Bugs Ist Ein Berliner In New Theme Park
Warner Bros. targets tourists in Germany
BOTTROP, GERMANY — 'Bugs Bunny, where are you?" the children call out from the stage. They have been recruited from their nearby school to help unveil the Autobahn sign marking the way to the new Warner Bros. Movie World theme park here. But they are getting no response from Bugs. So they call again. And again.
Finally, Bugs, Sylvester the Cat, and Tweety Bird - looking like the adult-sized plush toys they are - emerge from somewhere offstage to join the children. Batman and Catwoman come too, although they look much less huggable. A mighty tug on the cloth covering the sign, and lo! the deed is done.
Hollywood is coming to Germany this summer, in the form of a new theme park. Warner officials insist it will open on schedule June 30, despite ample evidence of delays in construction.
The park is to include a "Main Street," a Wild West street scene, a Bat Cave, a version of Rick's Caf Amricain, and a museum of German film history.
Warner says the whole project is costing more than $250 million - its biggest investment outside the United States. But it is a relatively modest enterprise: a little more than 100 acres, including an area set aside for actual film production. For a visitor who has spent time in any of the mega-tourist centers of the US, a first impression is likely to be, "Honey, they shrunk the theme park."
But if it succeeds, this park may help point the way to Germany's - and Europe's - economic future. Although silvery metal smokestacks are easy to see off in the distance of Bottrop, a town of 121,000 surrounded by farmland, many economists see Germany's future in the service sector.
"This is the most heavily settled area of Europe," says marketing director Martin Elingshausen-Bluhm. Warner Bros. figures that 27 million people live within a 150-mile radius; 14 million of them will be able to reach the park within an hour.
THAT 150-mile radius sweeps in Amsterdam and Brussels, too. When Europeans first thought about unifying their coal and steel markets in the 1950s - creating the building blocks of the European Union - it's not clear that they were trying to make it easier for Dutch and Belgian schoolchildren to hang out with Bugs and Sylvester in Germany. But that appears to be what's happening.
The park also illustrates the global homogenization of pop culture and commerce that is possible once a product is reduced to a formula that can travel.
When Walt Disney cleared out acres of orange groves in Anaheim, Calif., to build Disneyland in the 1950s, he was doing something no one had ever done before. But Mr. Elingshausen-Bluhm is treading where Disney went 40 years ago when he speaks of needing to train the parking-lot attendants in the philosophy that "they are part of the show, too."
Concerns about American cultural imperialism? Not here. Unlike the French, many of whom vigorously opposed the Euro Disney theme park's opening in 1992, "Germans are very attracted to things that come from Hollywood," says Elingshausen-Bluhm.
The operators of the Euro Disney theme park outside Paris announced their first annual operating profit only in November. Warner Bros. has a more optimistic view of the Germans, Belgians, and Dutch. Elingshausen-Bluhm is not exactly a disinterested observer, but he articulates a widely held view: "Hollywood really is seen as a dream factory."