White knight rides to rescue of Mystery Park
A bankruptcy-threatened theme park based on the out-of-this-world theories of best-selling Swiss author Erich von Däniken looks to have secured its earthly future.
On Monday it was announced that a Zurich-based businessman has offered to pay SFr16 million ($13 million) for the Mystery Park in the Bernese Oberland.
Entrepreneur Jakob Dietiker has said he is also prepared to cover any losses until the end of October and to retain an undisclosed number of the 64 full-time staff.
Mystery Park is currently under creditor protection and the lawyer handling proceedings said on Monday that he would be inviting further offers over the next two weeks.
Dietiker's bid to buy the theme park was warmly welcomed by von Däniken who saw his "dream" open three years ago after a difficult gestation period.
"I'm very, very happy that we have found someone who is willing and has proven finances to take over the Mystery Park," he told swissinfo.
"The park does have a future. Of course, we will need to change a few things and become more modern – and that's what we will do. We cannot stand still," he added.
The 71-year-old von Däniken, whose books on unexplained phenomena such as flying saucers have sold millions throughout the known universe, launched the project in 1997.
The idea was to present unsolved mysteries of the world in seven themed buildings. These include the enigma surrounding the Egyptian pyramids, the mysterious figures of Nazca in Peru and Nasa's quest for extraterrestrial life.
But von Däniken had trouble raising the SFr86 million for Mystery Park, delaying its opening on a former military airfield near Interlaken until May 2003.
At first visitors were attracted in large numbers to the country's first theme park, which picked up the 2003 "Milestone", Switzerland's top prize for excellence and innovation in tourism.
But the following year managers were forced to lower their sights, forecasting a minimum of 270,000 visitors by the end of the second full year – a considerable drop from the 440,000 paying customers who came in the first 12 months. Last year only 225,000 people visited the theme park.
Fritz Kemp, director of Mystery Park, told swissinfo that a search for new investors was launched in January this year and that more than 30 potential partners had been approached.
"Since July business has been very good and we have been able to pay all our salaries and bills," he said. "The problem will be in winter when visitors numbers drop and when it comes to future investment in new pavilions."
Von Däniken remains confident that his brainchild has a future – and that his theories deserve a platform.
"Mystery Park is running well in summer but not in winter. This month we have had 20,000 visitors already," he said.
"The park is something amazing in the world. It is not your normal theme park with rides and roller coasters, it's unique – it's a place of learning where fascination and curiosity are created again."
swissinfo, Adam Beaumont
The park, which is divided into seven themed pavilions, is based on the "mysteries of the world" and the extraterrestrial theories of Swiss author Erich von Däniken.
He has sold more than 60 million books worldwide.
The pyramids, temples and other pavilions at the park are arranged in a circular manner to resemble planets revolving round the sun.
Visitors move from "mystery" to "mystery" via glass corridors connecting the buildings.
The park is located on the outskirts of Interlaken and is open all year round.
Entrance to the park costs SFr48 for adults and SFr28 for children.
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