Tiny Treasure: Hamburg's Miniature Wunderland
How is it possible to see Las Vegas nightlife, stroll over to Mount Rushmore, walk past Norwegian fjords and admire the beauty of the German Alps, all in the space of just a couple of hours? You might say it’s not possible at all – but not only is it possible, it's pretty easy and can make for an amazingly fun day. Just come to Hamburg, where the world's largest model railway is located.
Enlarge image The Strip at 'night', with its signature sea of neon lights faithfully recreated. (© Miniatur Wunderland)
It all started in July 2000, when twin brothers Frederik and Gerrit Braun made up their minds that they were going to build the world's largest model railway. At first, they were met with scepticism, but after it was first opened in August 2001, the Wunderland quickly became a true success story. Originally, the Wunderland only recreated German landscapes, but in December 2003, the American section was unveiled and since then a Scandinavian and Swiss section have been built. Earlier this year, the fictitious city of Knuffingen, one of the first to be created, even got it's own airport where flying model planes take off several times a day. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Wunderland, and in the 10 years since its birth it has been a popular destination for more than 8 million visitors.
The sheer size of the Wunderland is mind-boggling: it sprawls across roughly 16,000 feet, and is inhabited by 250,000 little miniatures. That's just a little over one million times the population density of the United States! The inhabitants of the Wunderland have around 8 miles of railroad tracks serviced by roughly 900 trains, the longest of which measures almost 50 feet and 5,500 cars to get them around. Add to that some ships and most recently even airplanes and the inhabitants of the Wunderland are no worse off than we are.
But what's truly impressive and unique about the Wunderland is not just its size – it's how it all comes to life. The Wunderland is the first model railway to use modern technology, such as the dynamic lighting system with its 350,000 lights which creates the illusion of day and night several times per hour. In addition, there are over 150 push buttons to allow visitors to interact with the world of the Wunderland.
Enlarge image What looks like NASA's mission control is actually the control room of the Wunderland. (© Miniatur Wunderland)
None of this would be possible without the people behind the Wunderland, the German equivalent to Disney's imaginationeers. Each of the modellers is not only allowed, but encouraged to freely develop their little part of the Wunderland and add their personal touches. And really, this is the reason why the streets of the cities in the Wunderland always seem to be bursting with life – because the people who created this little world poured over 600,00 hours of their own lives into the project.
However, the creators of the Wunderland are far from done – by 2020, they are planning to add Italy, England and even Africa, so that you can really tour a miniature version of our world in just a few hours – but might just want to spend more time than that in the Wunderland.