spectaculars based around the culture of the Caribbean, Polynesia and Africa will follow.

The Resort also offers a variety of sports and recreation facilities such as Yoga, Qui Gong, Meditation, water aerobics, Jogging, power walking and beach volleyball, with high-quality child-care available with a diversity of activities.

The flora and fauna

Now it must be remembered that the German Niederlausitz region is not a tropical destination. To establish an authentic rainforest in the Northern latitudes, a team of internationally renowned botanists and landscape architects was needed. Besides housing the lagoon and the "south seas", the resort consists of 80 % green space.

Botanists, landscape architects and designers from South America, Sri Lanka, Great Britain and Germany were hired to take on the challenge of creating a vegetation as authentic and natural as possible.

Most of the 500 different species of plants come from the Asian-Pacific regions. An extensive study of the specific needs of the various plants as to substratum, temperature and lighting conditions was necessary in order to combine the floras of the various tropical regions on earth.

The soil of the resort had to be specially created and a blend consisting of sand of the region (70 %) and of organic waste, clay and bark (30 %) formed the basis with additional tropical fungi combined to nurture the symbiosis of plants and soil. Thus, there was almost no need for peat, chemical fertiliser and other ecologically harmful substances. The plants are watered automatically via a computer-monitored system in order to ensure high efficiency water consumption. The "south seas" consists of drinking water with fresh water constantly being added while the used water is cleaned by a filtration system located beneath the rainforest and used for watering of the rainforest. Air humidity inside the Dome is at 50-60 %, temperatures in the hall vary from 25 to 28° Centigrade. Founder Colin Au, a former chemical engineer and MBA, put the entire project together inside two years at a cost of 70 million Euro to create an authentic tropical short-trip destination with a capacity of 7,000 visitors open year-round, 24 hours a day.

It was not a huge gamble but a complex mathematical equation upon which he secured his largely Asian funding for the project. A population of five million lives within an hour's drive, 16 million live within three hours drive and Schönefeld international airport is just 30 minutes away.

Located in the Niederlausitz region at the A13 highway, Tropical Islands Resort lies within easy drive of Berlin (60 km) as well as from Dresden (100 km).

All-in-all, it's a remarkable project, though we can't help thinking that the Cargolifter project which preceeded it was also one of immense foresight too!

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