Can you imagine a model railway with 10 miles of track? That’s just what Miniatur Wunderland has in Hamburg, Germany…along with over a third of an acre of miniature model cities from around the world.
20 Years in the Making
Construction started on Miniatur Wunderland in December 2000 by the twin brothers Frederik and Gerrit Braun. By August 2001, they had completed the first three sections – central Germany, Austria and the imaginary German town of Knuffingen. These first three sections totaled over 3,000 square feet and took a massive 60,000 man-hours to complete. The following year, Hamburg opened as the largest city in Wunderland, comprising 1,000 buildings and 50,000 figures.
To date, 923,000 man-hours have been spent constructing the 9 completed regions of Wunderland. More than 300 people have been employed, and €35,000,000 ($38,750,000) has been spent on its construction. Within the 16,000 square feet are 4,340 buildings, 263,000 figures, 389,000 LED lights, 9,250 cars, and 130,000 trees. The heart of Miniatur Wunderland is the train system, which totals 9.8 miles of track, 1,040 trains, more than 10,000 railway cars, 1,380 signals, and 3,454 switches. Everything is managed by 50 high-tech computers.
Traveling Through 9 Regions
Due to the layout of the building, the regions you walk though don’t coincide with the sequence in which they were opened. In fact, the newest region is the first you will see after you walk through the workshop.
The first region I entered was Italy. Right from the beginning, I was astounded by the detail. This 2,000-square-foot region contains 30,000 figures, 10,000 trees, 450 buildings plus 22 churches, about 400 cars and nearly 50,000 microscopic LED lights. Traveling on the mile and a half of train tracks in this region are about 110 trains with 800 wagons, 110 signals and 404 switches. Altogether, this region took 180,000 man-hours to construct!
Five regions of Italy are represented, including Liguria (Genoa), South Tyrol (Bolzano), Tuscany (Florence and Pisa), the Amalfi Coast and, of course, Rome. The reconstruction of the buildings here is magnificent. In Rome, they’ve recreated the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, Piazza Venezia, St. Peter’s Basilica, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and even the Termini Central Train Station. Even the water in the rivers looked realistic, although perhaps I remember them being a bit muddier in real life.
The Amalfi Coast region included the ancient ruins of Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius rising behind it. Every night (yes, Miniatur Wunderland goes through day and night cycles, but more on that later), Vesuvius erupts and lava flows down toward the town. It a really fascinating display and I just couldn’t believe how realistic it looked.
Venice is a sub-section of Italy, opened separately as the attention to detail here didn’t make the opening date of the Italian region. By itself, Venice has 3,000 figures, 206 buildings, 26 bridges and 160 gondolas, not to mention over 3 miles of wiring! The highlight of the Venice region is a recreation of Piazzi San Marco including St. Marks Basilica, Doge’s Palace and the Bell Tower. The designers really went to town on crafting everything meticulously. The scale is around 1:1300, allowing them to shrink this part of the island down into 100 square feet.
Other landmarks such as Rialto Bridge are also visible within the tableau. Each of the buildings is painted in the Venetian style, giving far more detail than the other regions. What really sets this region apart from the rest is the lack of cars and trains, just like the real Venice. While the model train system is a key feature of Miniatur Wunderland, gondolas replace them to ply the plastic waters of Venice.
The next region I entered was Switzerland. This region covers 2,700 square feet and spans two floors! It contains another 50,000 figures (many of which are in the DJ Bobo Concert), 700 buildings, 30,000 trees and 1,000 cars. The really impressive part of this region is the landscape. Four tons of plaster and fifteen tons of steel were used to sculpt the mountains and valleys. In fact, part of the exhibit includes walking through the Matterhorn where you can see underground caves, mines and even the subterranean train station Porta Alpina.
Within the region of Switzerland is the Lindt Chocolate Factory. Miniatur Wunderland is actually a fully interactive display, and there are hundreds of buttons you can press throughout the regions which will produce different scenes. With Lindt, you can push a button to see the factory go into production, complete with a miniature bar of chocolate dropping out of the dispenser! Lindt is some of the best chocolate in the world, and I saw one guy hovering near the model so he could get a few pieces to stash in his pockets.
