Tonight, I took a stroll over the Freimarkt, the annual Bremen autumn fair, which celebrates its 975th anniversary this year. Yes, you read that right. Freimarkt was first celebrated in 1035 AD, though the medieval version looked very different from today’s funfair incarnation. By comparison, Munich’s Oktoberfest is only 200 years old.
People visit the Freimarkt for different reasons, for me the biggest draws are the carousels and the food. I took a spin in the Kraken, a Schwarzkopf Monster III from the 1970s, which I’ve ridden pretty much every year since I was old enough.
I also took a ride in the Happy Traveller, which is a particularly pretty Huss Breakdancer. There is another Breakdancer on the Freimarkt and they’re pretty much identical, but I prefer the Happy Traveller, because the design is more attractive and less dated. I mean, Breakdancer may have seemed like a great idea in 1983, when the ride debuted, but in 2010 it’s pretty dated. Not that the Happy Traveller isn’t dated in its own way – the gondolas are decorated with airbrushed portraits of 1980s stars, Boy George, Grace Jones, Axel Rose, Madonna from the Who’s That Girl? period. And the painted backdrop features Michael Jackson leaning to a lamppost in what is supposed to be a Paris street scene. Actually, the dated design of some of the rides and stands is part of the attraction, because you can usually pinpoint when they were built or when the last refurbishment took place by the pop cultural icons depicted in the decorations. I saw a kiddie ride featuring The A-Team, Knight Rider, Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – very obviously early 1990s. A game stand – throw a ball and knock down tins or something like that – was decorated with scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark and the James Bond film Octopussy, which indicates early 1980s. I also saw an ice cream stand decorated with pictured of Shirley Temple. There used to be a bumper car ride decorated with larger than life portraits of long forgotten 1970s pop stars, but unfortunately they repainted that one a few years ago. This year, we had a ride named Transformer. When the fair is over and everybody else is disassembling their rides and packing up, Transformer will simply transform into a giant robot and march along the highway to Hamburg, which is the next big event on the autumn fair circuit.
Finally, I took a ride on the Frisbee, another Huss design. Huss Rides, one of the foremost manufacturers of fairground rides, is a Bremen based company. Therefore, we always got the latest rides at the Freimarkt. Though in recent years, carousel innovation mainly seems to concentrate on fixed rides for amusement parks, not mobile rides for funfairs, so we don’t get so many new rides anymore. Though there were a couple of new to me attractions this year, including a couple of fun houses (probably just repainted) and a stunning skyflyer type ride named Rocket.
There was also rotating house type simulator ride (the seats remain largely stationary, while the room rotates around them) named Hex’n Wippn (Witches Seesaw), which is based on an attraction that debuted at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. This one isn’t that old – I’d guess 1960s by the artwork – but it is apparently one of the last rides of its type in operation. Here is a description of a similar attraction. Not new, but I have never seen that one before.
As for food, I had fish and chips (not quite as good as in Britain, but a pretty good substitute), Chinese veggie stir-fry (a 1980s innovation), a fish roll (North German fairground classic), roasted almonds, another fairground classic, in the not so classic flavour chili cocoa and Schmalzkuchen, a type of deep-fried pastry. I saw several Turkish youths eating Schmalzkuchen, which surprised me, because Schmalzkuchen traditionally contain pig lard and thus aren’t halal. I think the frying fat used to be animal fat as well, though animal fat is rarely used for frying these days. Of course, the lard in the Schmalzkuchen might have been replaced by chicken or goose lard or clarified butter as well.