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Courtesy of Tropical Islands
Courtesy of Tropical Islands

Paradise Contained: Visit This German Tropical Resort Inside an Old Soviet Airplane Hangar

Courtesy of Tropical Islands
Courtesy of Tropical Islands

A military airbase makes for an unlikely tropical getaway, but a military airbase that has been in both Nazi and Soviet hands, and which is located in the notoriously chilly climate of Northern Europe? That sounds positively absurd as a family leisure destination. But some 30 miles south of Berlin, built inside the world’s largest freestanding hangar, that’s exactly what you’ll find.

Tropical Islands Brandenburg stands on land with a storied, dark history that is at odds with its cheery, kitsch, modern-day self. The Luftwaffe (i.e. the German air force) originally built the Brand-Briesen Airfield in 1939 as a pilot school. Boasting some workshops, barracks, and an unpaved runway [PDF], it made for a threadbare operation. When the Soviet Red Army commandeered the base in 1945, they aggressively expanded its use and capacity to include housing for a fighter-bomber regiment, paved and lengthened runways, hardened aircraft shelters, and added a nuclear alert shelter.

At the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union (and later Russia) worked with the authorities of the newly reunified Germany to relinquish its 1800 square miles of military bases in East Germany. The German government promptly sold Brand-Briesen Airfield to a private company that sought to manufacture blimps. The blimp business, however, was not a lucrative one, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2002. But, as you can imagine, building blimps requires a lot of space, and before the business went under, they completed an expansion of the hangar that made it so large it could fit the entirety of the Statue of Liberty, upright.

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s hard to imagine too many people lining up to buy a defunct blimp hangar, but that’s just what a Malaysian company decided to do. In a mere nine months, the hangar was transformed into a faux tropical paradise, containing countless pools for swimming and diving, a shopping street, restaurants, bars, a water-slide tower, a stage for evening entertainment, a miniature golf course, accommodation options ranging from tents to hotel rooms, a multi-sauna complex, a gym, an astounding number of deck chairs, and not one but two hot air balloon ride options.

As you walk around the vast complex that comprises Tropical Islands, you’re as likely to see pink flamingos and peacocks congregating as you are to hear rain forest sounds piped in through camouflaged speakers. Unsurprisingly, it’s all a little surreal and can take some getting used to—particularly during winter when guests must first peel off layers of clothing in the bright orange locker area and change into attire more fitting for the balmy, unfluctuating 77°F that Tropical Islands is kept at. That's right—this tropical paradise, like the Caribbean, is open year-round.

Eeva Moore

But once in beachwear, and perhaps buoyed by a Mai Tai, Tropical Islands starts to make some sense. Dipping in and out of swimming pools, careening down water slides, and napping under the palm trees stands in such stark contrast to the world outside that it’s impossible not to enjoy yourself.

I’d read that weekend nights at Tropical Islands can get rather festive, so my husband and I played it safe and chose a Wednesday for our overnight stay. Our tent, nestled below the water-slide area, ran $150 and included admission for two days and a breakfast buffet. Where our planning fell short was on towel packing. We had packed towels for drying ourselves, but you learn quickly that you need about three towels each: one for drying off, one for sitting in the sauna, and the third, crucially, for draping over a deck chair. If you do not acquire a deck chair by around 10 a.m., odds are you won’t get your hands on one until dinnertime, as once draped by a fellow beachgoer, the deck chair becomes completely off-limits, even if the towel's owner is nowhere to be seen.

Eeva Moore

All in all, Tropical Islands makes for a Truman Show-esque affair. A mural of bright blue skies was ripped at one of its cloth seams. Those hot air balloons? Turns out the “free-floating” one is attached by two large ropes to the belt of a young man who walks it across the hangar, at times using his entire body strength to swing the basket low, over the swimming pool, giving his passengers a closer look at the people splashing below.

While there are plenty of spa options across Europe, and in the UK there are even a series of Subtropical Swimming Paradise villages, they were built for their end purposes. It’s hard to imagine any capturing the unique sense of history, imagination, and campiness of Tropical Islands Brandenburg.

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Design
Forget Horns: Some Trains in Japan Bark Like Dogs to Scare Away Deer
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In Japan, growing deer populations are causing friction on the railways. The number of deer hit by trains each year is increasing, so the Railway Technical Research Institute has come up with a novel idea for curbing the problem, according to the BBC. Researchers there are using the sound of barking dogs to scare deer away from danger zones when trains are approaching, preventing train damage, delays, and of course, deer carnage.

