SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
It's three years into Europe's debt crisis. The Eiffel Tower is rusting. London Bridge may soon be falling down again. Not the real monuments, but giant replicas in a once-glittering theme park in Spain, where a cash-strapped government can no longer afford to maintain them. Lauren Frayer reports on the eerie experience of watching Europe's grand monuments, even fake ones, fall into disrepair in the continent's debt crisis.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Lucas Sebastian is a long-distance truck driver who's crisscrossed Europe several times. But he's never seen the Eiffel Tower, London Bridge or the Brandenburg Gate.
LUCAS SEBASTIAN: (Foreign language spoken)
FRAYER: Sure, I've traveled, but only from one industrial zone to another, he says. To the capitals? No way. I know Germany and France from driving my truck through them, but I've never seen this.
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. This theme park started as an homage to Europe, but it's now become a monument to the debt in which Spanish communities are drowning. 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-a-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.
FERNANDO CANFRAN: I think they spent money they didn't have.
FRAYER: That much is obvious. Some grounds staff have 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. Economist Gayle Allard from Madrid's IE Business School.
GAYLE ALLARD: With this really sharp slowdown, it just really shines a spotlight on projects where the cost-benefit analysis that was done was probably not adequate to a time like this one.
FRAYER: Back near the fake Tower Bridge of London, I stumble across a rare American tourist, Craig Nordgren, and I ask if he's seen the real bridge or the Eiffel Tower.
CRAIG NORDGREN: Never to London. We were in Paris last year, and we didn't go because the lines were too long. But no, I mean, we would have if the lines were shorter.
FRAYER: 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.
For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Torrejon, Spain.
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