When we were little kids, we used to build miniatures of various kinds. Whether they be made of cardboard cutouts, Lego blocks or clay, whether they be Tamiya tracks or mecha model kits, we took great pleasure in seeing little models of our world form through our hands. There’s just something amazing about seeing the world below you, instead of above and around you!
And as they say, there is a child in each of us. And over at Hamburg, Germany, someone’s inner child has gone to the extreme and took miniatures to a whole new level. The result — Miniatur Wunderland, the largest model railway and miniature airport in the world! Just how large is it? Well, the model now covers a floor area of 2,300 square meters, with 1,300 trains and 100,000 moving vehicles (trains, planes, cars, ships) in total. You read that right. And the model is still growing, with the entire setup expected to be completed by 2020! The entire thing began last December 2000, being continuously built and improved for the past 18 years.
Largest Miniature Airport in the World
(Click photo to enlarge)
Worlds Upon Worlds
In reality, anyone can buy a truckload of model trains and string them together. No, the true wonder of Miniature Wunderland lies not just in how there are trains that move. It’s in the stunning detail that those trains were set upon realistic landscapes! The main section of the exhibit is divided into 9 sections or “worlds”, each. One of the exhibit’s oldest constructions, for example, is Central Germany — a section of hills, villages, and sunflower fields. This one alone took 20,000 hours of construction time, and was pretty groundbreaking for its time in terms of technical achievement!
Other sections include the snowclad panoramas of Austria, Scandinavia, and Switzerland, the romantic settings of Italy and Venice, the busy section of Hamburg, and the larger-than-life trains of the USA. There’s also the fictional city of Knuffingen, complete with an airport… and a fully-functional fire brigade and police department. It’s pretty jaw-dropping how these pieces actually move in response to fires that erupt around town! It’s also pretty enviable how this model has a functioning “Carsystem”, complete with speed traps.
For those with a whimsical mind, there’s a model carnival, too. The technicians’ and model-builders’ workshops are also open to the public, where you can see them toiling on new worlds. Last time they were working on the charming Riviera areas of Monaco & the Provence!
The team behind the Wunderland aren’t planning to stop anytime soon, despite all their achievements. There are models planned all the way up to 2028, with such notable stations as France, England, Ireland, and Sydney!
Groundbreaking in More Ways Than One
A miniature world requires miniature technology, and to the curious mind this can be the primary draw of the Miniatur Wunderland. I’m pretty sure you’ll be left asking “How the heck did they do that?”
The model buildings are so intricately detailed, you’d be made to believe they’re the real deal struck with a shrink ray. The football stadiums, for example, are chock-full of people watching a game. They’re just some of the 400,000 figurines in the whole exhibit. The Las Vegas section of the USA exhibit has the lion’s share of the almost half a million LED lights in Miniatur Wunderland. There are bridges that reach from 3-8 (real) meters in length, and a water basin that contains 30,000 liters of real water!
Then there are the moving parts, with different track systems for different terrains, and several push-button actions. The “Carsystem” runs on a complicated software and a magnetic drive that allows the vehicles to follow routes, stop on red lights (flashing tail lights along the way) and avoid traffic jams. The aircrafts are hooked up to a catapult system that allows them to glide through the air (with fire trucks on standby in case of emergency landings!), and ships are mounted to a high-tech system involving high-speed infrared cameras and invisible LED lights for tracking systems! That last part is still a work in progress, tackling (and almost completely solving) a problem of ship traffic that many miniature experts say were impossible.
Miniatur Wunderland capitalizes on the wonder it brings to its visitors, and offers several special exhibits for those who want to go behind the scenes (or view Wunderland in a different light). There is an exclusive small-group night tour, which lets you take a peek at what goes on behind the magic. A unique “Culinary Trip” through the miniature world also happens a few times each year, with specialties coming from each of the towns represented in the models served to the visitors. Wunderland also promotes Hamburg tourism with a bundle trip to the harbor. For accessibility, the Wunderland also offers a Wheelchair Monday tour, on Monday evenings, for the differently abled to tour everything without the jostling.
There are also guided backstage tours, which are offered for small groups of up to six people at a time. You may call ahead for an English tour, as most tours are in German.
The Wunderlund is open all year round, from 9:30AM to 6PM. The exhibit is open for longer on weekends and holidays. You can buy tickets (both regular and for special exhibits) online. It’s best to reserve tickets this way to avoid the long wait times. The price is at EUR 15 for adults, and EUR 7.50 for children. Seniors have a discounted price of EUR 13. They also have an annual pass of EUR 80 for adults and EUR 40 for children.
Getting to Miniatur Wunderland
You can get to the Miniatur Wunderland by getting off at the historic Speicherstadt district in Hamburg. You can take Bus Line 6, which stops right in front of the building. If you’re taking the subway, the nearest is Baumwall station. For those taking the tram, it’s Stadthausbrücke station.
There are several services within the Wunderland, from photo and video services to a children’s play room and lactating room for mothers. There’s a mini playground and children’s cinema, and free soft drinks for children in line! For the adults, the waiting area is also a pleasure with cushioned seats and snacks/drinks available at affordable prices. Here’s a tip — Wunderland’s Giant Currywurst is famous around the area! The bistro also offers several specialties, such as fresh-cooked pasta, and home-style meals of different cuisines. The bistro is open at the same time as the exhibit, and lunch begins at 11AM. Bringing outside food is also permitted!
If you’re the kid who used to stare at a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle with dread, then the whole of Miniatur Wunderland will blow your mind to no end! Wait, let me rephrase that — if you were a kid, at any point in your life, then Wunderland will blow your mind to no end!