Große Geisterbahn at Wiener Prater is getting ready to reopen: a backstage tour

Facade of the Große Geisterbahn at Wiener Prater

This year, IAAPA Expo Europe was held in the capital of Austria: Vienna. Of course, Dark Ride Database was present to attend the event (you can find our report here). But since it was conveniently located right next to the famous amusement park Wiener Prater, we couldn’t help but check it out. Opened to the public in 1766 as a recreational park, it has grown to become one of the world’s largest permanent fairgrounds. The Prater draws over 4,2 million visitors annually, locals and tourists alike, and is home to over 250 rides. No less than 14 of them are featured on our website.

The most popular type of dark ride at the Prater (which is officially called the Wurstelprater) is the ghost train, of which there are 6. They come in all shapes and sizes but the Große Geisterbahn (German for Large Ghost Train) is the largest of them all. In fact, it is touted as being the largest of its kind in all of Europe. Since November 2022 it has been closed for maintenance works but the renovation is nearing completion. Team DRdb was able to take a sneak peek inside to see the final stages of construction work and find out why it closed in the first place.

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‘’Geisterbahn’’ in red adorns the top right of the large façade (© Dark Ride Database)

We had an appointment with Sandro, manager of technical department at Koidl Vergnügungsbetriebe, the owners of the Große Geisterbahn. With soldering and painting works still going on inside the station, we enter a set of doors with a skull on it. Normally, vehicles disappear in the dark here to make a turn towards the lift, but today every corner of this ride is brightly lit with work lights.

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Works going on inside the station (© Dark Ride Database)
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The chain lift of the Große Geisterbahn, for once not shrouded in darkness (© Dark Ride Database)

‘’The track is about 150 metres long,’’ starts Sandro. He proceeds to demonstrates the workings of the anti-rollback mechanism of the chain lift that prevents the vehicles from running back down the incline in case of a technical failure. The pins sticking out of the floor only fold down one way, allowing the vehicles to run over them, and block the car from going back. The vehicles themselves, of which there are 9 but only 7 can be used at a time, are currently stored at the top of the lift.

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The anti-rollback mechanism (© Dark Ride Database)
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Vehicles stored on the upper floor (© Dark Ride Database)

‘’We acquired this ghost train about 5 years ago, when the previous owner passed away and his son wasn’t interested in operating it,’’ Sandro continues. Koidl owns a total of 11 rides spread out over Wiener Prater. ‘’Because this ghost train is all the way at the back of the Prater, not that many people come and visit it.’’

The team at Koidl thought of a clever way to lure more visitors towards their latest acquisition. ‘’We noticed that whenever Olympia Looping [the world’s largest travelling roller coaster] is in town, which has its spot close to here, people do find their way to the Große Geisterbahn.’’ That is why they decided that they are going to build their very own large scale roller coaster, with an eye-catching height of 30 metres.

This new roller coaster, called Wiener Looping, will be a BigDipper by Mack Rides and is coming to the plot of land right across from the Große Geisterbahn. It is expected to open in 2024. This area was previously home to club Kantine, which has moved elsewhere. Demolition of the old Kantine building was started, but due to a disagreement with the former owner the works have been put on hold.

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The former spot of club Kantine. The top of one of the towers of the ghost train can be seen on the left (© Dark Ride Database)

Nevertheless, construction of the coaster has already started. Because of its large footprint, a part of it is actually going to cross the road and the track will be passing over the Große Geisterbahn. Several support beams to accommodate the coaster are being installed inside the ghost train, which is the main reason why the ride had to be kept closed throughout most of the 2023 season.

Standing at an edge, looking down onto the ground floor, Sandro points towards a massive steel column. ‘’This is one of the supports for the coaster. This one is for the lift, it will later go through the roof and up to 30 meters. We try to put as few supports in as possible, because it is very hard to find the space for them.’’

