Why you should care
Because it’s a chance to get behind the wheel in a real-life, extreme-driving game.
Ten minutes from the epicenter of Hamburg, Germany, dirt is piled up and old tires are abandoned. It’s almost apocalyptic, but the wreckage is all intentional at this place where drivers can navigate a nearly half-mile obstacle course. How do they get around the hay-bale-lined track? In a Ziesel, an alien-looking, mini-tanklike vehicle.
Picture the love child of a tractor and a lounge chair and you’ve got a Ziesel. Haven’t heard of it? Probably because fewer than 100 have ever been sold. But Ziesel Park Hamburg, a roughly 97,000-square-feet adventure park with a 0.4-mile track, owns 10 of them. And they don’t come cheap: One will set you back about $30,000. Riders sit atop two tracks and navigate the 600-or-so-pound vehicle by joystick — kind of like a video game. The Ziesel runs on any terrain, from snow to sand or dirt. When it’s hot out, sprinklers make for a muddier experience.
The machines are fast, and the extreme fun comes in navigating the course, which is littered with obstacles and twisting turns.
The idea for Ziesel Park Hamburg came to Matthias Onken about 18 months ago when he attended his first Ziesel race and decided that this “crazy machine” needed to be showcased in an electric fun park (Ziesels run on lithium batteries, not gas). For about $17, visitors receive a 12-minute slot. The machines are fast — up to 20 miles per hour — and the extreme fun comes in navigating the course, which is littered with obstacles and twisting turns. When visitors tire of driving around, they can adjourn to the adjacent harbor and hang out in the sun. DJs, food trucks and drinks provide a party vibe. The park is open every day until 10 p.m.; in the summertime, operating hours are sometimes extended.
Onken is passionate about accessibility; he ensured that everyone can drive the Ziesel, including wheelchair users — something that Amy Granat, a disabled off-roader from California, thinks is “pretty amazing.” Ziesels are available for anyone age 12 and older; for children age 10 and up, there are Segways, which look slightly less dorky than what you’re probably picturing.
Being so new, Ziesel Park Hamburg might not have all the kinks worked out yet. Mike Bishop, president of the Azusa Canyon Off Road Association, thinks the park is a good idea, except that the course looks “simple.” He recommends the addition of different kinds of obstacles, and more banks and flat turns for maximum exhilaration. Plus, races are offered only on special occasions. Everyday timed events and good old-fashioned competition might add excitement to the arena, Bishop suggests.
Can’t get to Hamburg? There are other experiences available to score a similar adrenaline rush. The four-wheeled French Swincar (aka a mechanical buggy) can tackle all kinds of terrain. And in the U.K., there are tank-driving centers for events from birthday parties to corporate team-building retreats. In the U.S., the Louisville Mega Cavern in Kentucky offers a 17-mile bike cave to explore. But with Ziesel Park Hamburg, it’s not just about the driving: Its location near the city lends the space a party atmosphere. The next event Onken is hoping to put on? A Ziesel-driving night, complete with a disco DJ.