Lauren Frayer/for NPR
Parque Europa features replicas of 17 European monuments, but the Spanish theme park itself has become a monument of the European debt crisis.
Parque Europa features replicas of 17 European monuments, but the Spanish theme park itself has become a monument of the European debt crisis. Lauren Frayer/for NPR
Four years into Europe's debt crisis, the Eiffel Tower is rusting and London's Tower Bridge may soon be falling down. Not the real monuments, but giant replicas in a once-glittering theme park in Spain, where cash-strapped authorities can no longer afford to maintain them.
Lucas Sebastian, a long-distance truck driver who's crisscrossed Europe several times, has never seen the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Tower Bridge or Germany's Brandenburg Gate.
"Sure, I've traveled, but only from one industrial zone to another. To the capitals? No way. I know Germany and France from driving my truck through them, but I've never seen this," he says.
Sebastian and his wife pose for photos at a life-sized copy of Rome's Trevi Fountain, just a half-hour from their home in Madrid.
Parque Europa opened in 2010 after several years of construction. The theme park started as an homage to Europe — it has 17 replicas of famous European monuments — but it's now become a monument to the debt in which Spanish communities are drowning.
Lauren Frayer/for NPR
A rusting model of the Eiffel Tower stands at one end of the theme park, surrounded by construction debris and empty housing outside the park.
A rusting model of the Eiffel Tower stands at one end of the theme park, surrounded by construction debris and empty housing outside the park. Lauren Frayer/for NPR
This suburb, Torrejon, is $90 million in the red. Part of that is the $18 million it cost to build this park, which also has an ancient Greek theater and a Viking ship.
Another problem is what opposition politicians say is a $250,000-per-month water bill required to turn this desert area green — and supply a giant fountain that spews hundreds of feet into the air.
Standing on the fake Tower Bridge of London, tourist Fernando Canfran shakes his head.
"I think they spent money they didn't have," he says.
That much is obvious. Some grounds staff lost their jobs, the Eiffel Tower is rusting and the man-made lake is turning green.
There's a saying in this economy: Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.
"With this really sharp slowdown, it just really shines a spotlight on these projects where the cost-benefit analysis that was done was probably not adequate to a time like this one," says economist Gayle Allard of Madrid's IE Business School.
Back near the Tower Bridge, there is a rare American tourist, Craig Nordgren. He's never been to London, and though he was in Paris last year, he didn't go up the Eiffel Tower because of the long lines.
"We would have, if the lines were shorter," he says.
Lucky for him, there are no lines here. The town is relying on loans from the central government to keep the park's gates open — for now.