Fortress Pannerden - Brave the Elements


The overall objective was to make the Pannerden Fortress and the surrounding countryside accessible and attractive to a large public. Focusing not only on its military history but also on finding an innovative, contemporary format to peel back the historical layers of this special site. The Pannerden Fortress was built between 1869 and 1871 to guard the place where the Rhine splits into the Pannerdensch Canal (the Rhine) and the river Waal. The enormous fortress is dug into the earth, with its many passageways and hidden stories from different eras: featuring the fortress as part of the New Dutch Water Line, of military life during the First World War, or about the squatters that occupied the fortress during the zeroes. In 1969, the fortress became a national monument, and these days, the entire New Dutch Water Line – consisting of the Pannerden Fortress and 59 others – is nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status. The restoration of the fortress started in 2009 and a small army museum opened, with guides passionately telling stories about military life. The partners/investors involved (the Dutch Forestry Commission, the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management, the Rivierenland Water Board, and the municipality of Lingewaard) promoted the use of the Pannerden Fortress as a public attraction, completely renovated with a new experience concept geared to the following groups of visitors: 1) families with (young) children, 2) cultural tourists, 3) groups of young adults/companies, 4) passers-by. Last but not least, modernisation is required to preserve the fortress for future generations.


How do you turn a fortress into a destination? How do you bring it to life? The premise was that the fortress, hidden in its rough surroundings, has to be discovered. You have to make an effort, but once you are inside, the reward is all the sweeter. ‘Fortress Pannerden: brave the elements, conquer the fortress.’ This invitation - and challenge – is based on the history of the site. But more than that, it is about what visitors experience. The major stories about the fortress can be linked to one of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. They tie the backgrounds of the four partners together, they provide different perspectives on the history of the building and its inhabitants, and they illustrate the story of the area. Finally, the four elements form great starting points for all kinds of games and experiences in and around the fortress.


One of the four adventurous tracks, challenging visitors to battle the elements, is Elements – The Real-Life Game. A unique game, truly one of a kind. It’s been developed for adventurers aged 12 and over, in groups of 3-7 people and takes between 1.5 and 2 hours to complete. Elements is based on the concept of the escape room, but its location sets it apart and gives it the authentic feel you won’t find anywhere else. The game is played in the extensive network of corridors of the fortress, instead of in just one room. You charge into an unknown world, armed with a chest – the VR-8’ – filled with tools to guide you to the next room after solving a puzzle. You soon find out that a mysterious problem is threatening the country. Solve the mystery and turn the tide. Elements was developed by Tinker in collaboration with game designers Rosa Frabsnap and Joël Vegt.


The groups playing Elements will learn about the history of the fortress along the way. The games that are set out in the rooms all have to do with battling the elements, and the players have to cooperate actively (combining action and brainpower) to turn the tide. (Audio) visual effects (light, sound, projection) have been added to enhance the story. In the introduction room, the participants are handed their VR-8: a portable toolbox that is as versatile as a Swiss army knife. It activates the games that are located in the various rooms and contains the keys for going to the next setting. Through the speakers of the VR-8, the players will hear the voice of the narrator: the coordinator of the fortress. “This is your coordinator speaking. For days now, we have not heard from the Element guards of the Pannerden fortress - Archibald, Hector, Ilaria, Aphrodite: Where are you? We fear for an Elementary Imbalance! If we do not receive data from your elementary readings soon, we will all die! If anyone can hear us: please help us to find out what is going on with the elements around the Pannerden fortress. We need someone to restore the balance. We don’t have much time left! You will find all the tools you need in the VR-8 chest. Take one chest and walk into the narrow corridor; the people up front carry the chest - don’t let it out of your sight, ever! We are counting on you!” The narrator introduces the players into the world of the Elements, guides them around the fortress, raises the pace, comments from time to time, and provides hints if necessary.

