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November 07, 2006

Linz's fairy-tale Grottenbahn

One of the very heavily advertised attractions in Linz is the Grottenbahn. Billed as a fairy-tale experience, it is 100 years old, and is situated at the top of the Pöstlingberg mountain to the north of Linz. To get to it you need to use Europe's steepest mountain railway, the Pöstlingbergbahn.


Now, I find it quite hard to describe the Grottenbahn, but suffice it to say that it is right up there with the Alchemy Museum in Kutna Hora and the Museum of Magic in Paris as one of the most bizarre attractions we have ever visited together.

Once we entered the grotto, we boarded a ghost-train type ride, where the front of the train was shaped like a dragon. Whilst we waited we were treated to Christmassy sounding music sung by spookily voiced children. And some garden gnomes watched over us. It was enough to terrify Claire...


...well, not really, but it seemed like a good photo opportunity anyway.

Once the ride started we were plunged into a tunnel, and on the left-hand side there were a series of tableaux of gnomes and dwarves fishing, getting into scrapes with giant insects, larking about, and generally acting like you'd expect monstrous looking garden gnomes to behave.

Worryingly, there appeared to be scenes to the other side of us that weren't lit up, so when the train had completed the first labourious circuit, we went round again. This time a different set of "fairy-tale" scenes were lit up.

Linzgrottobahn3 And then we went round a third time. For this rotation coloured lights all over the ceiling were lit, and we got a reprise of all the scenes we'd seen before. With the added bonus that we now noticed that along the walls there were lots and lots of stuffed animals to add "realism" to the forest scenes. They had a particular fascination with posing stuffed ravens that looked like they might at any second lean into the train and peck your eyes out.

As the only couple on the ride without children we discussed how difficult it must be to talk up this attraction to a child to keep them interested in it - "Look, <Name_Of_Child>, there is a squirrel. Which is a good thing. And it in no way looks moth-eaten. Or is in fact a posed corpse."

After the third circuit the dragon train let out some steam from its mouth, and the Grottenbahn ride was over. But the attraction wasn't finished yet. We then went downstairs to find a miniature fairy-tale world. It consisted of a model of the centre of a small village, and each side-street then featured statues playing out a fairy-tale. The choices of scene were on the whole pretty grim though. For example, Sleeping Beauty was not represented by the happy ending, but by the scene of her in a coffin, with the seven dwafrves gathered around her, accompanied by a soundtrack of weeping being played over the speakers in the room.

Linzgrottobahn4 And one scene from a fairy-tale which must not have made the journey from central Europe to either the UK or South Africa centred around the scrawniest most unfortunate looking stuffed cat you could imagine.

When we had arrived at the Grottenbahn we commented on how lucky we were, because November 1st was the last day it was regularly open during the year - after that it was only open on Sundays for the run-up to Christmas. In retrospect, we were not that sure we had been so lucky. The silver lining we drew from it was that at least thanks to the Linz City Ticket it hadn't cost us €4.50 each to get in.

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You must imagine that each and every kid from in and around Linz is going to see the Grottenbahn more than once. My son loved (I think so) it, now, that he is getting older (not yet 6), it's not so exciting like it was the years before.
For us older people there is nothing sensational anymore, only our memories flash back from early childhood visits.
A big part of the Grottenbahn just lives from those memories and another part from rainy weekends. It sounds strange, but I did never think of it as a tourist attraction.

BTW, the small city you saw was Linz (Hauptplatz).

Yes, I was probably being a bit harsh when I wrote that up. We did have a laugh there - I'm certainly glad we went.

Our train ride had two other families on board, both with very young children, and they absolutely adored it, and loved the miniature world as well. In fact, one of the kids we saw was determined to get *inside* the little buildings.

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