I think the most interesting part of Switzerland is the DJ Bobo concert. More than 20,000 individual figures were put into a small field, and dozens of interesting scenes can be found throughout the crowd. Here, you can push a button and have the show play out. It’s even more impressive at night with all the lights coming on. Dozen of the people are somehow holding itty-bitty torches. Perhaps that’s why it takes 7 computers just to manage this one region.
Central Germany and Knuffingen
I’m not entirely sure where the next two sections separated. The first depicted the quintessential life of rural Germany. There were small villages, farms with their animals and tractors, and even an open-air theater where Romeo and Juliet perform. When it opened in 2001, the interactive buttons were revolutionary for models. This region spreads out over 1,300 square feet and contains 13,500 figures, 10,000 trees, 205 buildings, 420 cars, 26,000 LEDs, 130 trains with 1,000 wagons, 80 signals and 120 switches. I’d have to say the level of detail isn’t nearly as high as Venice was, but it’s still incredibly good.
Knuffingen is a fictitious region of Germany created solely within Wunderland and is where the mischevious side of the designers stands out. The highlight of Knuffingen is the 400 active cars and trucks driving down the streets (I’m guessing by magnets beneath the roads). Among the vehicles are 31 fire trucks which are constantly rushing to put out one simulated fire after another. By this point, I was just overwhelmed by the level of detail. If you look closely, there are dozens of tiny scenes playing out among the figures, whether it’s police checks, Superman going to save a car crashing through a guardrail in Switzerland, or a nude couple sunbathing in Austria.
Austria was the next section, although it also blended together with Central Germany and Knuffingen (and opened the same time as them). This is the region of the Alps, and it’s just mind-boggling to see how they’ve chiseled detail into every rock of these mountains, not to mention the snow-dusted trees, the ski slopes and all the alpine huts. This region contains 6,500 figures (the fewest of any region), 150 buildings, 10,000 trees, 180 cars, 40 trains and about 14,000 LEDs.
If the Knuffingen region seemed slightly less impressive than Italy, its airport took things to a whole new level. Just as Miniatur Wunderland is the most impressive model with the longest toy train track in the world, Knuffingen Airport breaks all the records. There are 52 planes (and one Millennium Falcon) that make about 250 flights a day. They come out of a hole in the wall and either get parked at one of the many gates of the terminal or return to the skies through a hole in the far wall.
This airport took 150,000 man-hours to construct and, in addition to the planes, has 15,000 figures, 75 buildings, 4,000 trees, 40,000 LEDs, 90 driving cars, and a staggering 62 miles of wiring within the model. I spent far too long watching one plane after another come down the runway and get taxied into its designated spot in the airport. It was just impossible to keep track of everything that was going on within this 1,600 square feet. There was even a brawl between two figures taking place on one of the roofs. Again, it must have been magnets making them tumble about, but I was really struggling to comprehend how it was all put together.
As Miniatur Wunderland is located in Hamburg, it’s no wonder that they would dedicate an entire region to their own city. Within these 2,500 square feet, all the landmarks are represented. Here is the Köhlbrand Bridge, the Speicherstadt warehouse district, Volksparkstadion Stadium (with over 10,000 figures within), the entire harborfront with cranes loading the ships, Hamburg Central Station, Hagenbeck Zoo and, of course, Elbphilharmonie.
The “Elphi” is Hamburg’s new concert hall, one of the largest and acoustically advanced halls in the world. The replica in Miniatur Wunderland actually opened three years before the grand opening of the real thing, and their stories are surprisingly similar. The model cost 350,000 euros ($385,000) and consumed 13,000 hours to create. Now you can push a button and the building will open up so you can watch the concert inside. It’s a lot easier and cheaper than going to see a real concert there, although that’s still definitely on my bucket list.
The rest of Hamburg includes 50,000 figures, 12,000 trees, 1000 buildings, 1,300 cars, 190 trains, more than 1,800 rail cars, 1.6 miles of track, 260 signals, 550 switches and about 60,000 LEDs. Although I did a walking tour and a boat tour, this was still a great way to see the city and learn about all the different landmarks.
