Tuesday, December 21, 2004

BRAND, Germany — Europe’s largest leisure resort opened over the weekend, offering winter-weary Germans the chance to bask in 70-degree temperatures amid palm trees and sandy beaches.

At dawn Saturday, thousands of people began flocking to the bulbous converted aircraft hangar designed by a British engineering company in Brand, an hour’s drive south of Berlin.

As the wind howled outside and snow settled on the ground, they pitched their tents and watched a golden sunrise projected on to a 450-foot-long screen.

Tropical Islands resort is the latest lifestyle experience, according to its Malaysian creator, Colin Au, 55, who made his money in luxury cruises and Asian resorts. He has invested more than $90 million in his latest project.

“I’ve done my research and I know how the Germans tick,” Mr. Au said. “My resort means they hardly have to leave home, yet when they’re here it’s like being on a tropical cruise.”

The project is based in a hall of 175 million cubic feet, the world’s largest free-standing building. It is taller than the Statue of Liberty and could fit six football stadiums on two layers.

It will be open around the clock with 850 lounge chairs on its two beaches.

Behind the beach, speakers designed as rocks will broadcast bird songs appropriate to the time of year and day in the orchid-thick rain forest and Asian village.

When the sun is shining outside, visitors are promised they will be able to work on their natural tans, thanks to the effect of the rays shining through the textile membrane roof. Visitors, incongruously clad in sheepskin coats while clutching buckets and spades, tumble out of shuttle buses and into the dome.

“It is such a relief from the sad and gray winter weather,” said Carmen Habermann, 38, a shopkeeper from Frankfurt.

“It has South Pacific flair, yet is only an hour’s drive away and at a time of economic uncertainty, it’s a good holiday ‘ersatz.’ ”

As a welcome sliver of winter sun broke through the roof, Helge and Willi Schumacher, 58 and 62, said they were delighted to have left the Christmas markets of Leipzig.

“This is a good chance to warm up our bones,” they said, strolling barefoot along the sand.

The retired couple got up at 4:30 a.m. to travel to the resort, where they paid $25 each for a four-hour stay.

It is hoped that Tropical Islands will boost the local economy in the formerly communist east, where unemployment is around 20 percent. Already it has created about 800 jobs.

And in Tropical Islands, gloomy thoughts are frowned upon. The brochure says workers have been trained to “use their smiles to enthuse stressed and winter-wearied Europeans.”

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