Report: Defending the castle in Hickhack um die Harzburg

Hickhack um die Harzburg
The King and one of his companions, the owl Naira

Bad Harzburg (Germany) has been a popular tourist destination for over a century. This week, tourists and locals were treated to a new attraction: Hickhack um die Harzburg. Telling the local saga of King Henry IV, this simulator creates a fun family experience. Team DRdb travelled to the heart of Germany to attend the opening of and report on this brand-new show ride. 

Adventures in the Harz 

Hickhack um die Harzburg
Bad Harzburg, as seen from the Burgberg

Right in the center of Germany lies the Harz-region, an area with a lot of nature, mountains and a rich history. Bad Harzburg is situated on the northern slopes of the Harz Mountains, at the base of the Burgberg, and has a population of approximately 22,000. The town was named after the Harzburg castle that used to stand on top of the Burgberg, which was built between 1065 and 1068 by King Henry IV of Germany and served as his home.  

The Harzburg castle was destroyed during the Saxon Rebellion between 1073 and 1075. A century later, a new castle was built by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and his successor Otto IV. The castle was later abandoned and now, centuries later, only parts of the foundation and outer walls remain as a ruin. 

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The ruins of the castle tower

Over the last century, the town below has become a popular tourist destination. During the winter, the mountains offer skiing opportunities, while in the summer season many tourists go for a hike in the surrounding nature. The ruins on the Burgberg provide a great panoramic view of the town and surrounding area and can be reached by a cable car, that was installed in 1929.  

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Upper station of the cable car

The continuous influx of tourists also brings entrepreneurs eager to provide for them. Holger Kolb and his wife Eva-Christin Ronkainen-Kolb are the founders of HarzVenture, a company that provides multiple tourist attractions and experiences in Bad Harzburg, such as a mini-golf course, treetop path and the BaumSchwebeBahn, a kilometer long zipline down the mountain. The company has its own slogan: ‘Die  Erlebnismanufaktur’ (‘The experience makers’). 

Hickhack um die Harzburg
The BaumSchwebeBahn

In August of 2023, the company announced that they were building their first show ride in collaboration with the Austrian company Attraktion!. The location of the show ride was chosen to be the BurgBergCenter, a new tourist center right next to the lower cable car station. It was originally scheduled to open in December of last year but was delayed to April of this year. 

With a line-up of all kinds of outdoor experiences, this attraction is the first indoor attraction for HarzVenture. CEO Holger Kolb explains: “We’re here in the Harz mountains, it’s a very frequent tourist destination. Our problem now is the weather, there is no more snow in the wintertimes. It’s a lot of rain sometimes and windy. Outdoors we are good, but for wintertimes and for rainy days, we thought it was a good idea to take people indoors.” 

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The newly built BurgBergCenter with the entrance to the shop and attraction to the left

A unique show ride 

The two developing parties soon chose Attraktion!’s Circulum 360 ride system, which is an upcoming type of simulator, to create a dark ride-type of attraction. Guests are seated on a large rotating disc with a motion-base underneath, creating a hybrid between a simulator and a revolving theatre. It is comparable to the ride systems of Hulk Epsilon Base 3D (IMG Worlds of Adventure, U.A.E.), Chasseurs de Tornades (Futuroscope, France) and the upcoming Danse Macabre (Efteling, Netherlands), though each of these ride systems is still unique. 

Circulum 360
Artist impression of the Circulum 360 ride system (© Attraktion!)

Attraktion! offers the Circulum 360 in three different sizes: featuring 16, 44 or 86 seats. Each is meant to be used inside a projection dome. All seats face outwards to look at the projections on the walls, but a variation was designed with seats all oriented in the same direction, allowing passengers to view just one of multiple scenes. 

For this attraction, the Circulum 360 was modified to have the seats all face the same direction. This way, the attraction can be seperated into different scenes. Attraktion! dubbed this version of the Circulum 360 the ‘5D Mini Dark Ride’. 

C360 MiniDarkride
Artist impression of the 5D Mini Dark Ride (© Attraktion!)

The story of the attraction was based on a comic book called ‘Hickhack um die Harzburg’ (German for ‘Hickups around the Harzburg’). This would eventually become the name of the attraction as well. The comic was written by German writer Thomas Dahms. The style and character design of the ride differs to that of the comic book, making it more suitable for a show ride with video animations. 

Hickhack um die Harzburg
The Hickhack um die Harzburg-comic by Thomas Dahms

HarzVenture and Attraktion! worked together on the project, while Attraktion! also was in charge of the design and supplying the ride system, (show) control and media. The physical scenery was created by German company Playlife System. After a development and construction period of roughly 15 months, ‘Hickhack um die Harzburg’ was finally ready to be opened. 

A ride around the Harzburg 

Invited guests were greeted at the newly inaugurated BurgBergCenter at four o’clock, followed by an opening address from HarzVenture CEO Holger Kolb, who delivered his speech in German to thank all those who played a role in bringing the attraction to life. Afterwards all the guests were invited to experience the new attractions in groups of 16. 