Finally, I came to my region of origin, or rather selected parts thereof. Depicted are the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Mt. Rushmore, a Christmas Village (Germany is spilling over into the USA), Miami, the Keys and Cape Canaveral, Yosemite, and Area 51. The population of the country has dramatically decreased to only 30,000 figures along with 450 buildings, 10,000 trees, 800 cars, 140 trains and about 70,000 LEDs.
I’ll admit, I had spent so much time in the previous regions that I barely had time to wander through this section. This is also where I saw my first pink letter, which meant I spent most of my remaining time in Wunderland trying to find the other pink letters, which I’ll describe below.
At this point, I have to say that two hours in Miniatur Wunderland isn’t nearly enough time. On some days, they’re open until midnight, but they closed at 6 p.m. on the day I went. By the time I made it through the other regions, I only a few minutes left to rush through Scandinavia, which is a real shame as this is the region that uses nearly 8,000 gallons of actual water. Also used are 40,000 figures, 30,000 trees, 500 buildings, 600 cars, 150 trains and about 50,000 LEDs. I’m going to have to go back someday to see more of it so I can fill in this section!
Attention to Detail
Even knowing that they’ve spent nearly a million man-hours building the models, it seems like it should have taken longer. Every inch of Miniatur Wunderland looks like it’s been painted by a one-hair brush. Blades of grass are drawn in, the cars have tiny writing, the buildings have impeccable detail, heck, you can even see the rosy nipple on the nude sunbathers.
There are countless tiny scenes to be found among the regions. I loved the one with penguins waiting with their luggage and a puppy at one of the train platforms, and the guy leading a pet kangaroo down another train station. I found quite a few Santa Clauses in different locations, including stuck in gridlock on his way to the airport. I’m willing to bet you could spend a thousand hours scouring Wunderland and still not find half the easter eggs hidden throughout.
Enjoying Miniatur Wunderland Day and Night
Perhaps the most impressive feature of Miniatur Wunderland is how it changes every 15 minutes through day and night cycles. The scenes are completely different when the 389,000 LED lights come on, and some are definitely better at night. The handheld torches at DJ Bobo’s concert are far more visible at night, the Alps look magical with all the alpine houses lit from within, and Mt. Vesuvius is definitely a highlight as its lava rolls down toward Pompeii every night.
Finding the Pink Letters
When I went, Miniatur Wunderland had their own “Where’s Waldo” game throughout the regions. Instead of Waldo, you had to find 15 pink letters beside unique scenes. When you found them all, you arranged them in a sequence which spelled out a word you then had to submit on a website. Once I found my first letter (15 minutes before closing time), I blitzed through all the regions again finding the rest. In fact, I ended up being the last one out, but at least I found all the letters and was able to submit the right answer.
I don’t know if this will still be around, as the competition ended a couple weeks after I visited. Perhaps they change the letters around to different scenes. It’s just another feature that makes Miniatur Wunderland so much fun!
Plans for the Future
Miniatur Wunderland is far from complete. They’ve got plans for the next decade, including the regions of a Fun Fair, Monaco and Provence, South America, Central America and the Caribbean, England, France, Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg), and Africa/pan-Asia/India (basically, the whole world). The future regions do vary from time to time as their creative passions change, but the quality and detail of their work only get better. This is a place I’d love to bring my kids in a couple decades to see how far they’ve progressed (after I’ve had kids, of course).
Visiting Miniatur Wunderland
The opening hours of Miniatur Wunderland vary wildly, but it’s always open at least from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Some days, it’s even open until midnight. It does get really busy (over 18 million people have visited since it opened) so advanced booking is essential, especially in the summer. I would honestly say you should spend the entire day there (just like you would at a full amusement park), and take a break in their cafeteria for lunch. If you’re in a rush, 3-4 hours would be the absolute bare minimum. But seriously, just go for the whole day!
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Tickets are €15 ($16.50) for adults, but there are 12 other categories of tickets from children to handicapped. There’s no easy summary of their ticket prices, opening hours or wait times, so just head to their website to book your tickets.
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