Note: This article was written in cooperation with Future Sack editor Annagram.
Last weekend (June 30 and July 1, 2018), more than 170.000 people attended Niantic‘s Pokémon GO Safari Zone event in Dortmund, Germany, and I (together with fellow contributor Annagram) participated as well. Just looking at the first photo (provided by Marchsreiter Communications who were also kind enough for a press accreditation) already gives you an idea of how many people there were. But this looks much more organized than what happened before people actually got in.
Yes, it wasn’t all happy faces and fun in the park, and this problem definitely has to be addressed here before we go into the more successful parts of the event. Arriving at the Westfalenpark subway station made it clear that safety wasn’t on the minds of the security people or the police, as these were either at the bag checking locations or standing idly around in very small numbers somewhere else. I’ve experienced my fair share of crowds during Gamescom, and even if the Koelnmesse still doesn’t seem to be able to handle the entrance procedure, at least enough personnel is on site to give visitors directions and also make sure that nothing happens at the train stations. In case of the Pokémon event, one simply didn’t know where to go to (this didn’t change all the way to the press entrance). What was even worse: people were actually pressed against each other on the moving staircase! Only after some shouting did someone (not security) manage to stop the stairs movement. Good thing nothing happened there…
After slowly moving through the crowds, we made it to the street, but just by pushing and shoving. Going past the main park entrance and also endless waiting queues, the next stop was unbelievably crowded, as people poured in from all sides, which was already bad enough. Not even an ambulance car couldn’t get through, while another car and a delivery truck started pushing people aside! No police, no security, unacceptable! We were standing next to some people who also had to get to the park because they had to work the food booths, but they were just as helpless as everyone else. Finally, after pushing through some thorny bushes to the parking lot, we managed to get past the queues that didn’t move one inch.
After this, we finally arrived at the press accreditation center, and after receiving our bracelets (and some free drinks/food vouchers), we entered the park… where the fun part started and more positive things prevailed.
The rose garden (or rosarium) was already a good indication that the Westfalenpark was the perfect place for such an event. It also showed that there was enough space for lots of people without one realizing the sheer number getting in from outside.
This didn’t apply to the waiting queues where people got their Pikachu paper cap, a giveway that might not have been the most original, considering that this was handed out during Gamescom as well. A button or something unique to the event would have been nice. But it’s obviously understandable that with so many people, more expensive goodies were out of the question. Even buying merchandise wasn’t possible. Too bad, as I think a lot of people would have gladly parted with their money for some t-shirts. Then again the caps fit the summer weather…
The balloons and tents with benches in the colors of the three Pokémon teams weren’t only a nice touch, but they also provided much needed shade from the sun burning all day long, although fortunately it was rather windy and the temperature wasn’t as high as expected. The only problem with these tents surrounded by food/drink and giveaway booths was that it was easy to get lost in the wide area of the park, as they just looked identical.
But of course one didn’t only want to sit around and eat/drink, but actually catch some Pokémons. There were many Pokéstops to receive enough balls and other goodies, almost every few meters in fact, as can be seen on my phone.
Running out of battery packs wasn’t a problem, either, because there were power banks for charging them again. Apparently there were also some stations to fill up water bottles, but we didn’t really find them. Taking into account that the prices for drinks were very high, it would have been nice if more signposts for these could have been put up. At least there were quite a few people running around and carrying the “information” sign.
The only real issue was mobile internet connectivity, which was to be expected with such a huge number of people. Despite having additional phone masts of Telekom and Vodafone, there were constant connection problems, something many people complained about. Some public announcements addressed this, as it seemed to be worked on, but on Saturday until late noon we still experienced this, so it was hit or miss to catch either goodies or Pokémon, which was obviously disappointing for many people who just went to the event for this reason alone. It’s also worth mentioning that there weren’t any battle arenas, so this was just for socializing and collecting. While the drop rate of shiny Pokémon was increased and one would find a few more powerful ones, they weren’t that rare, e.g. Rosalia turning up almost every time. Somehow this was to be expected, considering that there were all sorts of roses and flowers around, or maybe it was just down to bad luck and the aforementioned connectivity problems.
If one got tired of the digital world, one could also take many photos, even with Pikachu itself who could be found close to the sightseeing tower. Thankfully, the waiting queue wasn’t too long for meeting and greeting the yellow mascot.
I have to say that I didn’t envy the little guy, as there was only a bit of air coming through the mouth part of the costume, and as it was getting warmer and warmer by the minute, the 10 minutes break Pikachu got was well-deserved. Hopefully he made it through the day… or the other people who would change into it later.
Even if I haven’t been so involved with the whole Pokémon series, I couldn’t pass the opportunity to take another photo with one of the trainers who could be found around the park.
There were plenty of other photo locations as well, including this phone-with-small-Pikachu one.
Now a gaming-related event wouldn’t be complete without being able to play some games, and despite not being related to Pokémon in any way, there was some fun in the sun thanks to the Nintendo Switch car where you could play Arms.
Mario Tennis Aces and Fifa 18 could also be tested, and even if I’m not much of a sports fan, the beach chair was a perfect fit for this.
Speaking of beach atmosphere, this icecream looked very similar to a Pokéball.
As it was becoming hotter, we decided to make our way to the exit, but not without having a look back at the tower and tents with all the balloons that seemed to be taken from a picture perfect postcard.
The Westfalen Park wasn’t only worth the Pokémon GO journey, but also to relax, e.g. with the small cable cars or water pedal boats (as could be seen on the first photo).
This won’t be the last time we’ll visit the location, as there’s a wide area to explore with all sorts of flowers as well, but at the moment we’ll just leave it at that rose garden marking our exit to the park.
So all in all, despite some very serious safety issues that should have been addressed before, the Pokémon GO Safari Zone 2018 in Dortmund was a great event, in no small part due to the location that was easy to reach by train and didn’t only offer plenty of opportunities to catch Pokémon, but also to relax and take photos. Connectivity problems aside, having all this without any entrance fees and not running into people despite the huge number frequenting the park, made it an amazing experience that will hopefully be continued in the near future.
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