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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Miniatur Wunderland - Hamburg Germany

31st March - 2nd April 2012

My sister and I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in the German city of Hamburg - located on the sea in the northern part of Germany.  After a few days in Florence, we basically returned to the winter weather as Spring hadn’t quite sprung yet in Hamburg.  Our main reason for going was to see the Miniature Wunderland exhibit located in Hamburg.  We had stumbled across it on the internet and planning a simple 2 day weekend just didn’t work out due to flights and timetables.  So we ended up spending the whole weekend and returning on a Monday.  The city was quite nice and the people surprisingly nicer than expected.  I guess we are both used to German tourists in Italy who unfortunately are not quite as well educated as they are when they are at home (or so it seems).  Hamburg is quite the shopping mecca with tons of shops and lots of restaurants (French, Spanish, etc) - most of the guests in the hotel were German in fact.  From what we could understand, the city is fairly well off with some of the biggest industries located nearby (Airbus for one) and a very active port.  For being a port city, we saw virtually no sign of filth or misbehaviour.  Even crossing the street was very orderly.  I was ready to cross when there was no traffic but it was obvious that no one else was so...well I conformed by waiting for the light.  Funny really.  The train system was very efficient (rivaling the British system I would say) and even if we had bought our tickets and were ready for any controllers none were to be found! No turn-styles or ticket validating machines.  Guess the fines must be deterrent enough to make everyone comply.  The weekend was definitely a success but the highlight was surely The Wunderland.

Before you go, you should probably reserve an entrance time especially if you plan on visiting on the weekend.  That way you arrive at a preset time and they are able to control the flow of people arriving at any given time.  Wunderland is located near the Baumwall U-bahn metro station and is an easy walk down to the port area.  It’s actually located on the 3rd and 4th floor of refurbished warehouses (and there is a lift to get you up there because honestly, the stairs are a killer).  Price is reasonable at Euro 12.00 for adults.

From what we were able to understand, it seems the Wunderland has been in construction for over 11 years at this point.  Last year they added their airport.  There are sections to each layout : Hamburg, Scandinavia, Central Germany, Knuffingen, Knuffingen Airport, Bavaria, Switzerland, Switzerland/Ticino, Austria and America.  I think the American section was the least convincing with it’s mix of Cape Canaveral, Florida and Vegas all in one.  Reminded me of “Team America”’s idea of what a country is - all the most famous monuments put into the same place.  It was pretty clear which sections were older as they didn’t have as much moving traffic on the roads.  The later layouts had trucks and cars (and fire vehicles) which move on a magnetic track under the layout.  Everything is fully programmed by 46 computers and an army of Train Geeks ready to fix anything that malfunctions.

I was amazed at how the layouts are immaculate.  Not only that, there is no apparent damage to any layout that I could see even if the place was packed on a Sunday with tons of small children who were crawling and climbing on the railings.  It seems that whoever comes to the Wunderland already understands the respect it deserves. 

Here are some numbers as of December 2011 :

LAYOUT SURFACE        1,300 square meters
THEME WORLDS           8
TRACK LENGTH            13,000 meters
TRAINS                             930
WAGONS                          14,450
LONGEST TRAIN            14.51 meters
SIGNALS                           1,270
SWITCHES                        3,050
COMPUTERS                    46
LIGHTS                             appx. 335,000
FIGURINES                      215,000
TREES                               228,000
WORKING HOURS         580,000 working hours
They have plans for expansion which include Italy, France, UK and Africa.

The lights were mostly LEDS and they were used in very creative ways to simulate fires whether camp fires or full blown accidents.  The figurines were painstakingly installed in at least 3 different venues including a full concert, stadium, amphitheater as well as a street Rave and Oktoberfest.  The detail in the landscaping was amazing - where tiny little sunflowers are applied or vineyards so perfect to seem real.

The final effect was incredible and perhaps the cherry on the cake was the passage of night to day.  Every 20 minutes or so, the lights would begin to dim to simulate sunset.  As darkness fell, all the lights came on or all the nocturnal activity was lit.  The train stations looked real, the cars with their headlights and even skiers coming down the mountain with their little torches. 

Strongly recommend a visit to Wunderland as I believe that right now, there is nothing in the world that quite compares !

Enjoy my video here !