Yesterday, on the last day before closing, I finally got the chance to visit our annual autumn fair, the Freimarkt, held in Bremen since 1035 AD, which makes this year’s Freimarkt the 778th reiteration. I wrote a bit more about the Freimarkt here.
This year’s Freimarkt was hampered by bad weather (first unseasonal warmth and then a nasty winter storm, which forced the fair to close down for safety reasons) and by not taking place during the autumn holidays. Somehow, they always manage to arrange it so that the holidays in Bavaria coincide with Oktoberfest (a Johnny-come-lately to the fairground circuit, since it’s only 203 years old), so why can’t they manage the same for Bremen and Lower Saxony? Besides, I’m busy with my university classes and then my Mom got ill from what eventually turned out to be an infected insect bite, so I’m happy that I finally found an opportunity to go.
First of all, here is a great six minute YouTube video featuring most of the rides (he missed some of the kiddie rides, the ghost train and the log flume ride) on this year’s Freimarkt. And here is a similar, if longer video, taken by a Freimarkt visitor back in 1987. Lots of old favourites in this one, plus I keep looking for glimpses of myself and my then best friend on all the rides I knew we visited back in 1987.
Yesterday, I had a pretzel, “Red Hot Chili Poppers” (chili peppers filled with cheese and deep-fried), vegetarian chow-mein and lard cakes and also bought some sugar roasted almonds to take home. The lard cakes were really great BTW, fresh from the deep fryer. Pretzels, roasted almonds and lard cakes are funfair classics, while the chili poppers and chow-mein are 1980s and 1990s innovations, when the culinary offerings started to expand. There weren’t a whole lot of culinary innovations this year, though corn-on-the-cob seems to be becoming more popular (there used to be only one stand offering corn-on-the-cob, yesterday there were several). There was also a stand offering potato chips, freshly roasted in the pan, which was new to me. Another genuinely new thing I saw was fresh salmon grilled on site over a wood fire and then served on bread. It looked like a tasty alternative to the standard fish rolls and I probably would have had some, if I hadn’t come on the stall when I was full already.
There still were a whole lot of drink stalls as well as the usual two beer tents (alcohol, even hard alcohol is normal on German fairs), but I saw fewer people stumbling across the Freimarkt drunk out of their minds. Of course, I specifically avoid Friday and Saturday nights at the Freimarkt to avoid the drunks. I don’t mind alcohol at all, but I don’t go to the Freimarkt to drink (it doesn’t mix well with the rides) and don’t quite get those who do so to excess. They also seem to have gotten rid of the really annoying practice of young people in their late teens and twenties buying bottles of hard liquor in supermarkets beforehand and then taking them to the Freimarkt to avoid the pricier drinks sold at the stalls. Bringing your own bottles has been illegal for a while, but it seems the police is also stricter about enforcing that rule for safety reasons (broken bottles can make a nasty weapons). Besides, bringing your own drinks to the Freimarkt is just plain wrong. If you go to the Freimarkt, then at least buy your food/drink on site to support the showmen and stall operators.
Since I’m an adult, I haven’t bothered with the various game and tombola stalls, shooting galleries and the like. However, I did see a shooting gallery where you could shoot with bows and arrows instead of air rifles. It was quite popular with both kids and adults. Well, who wouldn’t like the opportunity to feel like Green Arrow, Hawkeye, Katniss or, for traditionalists, Robin Hood? Fun to watch as well.
I only went on one ride this year. I always used to love carousels and my stomach has no problems even with wilder fairground rides. However, some of my favourites are hard on the back, so I reluctantly watched from the sidelines. Plus, more and more new rides leave your legs swinging free, which is hell on people with low blood pressure. However, I did take a spin on the Frisbee, a popular fairground favourite in these parts, which is not hard on the back at all. Here is a YouTube video of a Frisbee (the same one I rode by the looks of it) in action. And here is another, filmed from a bit of a distance.
The selection of rides was pretty good as usual and featured a nice mix of old favourites, classics refurbished and new attractions. I was particularly happy to see a Schwarzkopf Monster III (commonly known as Kraken) on the Freimarkt again, after a year of absence following an accident with the same type of ride two years ago (I blogged about the accident here and here). Though it wasn’t our long established Kraken ride, but a ride of the same type called Octopussy. Or maybe it was the Kraken with a new paint-job and name to avoid negative publicity. Whatever, it’s back and that’s good, because it just isn’t Freimarkt without a Kraken ride. Here is a video of The Kraken in action, BTW.
Another old favourite is the Happy Traveller, probably the prettiest of the many travelling Breakdancer rides on the German funfair circuit. Again, here is a video showing off the spectacular (if dated) paint job. The Rotor, one of the oldest rides on the Freimarkt, was back as well. I’ve never been a Rotor fan – it’s right up there with bumper cars on my personal list of “Once, but never again” rides – but I’m still happy to see the old war horse still in operation.
I was also very happy to see a proper ghost train ride. I used to love ghost trains as a small child and was sad to see them increasingly replaced by fun houses (This year we had three at the Freimarkt, though the themes and paint jobs were boring) and “roller coaster in the dark” rides. But in the past few years, traditional ghost trains came back. By the looks of it, this ghost train probably dates from the 1960s.