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A large support beam to accommodate the coaster’s lift under construction (© Dark Ride Database)

Since the dark ride had to be closed for several months anyway, it was decided to renovate the interior at the same time. ‘’Last year we got some new animatronics and props, bought from Familypark [a theme park in Austria, not far from the Prater] who got rid of their walkthrough haunted house,’’ says the manager as we continue our way through the ghost train on foot.

We arrive on the balcony, where for a moment the vehicles drive in daylight. ‘’The Prater is free to enter, but you have to pay per ride. So you have to show the people walking past what is inside to get them to come in.’’ The exterior lighting is also getting a complete make over with LED and bolder colours to draw more attention to the ride.

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The balcony is located above the station (© Dark Ride Database)

A worn out dragon figure, which is standing at the edge of the balcony looking down at potential visitors, will be making way for a new animatronic. The ghost train was home to a gorilla but last winter it has been completely revised by German manufacturer Hofmann Figuren to resemble a Krampus. The Krampus is, according to local folklore, a devilish figure that assists Saint Nicholas and punishes children who misbehave. The figure is currently still in storage but will soon be installed.

After the outdoor section, the vehicles go inside again. Sandro points out a fully mechanical effect, of which this ghost train has many. Here, the vehicles drive into a wooden beam which is on a hinge. Connected to the other side is a rope, which through a construction of pulleys is connected to a skeleton laying in a bed. When the wooden beam is pushed out of the way, the skeleton gets pulled up.

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May sound complicated, but a picture is worth a thousand words (© Dark Ride Database)

While walking towards the next section, we are told the history of the Große Geisterbahn. It dates back to the late 1940s and was originally known as the Grosse Alte Geisterbahn (Large Old Ghost Train). ‘’But it burned down in the 1980s, because people broke in during the winter and started a campfire to prepare some sausages.’’ Because the original was fully made of wood, it burned down in no-time. The current version, opened in April 1985, was constructed mainly from concrete and stone to prevent the same thing from happening again.

‘’This is a bridge, which appears to fall down as you ride on it,’’ Sandro explains in the next scene. It’s where the vehicles go back down to the main floor. At first, the sides of the bridge are straight and appear to lead towards a ghost, but then the railing bends down. ‘’That way it looks like you fall down with the car. We also take an on ride photo at this part.’’

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The bridge in ‘collapsed’ state. The cables that lower the railing down can clearly be seen (© Dark Ride Database)

The last stretch of the ride is located on the ground floor. It features more scare effects and multiple animatronics. A skeleton orchestra, temporarily stored in a corner, is also a new addition. A worker has to move his vacuum cleaner out of the way so we can continue to follow the track.

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The skeleton orchestra also used to belong to Familypark (© Dark Ride Database)

We arrive in the final room. Here, a set of skeletons sit inside of a vehicle and appear to collide with those of guests. They then take a sharp turn, as to avoid the skeletons, while they drive over a part of track with bumps on it. ‘’This is a very special effect. If the car drives over this part, 2 pins come up under the seats, making them shake,’’ explains Sandro. A skeleton with a strobe light tops off the effect of being ‘electrocuted’.

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The dummy vehicle that moves towards the riders (© Dark Ride Database)
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The bumps on the track (© Dark Ride Database)

Now back in the station, where guests normally exit the vehicle, we jump the track one more time and so too leave the ride. The manager is optimistic. ‘’It’s going to open on Saturday [30 September], maybe. There is a lot of work to do, yes, but it goes very fast as a lot of people are working on it.’’

This means that after a construction period of over 10 months, the Große Geisterbahn will finally be operational again sometime in October, just in time for the Halloween season. And it will be ready to have the Wiener Looping coaster crossing over it, of which the massive structure alone will no doubt be drawing more visitors to the back of the Prater.

We want to thank Sandro and Koidl Vergnügungsbetriebe for the backstage tour and wish them the best in operating their renovated Große Geisterbahn and other rides!

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With all those lights, Dracula chose to stay inside his coffin (© Dark Ride Database)
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One more look at the outside of the Große Geisterbahn (© Dark Ride Database)

© 2023 Dark Ride Database
Article by Jim