Chug-a-chug. Chug-a-chug. The locomotive glided along the railtracks, criss-crossing through a well-kept little village. With a post office, bakers and a doctor’s surgery and all you would expect. Then up a mountain pass it continued and back round in a loop.
The model train set of ours fascinated me as a child. How I loved to play the dual role of train driver and mountain climber at the same time. Where else could that be possible? I remember how fascinated I was at being able to feed my imagination and create my own town.
But a few years later, we sold that model train set. I missed it, wondering if I would ever get a chance to find something like that again. Fast forward to early 2015 and I was planning a little Euro trip, I checked out the top things to do in Hamburg. And top of the TripAdvisor list was something called the Miniatur Wunderland, billed as the world’s largest model railway. Upon hearing this, my childhood excitement had been revived in an instant. This I would have to check out above all else to see and do in Hamburg.
INSIDE THE MINIATUR WUNDERLAND
Located inside a converted warehouse is this most remarkable labour of love. The brainchild of twin brothers Gerrit and Frederik Braun and fellow enthusiast Stephan Hertz, this has since its inception in 2001 grown immensely and shows no signs of slowing down.
A trip through the Alps in the world’s smallest ski lift sets the tone nicely. Well, watching it that is. You didn’t possibly think you could re-create that movie Innerspace could you?
Starting off with the fictional town of Knuffingen, a place with all the trappings of any German town. Most stand out of all is its own airport. Watch as the radio controlled planes taxi along the runway ready for take off! Looks just like a real airport. Officially the world’s smallest functional airport.
Knuffingen may not be meant to represent any German town in particular but it does blend nicely into what looks like the Harz mounatins. The town’s fire brigade are always busy putting out a little fire and the people are enjoying a a fun little summer festival.
Of course, the city of Hamburg gets the miniature treatment too. The Speicherstadt, the Reeperbahn and the piers are miniturised too. SV Hamburg play St. Pauli in a replica of the Volksparkstadion.
The Hauptbahnhof is what conncects via ICE train Hamburg with America. Yes, that’s right. Where else can a train take you from the docks of Hamburg to the colours of Las Vegas.
TAKING THE TRAIN FROM HAMBURG TO AMERICA AND THE NORTH POLE
At intervals every so often the lights inside are dimmed to give all the model cities a night look. Quite fantastic with mini-Hamburg but also appropriate with Vegas. A replica of a city of replicas in a warehouse full of replicas! The emerald green MGM Grand and the Luxor sphinx light up perfectly.
Taking an Amtrak through the Grand Canyon and past Cape Canaveral is a mini Scandinavia and North Pole. It seems to be Autumn in Denmark and Norway where golden leaves overlook a traditional stave church, but Sweden and Finland are very much in a winter wonderland. Santas’s reindeer and feeding themselves, people are on sledge races and the snowmen glow in the dark. It feels like Christmas all year round.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Full respect must go to those who work behind the scenes keeping the thousands of model trains and cars running, and controlling the lights. Every half hour the lights are dimmed briefly to give the miniature worlds a night time feel. Bright colours light up and shine through, feeling as though you are in the miniature world itself! Not only that, it is these people who are responsible for keeping the model planes, ski lifts, boats and other forms of transport moving. Full praise to all who have made this possible and continue to do so.
And it does not stop there, as more exciting miniaturized worlds are being worked on every minute.
Since I visited, a miniature Italy has opened with a mini Colosseum, Cinque Terre and erupting Vesuvius. Originally a model Venice was supposed to be part of this but so grand was the size of it, development was put back and recently opened in 2018.
And it does not stop there. France is the next country in focus, with Paris and Provence but also a replica of Monaco complete with possibly an interactive F1 racing track! The miniature world continues to grow. Wherever next is anybody’s guess!
VISITING THE MINIATUR WUNDERLAND
Located in the heart of Hamburg’s historic Speicherstadt warehouse district, it is a short walk away from the Baumwall U-bahn station. Clearly marked on the outside is that it is also next to the Hamburg Dungeon.
Tickets can be purchased on the day, but if you can I recommend ordering in advance. You can reserve an arrival time through the official website, and there is also the option of a group tour. I personally chose to reserve my arrival time this way. As a result, it means you can skip any queues, and just purchase your entry ticket.