My day starts in Hamburg, checking out the sights: the warehouse district, the bridges and churches. I then travel to Bavaria to catch Neuschwanstein Castle. An alpine adventure awaits me in Austria and Switzerland, gazing fondly at the skiers, before I head to Italy to spend time at Pompeii and viewing the top attractions of Rome. The day wouldn’t be complete without watching the lighting change from day to night over the Las Vegas Strip, or looking up at Christ the Redeemer above Copacabana Beach in Rio. I guess you can say it was quite a day!
These are only some of the world done in miniature at Hamburg’s most unique attraction: Miniatur Wunderland. It is not only a must-visit when in the northern German city, but even a must-see worth planning a trip around. Yes, it is that cool, and no, I am not exaggerating.
As a child, I loved trains. My father used to take me to a bridge overlooking the rail yard in Los Angeles so I could watch. Train rides, train museums, model trains… I loved it all. So imagine how much my inner kid is rejoicing here at Miniatur Wunderland, spending a few hours inside of the world’s largest model train setup. Trains travel throughout all of these scenes, even traversing from one to another via bridges and see-through tunnels built into the flooring beneath my feet. Passenger trains, freight trains, auto carriers, and more make their way around exhibits showcasing traditional German countryside as well as some of the most famous sights of the world.
Miniatur Wunderland began with a single floor of a warehouse in Hamburg’s awesome brick-facaded warehouse district. It is now multiple floors, and has even spread to a second building, accessed by a bridge over a canal. (It is here the the full South America setup, headlined by Rio, will open over the next several years. It will include, according to signage, the Amazon, Iguacu Falls, Machu Picchu, Patagonia, and even Antarctica.) You’ll begin with the original – and largest – setup: the city of Hamburg and its surrounding countryside.
Everything here moves. Besides trains, there are cars, trucks (and even boats and planes, but more on those in a moment), and moving parts of all sorts. A sign tells me to press a button to activate the moving of a Ferris wheel, and another to make a construction scene go. It is incredible! And each exhibit changes lighting, as day turns to night and back again, with headlights turning on, streetlights shining, and other light features coming to life.
The level of detail is overwhelming, and each tiny place I look has things I’d missed with a previous glance. Ghosts move over a ruined castle. A hockey game is being played. A tiny village shines with holiday lights. Rescue workers deal with a car accident. Seriously, everywhere – in every exhibit – is filled with these tiny details that make the world come to life in a way I’ve never before seen outside of actual reality.
And sprinkled in, models of real buildings and even real events. Just in the Hamburg exhibit, the ultra-modern Elbphilharmonie (the concert hall) is, according to a sign, lit up with 2500 LED lights. And it opens, revealing the thousands of fans inside, with the decorative features all done in miniature. The sign says this one model cost about €350,000 to build! Another corner holds a tribute to the 2013 World Gardening Expo that Hamburg hosted, with 170,000 miniature flowers in an area less than a square foot.
And Hamburg is just one of the exhibits at Miniatur Wunderland. Next door is a Sweden setup, with a working port. Boats travel (yes, actually move) over real water, coming and going from the docks. And of course, they light up at night.
Swiss and Austrian alpine scenes are beautiful in three dimensions, the mountains making for incredible bridge setups for the trains. I press a button to activate a ski lift; another does the same for a funicular. (It is here that the stairs take you under a mountain bridge down to the lower level.)
But the highlight of this top floor is the airport. First, let’s talk detail. If you stare into the terminal building, you’ll notice that the concourse ads rotate as they would inside a real airport. But there is more. I watch a Lufthansa A380 as it pushes back from the gate with the help of a vehicle (whatever it is called that does this). The vehicle detaches, and the plane turns and taxis out of the terminal area. I expect it to then return, but no. It continues down the taxiway to the runway, and actually takes off, disappearing through a curtain in the wall! As I said, this is no ordinary model setup. I don’t even notice tracks for the plane, and am still staring when another comes from an opposite curtain and lands, taxiing to the terminal.
(This floor also has a Bavaria exhibit, as well as a small USA section, complete with Las Vegas and Mount Rushmore.)
I could spend hours just marveling at these features, but another floor awaits, and this one is mostly Italian scenes. Pompeii sits below Mt. Vesuvius, and the Amalfi Coast is done so accurately that I feel I’m there. But the highlight is, of course, Rome. The Trevi Fountain lights up beautifully, and the human pathway cuts through the Colosseum. And in the Vatican, a button says it lights up the Sistine Chapel, and it does, revealing the painted walls inside of windows less than an inch wide. Did I mention the attention to detail in Miniatur Wunderland?
A Monaco exhibit is nearly finished, and I take a few minutes to watch programmers and builders at their work. Humans do interact with the exhibits at times, probably troubleshooting, but most of the control is from an open control room on the top level. I spend a moment and watch the screens.
Photos can’t begin to do justice to Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland, and while I take about a hundred, I can’t even start to capture the tiny gems hidden all over. There is an underground lair with a fake moon landing being filmed and a sign reading “World Domination.” A lavender field sits in the background behind a castle. A UFO floats above a small village. Sweden’s famous ice hotel lights up in colors at night. A coral reef (no trains here, obviously) sits beneath Key West. I could go on, and would, gladly, but there are just too many to list.
I spend a bit over two hours at Miniatur Wunderland, enough to see everything, but not nearly enough to see everything. I imagine I could spend all day here for a week or so and not get a feel for all the details. Heck, I could spend a few hours just watching the planes.
I am careful in my travels and my writing not to overdo it with phrases like “the best” or “the coolest.” But when it comes to Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland, those are entirely in order. This is one of the most incredible places I have ever seen, not just here, but anywhere. And I will be back. After all, more scenes are being built!
Thank you to Miniatur Wunderland for sponsoring my admission.
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