Imagine, if you will, that you’re on a trip to a foreign city in a foreign country. While reading about the city, you discover that there is the world’s largest model railway exhibition. Now, forgive me for saying that I’m not really a model railway kind of guy, and I thought that the exhibition was going to be rubbish. In hindsight, I can happily say that that I was wrong. I was so very wrong.
Welcome to Hamburg
Hamburg is a port city, in a similar vein to Bristol, and I recently took a break out there to discover what the city has to offer. I usually try to go to a place in Germany around this time of year, as I really love the atmosphere of proper German Christmas markets (known as Weihnachtsmarkt). Like any city, Hamburg has all the amenities that you need and I personally was impressed by the bicycle infrastructure that’s built into the city, along with the number of train stops that have good wheelchair access. There are some nice places to visit; I would insist that you see the Elbphilharmonie building. It’s one of those architectural pieces that I can appreciate, even though it has me scratching my head and wondering what the artist was thinking. I would also highly recommend getting out to the nearby cute town of Lübeck if you can.
But I came here today to talk to you not about Hamburg as a whole, but more particularly about Miniature Wunderland. It’s located in the industrial dockside section of Hamburg, which for me has a lot of similarities with Bristol’s and London’s Docklands. The museum itself is housed in what looks like an old warehouse and costs 13€ for a standard adult ticket. I must warn you that you’re going to need at least 2 hours to look at it all and truly appreciate it; however there is a cafe in the exhibition if you get peckish whilst browsing. I visited the exhibition on a Monday and it was busy, but not super crowded, so if you dislike large crowds then I would advise avoiding visiting it on a weekend.
About the exhibition itself
The exhibition opened in 2001 and is the brainchild of twin brothers Frederik & Gerrit Braun, along with their longterm friend, Stephan Hertz and Gerhard Dauscher. When the exhibition opened, a lot of people thought the whole thing might be a joke and not have any success at all, but with over fifteen million people through their doors, I am sure those people who were laughing have not stopped. In 2015, it was officially dubbed the world‘s largest model railway by the Guinness Book of Records.
The project has a devilish eye for detail. Everything is to scale; even their representation of the Matterhorn and it’s not long before I began to believe the number of hours the team have spent on it. If you are a fan of statistics or just curious how much has been involved, take a look at their statistics page. Citizens are placed with precision and look incredible, with hundreds of little surprises throughout – Not to mention the number of little “easter eggs” that you can find, if you look hard enough. For example, one house had Bert, Ernie and Cookie Monster from Sesame Street as residents.
The exhibition does not take itself too seriously and I think in that it brings out the inner child in people. Some of the cars and lorries have a magnetic track that they follow making the environment seem alive and then, when you least expect it, the lighting changes simulating a day/night cycle. When I first experienced this change I was speechless. Street lights blink on, offices shut down except a few rooms, Las Vegas comes more to life and the Knuffingen airport becomes a hive of lights.
Wait… Did I just say airport? Yes, I said airport! I mean why not? If you are going to build the worlds largest model railway, why not model an entire airport with planes that take off and land, accompanied by an entire departure board? They encourage you to be playful in your visit, which I think more places should do.
It’s one of those exhibitions that constantly surprises you and it’s not often that I come out of a museum with my perspective (pun intended) completely changed, and also with that feeling of “wow, that was so worth the money”. Over the next few years, they plan to expand the exhibition. They are currently finishing off the “Italy” section, with Venice scheduled to be complete sometime this year or the beginning of next. Then comes the Monaco racetrack; Great Britain is scheduled to start appearing in 2019 and due to be finished in 2022, followed by France. I look forward to returning at some point in time.
Of course, if you do not have the means to visit it yourself, then you can have a look around using the Google maps version of the exhibition, but seeing it in the flesh (so to speak) is much more fun.
Thanks to Nathan, my travel buddy from Level Up, for all the photo’s that he took on his phone, which is far superior to mine. Have you accidentally done something really geeky on your holidays? Has this article made you want to go and see Minatur Wunderland for yourself? Give us your feedback via the comments section or you can get hold of us on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.