Just over two weeks ago, Munich-based adventure company Jochen Schweizer opened their Base Flying experience from the top of Berlin's tallest building, the 39-floor Park Inn at the central Alexanderplatz. The company, which offers an array of other activities - such as a €35,000 mini-submarine dive at the Titanic wreck – has billed Base Flying as providing the thrill of base jumping, with the safety of bungee jumping.
“It's singular – the only machine in Europe that can simulate a free fall,” Base Flying manager John Davis told me as I peered into the sleek and intricate €400,000-gear salad. “It's a fun-machine,” he smiled.
Moments before, I'd signed a release form indicating that I was not drunk, suffering from a mental disorder or uncomfortable with the fact that “injuries of a grievous nature cannot be ruled out.”
In what is hopefully the closest I will ever come to being a Dead Man Walking, I rode the elevator 37 floors where I was greeted by a casino worker who said, “Have a nice flight.” Climbing two more flights of stairs, Jochen Schweizer signs mocked my anxiety with phrases like, “What are you thinking?” and, “Take a deep breath.”
After stepping out onto the blustery platform to behold the glistening TV tower from a stunning new perspective, I donned a white jump suit, stepped on a scale, and was fitted into a harness by adrenaline junky types who had clearly earned their bronzed muscles the old-fashioned way.
It was not this, but the ant-like crowd below that caused me to lose the power of speech as I stepped onto the edge of the jump platform, was told to look down, and felt my body lowered until I was suspended face down above the ground.
Like most good things in life, it was over in less than 10 seconds, and still worth the trouble. The first few seconds were pure terror that melted into a few more seconds of smooth euphoria, followed by the rush of self-reflection that accompanies a brush with death.
“You spend five to six seconds in a free fall, and four to five seconds braking, so it's between nine and 11 seconds total,” technician Thomas Müller, who has done the jump some 25 times, told me as I recovered (and wondered how it was possible for my knees to sweat).
Unlike bungee jumping, there is no jerking motion as your body nears the ground, he said. The Base Flying machinery has two separate digital braking systems tuned to seamlessly ease the jumper to the ground.
The machine has two speeds, 40 to 50 kilometres per hour for “those with a lot of fear,” and up to 90 kilometres per hour for daredevils like me.
As for safety, the Base Flying machine has been tested more than 500 times, and serviced more than 500 paying customers without a hitch since mid May, according to John Davis.
“Some people have come to get over their fear of heights, and only four people have turned back,” he said. “Otherwise everyone has been overwhelmingly thrilled.”
Where: Park Inn, Alexanderplatz
Weight: 50 to 110 kilogrammes
Open daily from May 15-June 30. Weekend appointments from July 1.
All jumps are weather permitting.