Hickhack um die Harzburg
CEO Holger Kolb welcomes everyone to the BurgBergCenter

After passing through the doorway leading to the attraction, guests enter the pre-show room. The space for the pre-show is much larger than is necessary for 16 visitors. That brought some challanges for the design team, but there is a good reason for it: “It’s quite a big pre-show that you have to fill with only 16 guests, because this pre-show is also an event venue. That were the challenges of ‘how can we make this, so it doesn’t feel too big, even though it has only 16 people in here.” explains Daniel Teubenbacher, creative director for Attraktion! 

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The pre-show room

The pre-show sets up the story of the attraction and introduces the main characters with the use of three video screens (seen left, center and right on the photo above). An owl, named Naira, appears and starts calling out King Henry IV who later appears in his castle tower. Naira alarms the King that the evil Bishop and Duke are planning a siege. A second friend, lizard Naapi, is over at their camp to spy on them and get to know their plans. 

A scene to the left shows the camp of the Bishop and Duke’s army as they work out the plan to use a secret weapon, a catapult, in their siege of the castle. Naapi rushes back to the King and Naira to warn them about the plans. 

After the pre-show ends, the visitors move on towards the main show. Here they enter a circular gondola with six benches, each seating two or three persons per bench and 16 in total. After buckling up the seatbelts, the ride starts! 

Hickhack um die Harzburg
The ride gondola for Hickhack um die Harzburg
Hickhack um die Harzburg
Physical scene in the castle tower

The main show revolves around the King, Naira and Naapi, coming up with a plan for a counterattack. The ride starts with a physical scene that takes place in the tower of the Harzburg castle. This is where the three discuss their plan. Afterwards, the gondola rotates towards the second screen, which consists of a large. curved projection screen. This scene shows the dangerous journey of the three to get behind enemy lines and into position to ambush the Bishop and the Duke. An exciting journey that utilizes the motion-base of the gondola. The scene even has a nod to the BaumScheweBahn on the mountain outside. 

The third scene once again is a physical scene and shows the King, Naapi and Naira hiding out in the nearby woods. After this scene, the ride system actually rotates back to face the projection screen again for a second multimedia scene that utilizes the motion-base. This scene depicts the siege on the castle and shows how the three heroes, together with the King’s army, overrun the intruders and successfully defend the castle.  

Hickhack um die Harzburg
Media scene with the Bishop and the Duke at their catapult

After the Bishop and Duke are defeated, the gondola rotates back towards the third scene. This time, the scene takes place at nighttime and includes a campfire. This marks the conclusion of the adventure. The King expresses his gratitude for our assistance and bids farewell. The entire experience lasts about 16 minutes, with the main show taking up 10 of those minutes. 

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The King and his friends in the woods when the scene is used for the first time

Afterwards, we spoke with Holger Kolb and Daniel Teubenbacher and asked them about the development of this unique show ride. Watch the full interviews in the video below: 

Interviews with Holger Kolb (CEO HarzVenture) and Daniel Teubenbacher (Creative director Attraktion!)

A ride for Kings 

Hickhack um die Harzburg is a well-executed attraction. While technically a show ride, it feels much like a true dark ride due to the combination of both physical sets and multimedia scenes. The story tells a local saga in a family friendly way, something that works well in a tourism orientated town like Bad Harzburg. The story is simple to follow, features some humor (mostly around Naapi) and the nod to the BaumSchewebeBahn gives a moment of recognition to the guests. 

While the figures in the physical scenes look good, they don’t have any movement. Since these scenes take up a relatively large portion of the ride, they might get a little boring. There are projections present that liven up the scenes a bit, but they do not make up for the missing motion of the characters. 

The sets of the physical scenes and pre-show do look fantastic. The castle scene is stunning and the way the forest scene transforms between the first and second time the gondola passes is cleverly done. Projections turn a bush into a campfire and the woods in the background into the Harzburg castle and a change of lighting changes the whole atmosphere of the scene. 

Hickhack um die Harzburg
The second time the woods-scene at nighttime

The media fits the ride well. The media is synchronized very well with the movements of the simulator, creating a smooth experience. A side note on the media is the quality of the voice acting. While fitting the ride, most voice actors sound a bit plain, Nairi being the negative highlight. 

Tickets for Hickhack um die Harzburg are currently sold for €6 per adult and €4 for children between 6 and 12. Considering the length and quality of the experience, it feels like a reasonable pprice. That makes a visit to Bad Harzburg and Hickhack um die Harzburg worthwhile for every dark ride fan in the area. 

We would like to thank Holger Kolb of HarzVenture and Daniel Teubenbacher of Attraktion! for inviting us to the opening. 

Hickhack um die Harzburg
The Bishop and the Duke falling victim to their own weapon

© 2024
Visit, interviews, photos and report by: Erik