Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Tropical Islands Dome

Last week there was a link to a story about the Tropical Islands Resort in Berlin, which is basically a tropical world built inside a massive dome. DQ Reader Patrick Harris sent in some excellent supplementary information.

We drive past the building every few weeks when we're visiting my parents-in-law, and I've been there once. What's not in the article is that the building itself has a rather interesting history.

It was built around 1999-2000 on an abandoned Soviet military airbase by a company called CargoLifter (it's still known as the "CargoLifter Halle" here in Germany). The company wanted to build huge airships for heavy transport duties. The building is not actually a hangar, but a construction facility for airships, some of the largest that have been built since the Hindenburg disaster. Inside was a cutting table that was 180m long.

The CL160, the first airship to be built, was supposed to be able to carry 160 metric tons of cargo. It would have been 260m long and was supposed to be able to fly up to 10000km.

With the dot-com crash came the end of CargoLifter's ambitions, and the company went bankrupt after building just one prototype.

It's considered to be the largest freestanding steel dome in the world (there are no pillars inside). I believe that I had a flyer once that showed that the Eiffel Tower could be put inside (if laying on its side), as well as most skyscrapers around the World Trade Center.

The Wikipedia entry for CargoLifter is rather interesting. The German one has some more pictures of the building in its original configuration which shows how absolutely huge it is.

About two years after CargoLifter went bankrupt, a Malaysian company bought the building to develop the Tropical Islands resort. They claim to be profitable, but many people have their doubts about that. In the beginning, there were several problems. The most important was that all the plants died, over and over again, due to the lack of sunlight. They had to replace most of the outer shielding with a special UV-permissive membrane in order to let more sunlight in. Heating the whole thing costs millions every year. The building was designed for a sustained inner temperature of about 18°C (they originally built 136km of floor heating just for that); now it's constantly heated up to 26°C. The facility uses 1.3 megawatts of power. My wife says the water is still not warm enough for her tastes. :-)

Also, there is more information on the dome at the company's website: The Tropical Islands Dome.

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