Located south of Antwerp in Belgium, close to the French border, is Dadipark, the oldest amusement park in Europe. It was opened in 1950, under the influence of a local pastor called Gaston Deweer.
Dadizele, the small town where Dadipark is located, was already a tourist attraction and a place of pilgrimage in Belgium when the amusement park was opened.
In the early days, Dadipark was just a simple playground for the children of the families visiting the nearby basilica. It later evolved into a separate theme park.
In the 1980s, the schoolyard items of the park were replaced with all kinds of amusement rides and the park was opened for tourists. It was built over an area of around 12 hectares and in its hugely successful peak year, it pulled in around one million visitors. One of the main attractions was the 800 m long bridge, making it the longest suspension bridge walkway in Europe at the time.
The goal of Dadipark was to offer simple and affordable entertainment for children. Swings, slides, carousels and bumper car rides provided the children great enjoyment. Sadly, things took a turn for the worst after a while, with a series of accidents provoked by the increasingly rundown rides.
The last and the most serious in the park’s history, was in 2000 when a young 9-year old boy lost his arm while on the popular Nautic Jet ride. After the incident, the park became a target of serious complaints about the safety of its rides, causing a rapid collapse in visitor numbers.
This led to the eventual closing of Dadipark some two years later, in 2002, presumably for renovation. It was announced that it would be closed for a year. The cost for the renovation and maintenance would have been very high, so finding an investor was a major issue. Furthermore, there was the tough competition of the larger amusement parks so the announced renovation never actually happened and the park was abandoned.
In 2004, there was some hope for Dadipark’s reopening, due to interest from several companies in buying the park and turning it into a modern theme park, with new rides and attractions. Planning regulations and finances pushed the potential investors away. In the years that followed, there were several other attempts to revive the old Dadipark but all of them failed to achieve their goal.
Up until several years ago, the park rides were still there, the walls of the structures painted with graffiti. What was once Dadipark’s territory, was reclaimed by nature, the rides standing amongst plants and trees. All hope of renovating and reopening the park was lost in 2011 when the authorities issued a demolition permit and wanted to organize a cleaning operation.
After the announcement, one last effort was made by a group called Dadipark Blijft, who got together with the united aim of stopping the demolition. Unfortunately, they didn’t succeed and in 2012, the demolition of Dadipark began. After this, almost nothing remained from the original Dadipark.
Even though it had been closed for years, Dadipark still received visitors from many urban explorers. Signs for prohibited trespassing didn’t stop a large number of people from entering the park. People drinking or taking pictures, parents and children walking around or on the wooden bridge, have been an everyday sight over the years.
In June 2016, it was decided that the old amusement park would be turned into a green recreational and residential area. A part of the design costs is to be supported by Dadipark NV, the old owner, and the new construction will keep the name Dadipark.