GAME 1, ‘The Powder Magazine’, refers to the element of FIRE (the military past of the fortress) and the visual effects are coloured red. In the fortress’s original powder magazine, the players have to discover the recipe of ‘pretend powder’ by combining symbols and weighing the ingredients. The challenge lies in the fact that some symbols are only visible in red light, activated in the spot where the lantern used to stand (at a safe distance), and others in regular light. Once the code has been found and entered into the toolbox, a light is turned on and the players get to follow the hidden mould traces on the walls.

GAME 2 refers to the element of AIR and the omnipresent wind at the fortress. Players have to find and measure the direction of the wind and the wind force. As soon as the toolbox is put down on the air table, the blowers are turned on with a deafening sound, and the light turns blue. The air pipes have to be connected in the right way to find the trail of the carrier pigeon, read it out on the compass, and find the matching wind force (on the Beaufort scale).

GAME 3 refers to the element of EARTH and the often rare flora and fauna, such as the Medick Broomrape, that can be found in the protected natural environment of the fortress. The players get to do earth measurements, by combining the readings of the drawings of the plant species on the wall with the pH value they can find by actively ladling sand into the machine. The room lights turn green once the toolbox is put on the machine/ installation.

GAME 4, the ‘Meta Meter’, is about balancing the elements. The Meta Meter measures the balance between the elements, and the 4-digit balance readings have to be entered into the VR-8. All players have to work together to balance the big iron ring on the floor, by clicking chains in the right slots (element readings) on the floor in the adjacent casemates / caponiers of the fortress.

GAME 5, ‘The Water Distribution Station’, refers to the element of WATER. Players learn about the strategic position and the ‘water tap’ function of the Dutch Water Line. On the way in, the visitors have unexpectedly been sprinkled with water. They can read the water levels at the meters in the corridor. In order to restore the water balance, the water levels of the rivers the Rhine, the Waal, the Pannerdensch Kanaal, the Linge and the ditches and canals have to be set at the right levels. All of a sudden, they hear a loud siren and see blue flashing lights: there has been a dike burst, everybody has to move quickly before it is too late.

END GAME. Using the compass from the toolbox will lead the players to the Central Control System. It has to be reset in order pump out the water from the flooded polder. Four levers have to be moved in the right position, with the help of cryptic hints. These will keep the elements at their proper levels. Then, the players have to hurry to adjust the mirrors in the long corridor in such a way that they redirect the light and activate the ‘element receivers’. The toolbox contains an additional mirror that the players can use. Once they have succeeded, there is an audio-visual climax before they hear the voice of the narrator: "YES! Oh, thank heavens! O yes yes yes yes! You did it! Thank heavens! No one may ever know, but you’ve saved the lives of millions of civilians! And my job in the process..." C


The premise of the project was that the robust fortress is its own primary exhibit. Additions and alterations are in keeping with its character and are at the same time clearly recognisable as new elements. In the most literal sense, we have ‘touched’ the fortress as little as possible. Authentic materials such as wood, stone, and steel were used, matching the building and its surroundings. The concept of the four elements was carried through, down to the smallest details. The real-life game Elements is a technological highlight. The chest handed to each group at the start is literally a carrier: toolbox and narrator rolled into one. It activates the games, introduces the settings, and guides the groups from one challenge to the next, up to the grand finale (the end game). Surprising visual and audio effects enhance the experience, against the backdrop of the fortress. The fact that Elements is completely automated, with games that reset of their own accord, is unique as well. Even the hints are provided automatically by the narrator, as the chests have been fitted with beacons that register their position. New groups can start every 20 minutes and play the game simultaneously. An efficient solution to optimise the flow of visitors to the Pannerden Fortress.

SUCCESS Since the Pannerden Fortress has been given a contemporary function that appeals to a large audience, the necessary revenues can be generated to preserve the fortress for future generations. This new role of the Pannerden Fortress, which is one of a kind (if only for its unique use of real life games to have visitors experience its history in the vastness of the fortress itself!) will help to convey the role of the New Dutch Water Line as a whole. Between its opening on 1 May 2016 and 31 December 2016, 12,000 paying visitors and 6,000 non-paying visitors passed through the doors of the fortress. The opening hours have since been extended.