Germany Holidays: Miniatur Wunderland, Hamburg’s model railway

Squirrelled away up in the waterfront warehouses of Hamburg’s 19th century Speicherstadt is the eighth wonder of the world.

Miniatur Wunderland is a permanent exhibition that attracts over a million visitors a year, matching Berlin’s Pergamon Museum or Mad King Ludwig’s castle at Neuschwanstein. As these numbers suggest, it is far more than just a giant train set. Its setting, in aristocratic brick warehouses in Hamburg’s old harbour, is well chosen, not least because this whole area of Hamburg is being redeveloped into a German version of London’s Docklands, spearheaded by a hugely ambitious cultural centre called the Elbephilharmonie, designed in the shape of a wave.

The Speicherstadt is not far from the new cruise ship terminal, so it is appropriate the Miniatur Wunderland’s miniaturised landscapes are very international, arranged continent by continent. They have been created with an imagination and an attention to detail that will outstrip the expectations of even the most geeky, anoraky, trainspottery kid, as well as bring out the inner child in the most grumpy adult.

The trains are an excuse for an extravaganza of story-telling

But Miniatur Wunderland is not really about trains, all 800 of them. Essentially, the trains are just an excuse for an extravaganza of story-telling, and the beauty is in the accurate representation of reality, and in the quirky detail. Blink and you’d miss the couple making love in the middle of a field of sunflowers. Blink again and you’d miss another couple making out in the Alps, this time being photographed by a voyeur while another man makes away with their underclothes. And then there’s the Red Bull diving team, hurling themselves off the model Speicherstadt itself, a world within a world.

The German section is understandably strong, but so also are the Swiss, the Scandinavian and the American, along with their most iconic landscapes, such as the Matterhorn and the Grand Canyon. And then there are the push-buttons. The one that makes the drinkers in a beer garden clink glasses, the one that works the lights on a fire engine attending a hole in the dyke near Amsterdam and another one that sets off a shark attack in underwater Florida. And so on.

Wunderland has its own diurnal rhythm. Stage lighting produces dusk, then night, then dawn, and 300,000 tiny bulbs light up offices, houses, vehicles (the computer-controlled even have working brake lights), ships and station platforms.

Meanwhile the traffic moves down the roads, aircraft come and go from the airport, the ships move round the harbours and the trains keep their own mysterious timetable. It really is like spectating on a parallel universe. Captivating stuff.

Getting There: International airports at Hamburg and Lübeck. International rail connections to Hamburg are via Cologne from Brussels (Thalys), which connect with the Eurostar from London. See our Travel page for airlines, rail and tour operators.

Staying There: our recommended hotels are here for Niedersachsen, and here for Hamburg.

Looking for more? See other destinations in Northern Germany

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4 responses to “Germany Holidays: Miniatur Wunderland, Hamburg’s model railway”

  1. That’s really ftiaincasng. Given that the space shuttle is already an anachronism, I wonder how they’ll handle the rapid changes going on in today’s world. Should they keep the exhibit frozen in time, or try to keep the Miniutur Wunderland up to date?

  2. Does anyone know what happened to the original Model Train museum that was located closed to the Hamburg city center (around Altona)? It certainly was not as elaborate as the current extravaganza at the Miniature Wunderland… was in one large room that was on the 2nd floor of a “Hamburg City museum..” that included pictures of Hamburg in bygone eras.

    Each scheduled presentation – operated/narrated by a conductor/dispatcher who was located in a raised tower in the middle of the display – operated about 9 trains during the scheduled showings. i remember it operating from about 1970….and the last time I saw it was around 1997……and then travels no longer took me to Hamburg until recently.

    Needless to say…nowhere near the grandeur of the current “Wunderland”….but it had its charm and certainly must have given many ‘model train enthusiasts’ ideas for tinkering with their own home-based Maerklin model train setups.

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