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443 feet and falling: why skyscrapers are adding slides, stairs, decks, and free falls

2 0 21
26.07.2022

It’s an unmistakable and shocking sight: a human body falling from the top of a tall building. On a clear October day, tourists and commuters moving through Berlin’s central Alexanderplatz square may have caught this glimpse, a few seconds of terror as a man fell from the roof of the 41-story Park Inn hotel.

The man was Salvatore Escalante. “I was screaming. Then I had to take a breath, and kept screaming,” recalls Escalante, who survived the fall because it was not exactly a fall.

He was experiencing a tourist attraction called Base Flying, which offers people the opportunity to be held in a harness over the edge of a building and dropped. Escalante, who runs a tour agency in El Salvador, was in Berlin visiting his girlfriend and was taken to Base Flying as a birthday surprise. “She knew that I love adrenaline and she said, ‘I got the perfect gift for you,'” he says.

[Image: Base Flying]So on that clear, windless October day, Escalante was strapped onto a rope, taken out on a platform several feet from the edge of the 400-foot-tall building, and dropped into a free fall. After about 260 feet, an automated system kicked in and gradually slowed the rope, bringing him down to the ground smoothly.

[Photo: Base Flying]“Otherwise it would break all your bones, of course,” says Andreas Höfer​, a manager for the Jochen Schweizer Gruppe, which created Base Flying in 2009. Founded by a former champion kayaker-turned-stuntman, the company operates thrill-based experiences across Germany, including bungee jumping from industrial cranes and rappelling face-first down the sides of buildings. The company had been looking to broaden its offerings.

“We found an engineer who was really into winches and computer technology—and safety, luckily,” Höfer says. “He built the system from zero.” Now Base Flying drops about a thousand people a month from the top of the Park Inn hotel. With tickets running roughly $80 per person, Höfer says the business nets about $40,000 per month.

Base Flying is one of an increasing number of urban tourist experiences combining tall buildings and safe-but-still-scary thrills, satiating adventure-seekers like Escalante while earning their operators significant profits. It’s a growing niche in the tall-building industry as skyscrapers continue to rise in ever more parts of the world.

For pretty much the entire three-second fall from the top of the Park Inn, a Base Flying customer would have an unobstructed view of the Fernsehturm, Berlin’s iconic disco-ball television tower. Opened in 1969, it’s representative of an earlier era of skyscraper tourism, with an observation deck and a revolving restaurant.

[Photo: Magnicity]The TV tower is operated by Magnicity, a French company that runs tourist sites in landmark buildings around the world. The company got its start in 1974 when it bought the top floor of the Montparnasse Tower in Paris and turned it into an........

© Fast Company


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