The wooden structures rise like fortresses in the shadows of the imposing cliffs in Klugheim. Here, in our new themed world which is as rugged as it is fascinating, visitors will discover a lively village inspired by long-forgotten cultures who were clever and brave enough to find protection and comfort in the face of the powerful forces of nature. “The architecture of Klugheim reflects influences from a wide range of cultures, who made intelligent use of natural benefits and knew how to brave the powerful elements. Their robust building techniques, artistic ornaments, and mystic symbols all form the basis for the buildings in Klugheim” explains Annette Pieck. The project manager has been responsible for thematic design at Phantasialand for several years. When she is preparing a new themed world, she immerses herself fully into the culture that has inspired the area. She is still in touch with the artist’s village in Cameroon that provided the inspiration for the Hotel Matamba. For the development of Klugheim, she delved back, studying years of traditional building techniques and symbols: “Klugheim is filled with ornaments and dragon symbols. After all, the dragon has long been a mythical figure full of power of strength in countless cultures, as well as embodying wisdom and cunning. For the people, the dragon meant protection and strength, which is why it was often found watching like a patron saint on the roofs of houses.”

Made from wood for ships’ masts and foundations

Just like in Klugheim. Here, dragon heads on the ridges of the wooden houses form a symbolic frontier to Taron, which whooshes through the air with a thunderclap in its almost never-ending labyrinth of tracks. Visitors will also be able to feel the power and the aura of the multi-launch coaster down in the village, along with the watchful eyes of the dragons on the roofs.

The company Fake Filmconstruction has been an in-demand partner on the international film scene for over 25 years: The experienced set and stage decorators have designed over 80 sets for major productions, including a number of multi-award-winning blockbusters. For instance, Fake designed the thrillingly gloomy streets of Paris for Perfume, the backdrop for the film adaptation of The Reader with Kate Winslet in her Oscar-winning role, and the set for the historic football drama The Miracle of Bern. Fake has also been Phantasialand’s partner for several years and has designed things like the atmospheric caves of Chiapas – DIE Wasserbahn as well as an incredibly diverse backdrop for the stage in the Wintergarten, which creates the stylish illusion of a mysterious castle.

Only nature could provide the material used for such a mythical and powerful sculpture. Each individual dragon head in Klugheim was born out of the metre-long wooden beams from a Douglas fir and produced by hand. The Douglas fir was a particularly popular choice for ship building, used to build strong ships’ masts or robust foundation piles. It is therefore the ideal material for the character of Klugheim and its dragons.

The qualified wood sculptor Björn Poppinga is the “father” of the dragons of Klugheim. Fake brought the Hamburg-based craftsman to Phantasialand with clear instructions: Build something more than just attractive decorative elements. He came to create one-of-a-kind works of art out of wood – and to lend each dragon in Klugheim its own unique essence. Full of expression and character, individual and powerful. His secret is his passion: Björn Poppinga is an artist.

Traditional handicraft

Creating such intricate unique pieces for a theme park is an unexpected but welcome first for him: “It’s a great feeling to use classic handicraft to contribute to the creation of a new themed world. The fact that even the wooden dragons on the roofs were crafted using traditional manual techniques is truly incredible” says the experienced sculptor.

With a great deal of craftsmanship and subtle precision, he brings the strong and mysterious creatures to life using exactly the same tools that people used to transform powerful tree trucks into dragons over 500 years ago. However, he does have a chainsaw to take away some of the more tiresome milling. His approach remains as authentic and intricate as Klugheim itself. “In sculpture, you start with a rough form and end up with some fine” he explains as he carefully uses a large chainsaw to cut thick chunks out of the beams and the blade marks deep profiles into the Douglas’ grain. The air smells of wood as the first shavings start to fly and the dragon stirs to life to the sound of the roaring saw.

Fire brings character to the wood

Just as a painter uses his finest brush to add personality to a work of art, so the sculptor can take his adze for more intricate work. With each artfully placed hack, he unlocks the mysterious essence of the dragon from within the wood. The more energy this work takes from him, the more feeling he puts into the piece. Hour after after, he concentrates on the Douglas, forming teeth, eyes and a tongue. As each sliver is hacked away, more and more of the mysterious power becomes visible; this is the power that the mighty creature will soon be using to watch over Klugheim.

The dragon then starts to merge with fire. Heat is applied to every centimetre of the splintered surface, scorching the light wood and casting a shadow-like form over the dragon. “We apply flames to the wood in order to achieve these unusual dark tones for a really authentic effect” explains the sculptor. “No varnish in the world could give you a look like this.”

The surface is then roughened with a steel brush, adding the finishing touch to this headstrong creature – before the wooden dragon is sent to face the elements in Klugheim. “Wood is alive and will change over time. But that is the great thing about working with this material: It has its own character” emphasise Björn Poppinga.

This is what makes the dragon a one of a kind piece that has grown in just a few hours of dedicated craftsmanship – just like every other dragon that takes its place high on the rooftops of Klugheim. With their dark wood, they blend stylishly with their environment and sit poised watching over this mystical world, as Taron sweeps above their heads and life pulses down in the village below.


Christian Buhl