Another classic returned to the Freimarkt for the first time in years (I last rode it in 2002 or thereabouts) is a spinning flat ride that was first known as UFO and than as Tornado. Now it’s back with a new (and not very good) paint job and a new name, Playball. I liked it much better when it was UFO and even when it was Tornado. Here is a video of the same type of ride with a different paint coating. I also found a video of the Playball ride, though the “first time on the Bremer Freimarkt” bit is something of a joke, because the ride was on the Freimarkt almost every year up to the early 2000s, when it was still called Tornado.
The themes, names and paint jobs of travelling fairground rides follow trends, like everything else. SF-themed rides were popular at the height of the Star Wars boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s with classics such as Orbiter, Enterprise, Sky Lab (here is a video) and Ranger, the ultimate test of bravery in my teens (Here is a video). For obvious reasons, I loved that phase and am still angry that I never got the chance to ride an Enterprise or Sky Lab ride, though I did get my chance at a Ranger a few years ago. It’s a lot more harmless than it looks BTW. Sometimes, you get fantasy themed rides as well, often based on witches (Hexentanz, Hexenwippe and so on) or the Arabian Nights (the various Magic Carpet rides).
In recent years, SF themes rides have become less popular, though some occasionally still pop up. For example, this year the Freimarkt featured a ride named Transformer. Really nice design with lots of light effects and dry ice (Here is a video). And yesterday night, once the fair closed at 11 PM, the ride simply transformed into a giant robot, got up and walked down the highway to Hamburg, to settle down on the Heiliggeistfeld for the Hamburger Dom, last of the big autumn fairs. Okay, not really. But it would be cool.
Sports themed rides were popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which gave us Top Spin (decent ride, horrible theme and look, video here) and the aforementioned Frisbee and a host of long forgotten others.
Current pop music and culture is always a rich source of themes for fairground rides as well and gave us Musik Express, which is no longer as much fun now they painted over the late 1960s pop icons (nonetheless, here is a video), the aforementioned Breakdancer and Techno Power. Pop culture themed rides date quickly and I suppose there are lots of people who have no idea that “Breakdancer” used to refer to something other than a fairground ride once.
There is always a selection of Bavarian themed rides as well as food and drink stalls. Now I don’t mind the Bavarian theme in food and drink stalls that specifically sell Bavarian specialties such as the Bavarian beer tent, Bavarian pretzel stalls or Bavarian swing grills. Nor do I mind the Krinoline, a hundred year old ride closely associated with the Munich Oktoberfest. But a Bavarian themed run-of-the-mill ride like a super slide or a funhouse called Alpenhotel are just lazy and tell me, “Hey, we couldn’t be bothered to change our ride design after Oktoberfest.” Because I’ve heard that the management of Munich’s Oktoberfest demands Bavarian decorations and German names from ride operators, so many rides and stalls have a Bavarian themed look and German name for Munich and a different look and name for other fairs.
In general, travel and adventure themes are perennially popular, as evidenced by the aforementioned Happy Traveller. There are also various high seas themed rides like the perennially popular Kraken, the equally perennially popular Happy Sailor (here is a video), the aforementioned Tornado and Pirate Boat rides (video here), which are sadly missed at the Freimarkt. A lot of the food and drink stalls have a maritime theme as well, not just the fish roll stalls (fish rolls are a popular fairground specialty in North Germany) but also drink stalls. Among others, we have the Hanseatic Tent, the Hanseatic Cog, the Lighthouse, the Riverboat and so on. The maritime theme is Bremen’s and Hamburg’s equivalent to the Bavarian theme so popular at the Oktoberfest, only that it’s not enforced from above.
There used to be a bunch of Wild West themed rides and stalls in the 1970s and 1980s such as the Condor ride, but those have largely died out. Some shooting galleries and the ever popular log flume rides are all that remains of that trend. For a while in the 1980s, there was a fashion for Hawaiian and South Sea themes. The popular Huss Rainbow ride (another one we sadly miss at the Freimarkt, but here is a video) is one example. A bunch of Hawaiian themed stalls selling candy apples, chocolate coated fruits and so on are another survivor of this trend.
The latest trend seems to be Tiki and voodoo themed rides. At this year’s Freimarkt, there was a spectacular Tiki-themed ride called Konga. It’s really just a Frisbee knock-off, but the design with glowy-eyed King Kong and fire-breathing Tiki heads is fabulous. Here is a video, which also shows how the ride is set up. Another new ride with a vaguely exotic theme is Voodoo Jumper (video here). Again, the ride itself isn’t all that exciting (interesting, if rather noisy hydraulic transmission), but the design is fabulous. Very good speaker, too. Speakers can make or break a ride and the best ones attract crowds just to hear their comments and jokes.
Cultural stereotyping and the general appropriativeness of many ride and stall designs is something of a problem. But then the Freimarkt in general is something of a reservoir of the cultural obsessions of yesteryear, dipped in glitter and lights. And a fairground is not really where you go if you want to see sensitive portrayals of other cultures. Besides, some of the more egregiously racist portrayals of other cultures, which can still be seen in the 1987 video linked above (e.g. a dreadful Fu Manchu stereotype on a ride that still exists on the Freimarkt – sans Fu Manchu) have long been removed.