It’s not your standard horn. In pilot tests, Japanese researchers have attached speakers that blare out a combination of sounds designed specifically to ward off deer. First, the recording captures the animals’ attention by playing a snorting sound that deer use as an “alarm call” to warn others of danger. Then, the sound of howling dogs drives the deer away from the tracks so the train can pass.

Before this initiative, the problem of deer congregating on train tracks seemed intractable. Despite the best efforts of railways, the animals aren’t deterred by ropes, barriers, flashing lights, or even lion feces meant to repel them. Kintetsu Railway has had some success with ultrasonic waves along its Osaka line, but many rail companies are still struggling to deal with the issue. Deer flock to railroad tracks for the iron filings that pile up on the rails, using the iron as a dietary supplement. (They have also been known to lick chain link fences.)

The new deer-deterring soundtrack is particularly useful because it's relatively low-tech and would be cheap to implement. Unlike the ultrasonic plan, it doesn’t have to be set up in a particular place or require a lot of new equipment. Played through a speaker on the train, it goes wherever the train goes, and can be deployed whenever necessary. One speaker on each train could do the job for a whole railway line.

The researchers found that the recordings they designed could reduce the number of deer sightings near the train tracks by as much as 45 percent during winter nights, which typically see the highest collision rates. According to the BBC, the noises will only be used in unpopulated areas, reducing the possibility that people living near the train tracks will have to endure the sounds of dogs howling every night for the rest of their lives.

Deer aren't the only animal that Japanese railways have sought to protect against the dangers of railroad tracks. In 2015, the Suma Aqualife Park and the West Japan Railway Company teamed up to create tunnels that could serve as safer rail crossings for the turtles that kept getting hit by trains.

[h/t BBC]

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Live Smarter
29 of the Best Small Cities in America, According to National Geographic
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
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When it comes to cities, bigger isn’t always better. Some of the most appealing destinations in America have more residents than your average town but not enough to make them bustling metropolises. If you’re looking to add more small cities your travel bucket list, National Geographic has some suggestions.

For their list below, Nat Geo Travel partnered with global destination branding advisor Resonance Consultancy to rank the best small cities in the country. They dropped the criteria used by most travel lists and adopted metrics that were a little less conventional. In the list below, you’ll find places that excel in categories like greenest (plenty of parks), sudsiest (lots of breweries), most Instagrammed (popular hashtags), musically grooviest (lots of live music), and most hipster friendly (coffee shops and record stores galore) per capita.

Each city falls into one of three population brackets: 40,000 to 100,000 people, 100,000 to 200,000, and 200,000 to 600,000. Anchorage, Alaska was the most caffeinated for its size, with 5.98 coffee shops for every 10,000 residents. Reno, Nevada is among the meatiest cities, meaning there are plenty of delis, butchers, and steakhouses there for carnivores to enjoy. Hagerstown, Maryland—which has no shortage of barber shops and hair salons—is one of the best groomed cities.

If you’re looking for a destination that checks off multiple boxes, Boulder, Colorado is the place to be: Not only is it the most hipster friendly city in its population group, it’s the most caffeinated, sudsiest, and musically grooviest as well.

Check out the full list below before planning your next vacation.

Albuquerque, New Mexico (Sudsiest)
Anchorage, Alaska (Trending- Most Caffeinated)
Ann Arbor, Michigan (Greenest)
Annapolis, Maryland (Dog Friendly)
Asheville, North Carolina (Most Artsy, Sudsiest)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Best Groomed)
Boulder, Colorado (Hipster Friendly, Musically Grooviest, Most Caffeinated, Sudsiest)
Charleston, South Carolina (Most Instagrammed, Most Artsy)
Columbia, South Carolina (Best Groomed, Meatiest)
Greenville, South Carolina (Meatiest)
Hagerstown, Maryland (Best Groomed)
Healdsburg, California (Greenest)
Hickory, North Carolina (Hipster Friendly)
Honolulu, Hawaii (Musically Grooviest, Most Instagrammed, Most Artsy)
Kansas City, Missouri (Most Artsy)
Lakeland, Florida (Most Dog Friendly)
Louisville, Kentucky (Meatiest)
Madison, Wisconsin (Greenest)
New Orleans, Louisiana (Hipster Friendly)
Newport, Rhode Island (Best Groomed)
Olympia, Washington (Most Caffeinated, Greenest)
Omaha, Nebraska (Musically Grooviest)
Pensacola, Florida (Most Dog Friendly)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Sudsiest)
Portland, Maine (Most Instagrammed)
Rapid City, South Dakota (Most Instagrammed)
Reno, Nevada (Meatiest, Most Dog Friendly)
Santa Cruz, California (Musically Grooviest)
Spokane, Washington (Hipster Friendly, Most Caffeinated)

[h/t National Geographic]

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