The Largest Model Train Display in the World: Hamburg, Germany
Of course, at the center of it all, is the trains. They are running everywhere around you – but you never seem to see the same train twice.
The Miniatur Wunderland is a lot more than model trains, anything you imagine can probably be found within this massive display – but more on that in a moment.
My husband is crazy about model trains. He has meticulously restored and maintained, vintage Lionel trains running around our study and on display. Even though he favors the larger O gauge, popular when he was a kid in the 50’s, he loves any well-done train exhibit.
Since opening in 2001, the Miniatur Wunderland attraction has constantly grown. Current displays (in HO scale), are inspired by scenes from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Scandinavia and the USA. The newest feature is a working model airport; Italy can be seen under construction.
To get an idea of the massive scope of this attraction, let’s review a few facts we learned on our “Behind the Scenes” tour with Marius, our knowledgeable guide:
Miniatur Wunderland Fun Facts
- 950 trains
- 14,450 train cars (wagons as they say in Europe)
- More than 8 miles of track
- 3,050 switches
- 335,000 lights
- 3728 miles of cable
- Longest train is a 47’ coal train in the USA section, with 66 cars and 5 engines
Four times every hour, each display changes to dusk for about a minute, then night for about three, and sunrise for another minute. Interactive buttons trigger all kinds of surprise actions (just in case you don’t have enough to watch). Along with all the kids, my favorite had to be the Swiss chocolate factory that wraps a small Lindt chocolate and drops it into the hand of each chocoholic visitor.
One of the big crowd-pleasers is the airport, where 40 different planes pull up to terminals, take-off and land. Video monitors, just like those in a real airport, display flight schedules and video of planes. Planes are all types and sizes and include occasional appearances of an emergency landing of the Space Shuttle and a comical flying bee.
In Scandinavia they use real water to maneuver large shipping vessels and passenger lines and even feature a beach with a rising and falling tide. Throughout the displays visitors will find countless surprises and hidden visual treats. Every employee of the attraction is encouraged to submit creative ideas for inclusion. You can tell they have fun – you find yourself constantly smiling when you spot things like a couple of nuns sitting on a bridge, an office worker zipping around the office in their rolling chair, torch-lit skiers coming down a slope, the Coke polar bear, or a couple having “fun”.
A great place to visit if you like trains, or any type of models; the kids and their adults, were all having so much fun. It truly is an incredible engineering, electrical and technological wonder. My only criticism is the gift shop – a very odd collection of not-so-great “stuff”, they are surly missing a huge opportunity. In the past couple of years, we had viewed a number of You Tube videos about the attraction and, I am happy to report, the actual experience exceeded all my husband’s expectations.
Tips: Go early or late to miss the big crowds, if you travel as far as we did, take the Behind the Scenes Tour – it was well worth the $15 fee. If you want the tour, book it in advance, unless you speak German, or it may not be available. They do have senior discounts and you can buy your admission tickets (regular 12 Euros), ahead of time, on-line. www.miniatur-wunderland.de
There is More to Hamburg than Toy Trains
Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city and is filled with tree-lined streets and green spaces. It is biker-friendly, runner and walker-friendly and a very pleasant place to visit. Anchored by the centrally located lake (Alster) and the Elbe River, Hamburg is a port city whose residents seem to be embracing their waterfronts. We are staying by the lake and it seems to be busy every minute, and this is during the week. We’ve watched sailboats, crew teams, kayakers and paddle boarders everywhere.
The Hop-On bus tour is a great option and can get you around key areas. There seems to be a good public transport system – but it is also a great city for walking. If time, you can get out on the lake and/or river for a water tour.
Small bistros, cafes and bars dot the lake-front. We had a lovely dinner at the charming Kajute. No English version of the menu, but we figured it out. In fact, you won’t find as much in English here, but everyone is eager to please and help. We also find this city refreshingly less formal that some other German cities we have visited in the past.
There are dozens of hidden surprises tucked into the detailed displays at Miniatur Wunderland. I’d like to know exactly how many adventuresome couples there actually are . . . but here is one, up high on a roof-top. Others were, under trees, along riverbanks, seen through apartment and office windows, and cavorting in a field of sunflowers. We even saw a threesome, and I don’t mean golfing. I’ve rated this couple PG to show here. Not all the hidden treasures are sexual. We also spotted a giraffe being loaded on a plane, a penguin family, a corpse in a river, and more. But we missed the crocodile and dinosaur . . .