An hour’s drive south of Berlin, where temperatures currently hover around 0C, you can find a tropical paradise of sweltering rain-forest, gushing waterfalls and steamy grottos.
Of course, this place shouldn’t exist. In the late Nineties, at the height of the dotcom craze, this was a hangar erected to build airships. But when the company went bust, an opportunistic Malaysian business man, Colin Au, bought the dome for a snip at £20m and opened Tropical Islands – a lush wonderland where you can sip colourful cocktails in 26C and even camp in canvas tents on the “beach”.
Tropical Islands’ immense dome is the biggest self-supported hall in the world. And it’s huge: five million cubic metres huge. In here, there’s a makeshift sea – 3,000 square metres of it, to be exact – not to mention the 200-metre-long beach that stretches along its shoreline, and the Truman Show-esque backdrop of blue sky with fluffy white clouds completing the scene.
The results are mind-boggling. I arrive from temperatures of -4C into a pleasantly hot holiday resort. Swimsuit-clad, barefooted punters are casually walking around, some hoisting giant shark inflatables. I’m here with my partner and two young sons – but it seems Tropical Islands has a wider, unbeatably kitschy appeal.
It actually does look and feel tropical... if you can ignore the giant dome and the constant sound of the generators. After a dip, we take a walk around the site, where Bali, Thailand, the Caribbean and Borneo all meet in an ersatz reproduction of “tropical”. And it’s brilliant.
Cute little lodges and beach huts nestle among the lush vegetation, each one housing restaurants, shops, bars and guest rooms if you don’t fancy the tents. I can’t wipe the incredulous smile off my face, yet everyone is just acting as if it’s the most normal thing on Earth.
Even stranger, you really can get a suntan here – the transparent film across the centre of the dome allows through UV light, so in the summer make sure you get up early to get your towel down on one of the 2,500 seashore deckchairs (it is Germany, after all). This sunlight is also the key to the near-miraculous rainforest at the centre of the dome, the largest of its kind in the world, and home to 50,000 plants of 600 different species, plus various exotic birds, turtles and fish. My son is thrilled at the sight of the flamingoes hanging out in a corner by the mangroves.
Aside from the water attractions, there’s also a fantastic spa area, where I indulge in a painfully authentic Thai massage. High above our heads, the “hot air balloon” ride looks fun or you can always climb the 27 metres up to the top of Germany’s highest water-slide tower for an equally thrilling view.
From the UK, Berlin Schönefeld Airport is served by Ryanair, easyJet, Jet2 and Norwegian. Tropical Islands is a 50km drive south of Berlin Schönefeld Airport.
Day guests from €42 for adults and €33 for children from the age of six (sauna and spa access extra).
Overnight guests (including buffet breakfast): guest rooms from €115 pppn; lodges from €95 pppn; tents from €69 pppn.
It’s also possible to stay outside the dome, in holiday homes, mobile homes, tents, or you can bring your own tent, campervan or caravan and stay on the adjoining campsite.
More information: tropical-islands.de/en