“Hey, there’s a museum with model train sets!” Andy said to me while we were researching our weekend trip to Hamburg. I like trains, but I have no real opinion on train models. But Andy LOVES trains, so of course I agreed to go. He read me a few things from the website, but I honestly didn’t pay much attention. Once we got to Hamburg, he picked up a brochure for Miniatur Wunderland from our hotel and told me about the different places represented in this museum with the largest model railway in the world. Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Scandinavia, even the USA. But still, we’re talking about mini trains, how exciting could it be? Well, it turned out to be one of the best things to do in Hamburg in the winter. Or any time of year really.
Germany through the ages
The first display we saw was a series of dioramas showing a typical (but nonspecific) German village and how it changed over time. They started from the Stone Age and worked their way through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, the French Revolution, and World Wars I and II. The details showed everything from how the castle evolved to the bridge being built down to little things like a witch hunt and tiny chickens.
Then they had a series of dioramas showing Berlin from the end of World War II up until the time the Berlin Wall came down.
After a quick stroll through a set of dioramas showing what each of Germany’s political parties imagines as their version of utopia, we finally got to the trains. As we walked into a replica of Switzerland, I noticed the lights slowly getting dimmer. They had the lights set to occasionally dim, and then brighten again a few minutes later, as a way to simulate day and night. It was really a cool effect, and luckily nighttime was shorter than daytime.
As the lights came back on and I got a better look at mini Switzerland, I quickly realized, this wasn’t just about model train sets. This was an entire room set up to replicate minute details of Switzerland. The Alps, buildings and churches, little cars that were being delayed by a truck whose load of cheese had spilled out the back, a festival, a castle, and so much more. Oh yeah, and there were trains strategically running through it all.
Since I didn’t really absorb everything Andy read to me before we got to the museum, I completely forgot that there were more sections besides Switzerland. But there were several more, and next up was Bavaria. Beer gardens, Neuschwannstein Castle, and some kind of tractor pull. I had no idea that was part of Bavarian culture.
The Austria section had more mountains, more trains, little fake people skiing, typical Austrian cities. This section was also where we realized there were occasional buttons to push that made pieces of the scenery in front of you move or make noise or do something else. It was neat to watch.
It was appropriate that they had a section for Hamburg since that’s where the museum is located. They displayed the city’s famous harbor, St. Michael’s Cathedral, the train station, even the section of the city where the museum is located.
Eventually we got to mini America. I was curious about this section because the US is not known for extensive train systems but we were in a train themed museum. They showed sections of Florida, Mount Rushmore, and the southwest, which I found a bit odd since the majority of the country’s trains are in the northeastern region. But still, it was entertaining. Also, there was a mini Taco Bell in there. Couldn’t they have picked a better restaurant to represent our country?
The awesome airport
The museum invented a city called Knuffingen for one of the displays. They also built an imaginary airport to go along with it, although they were in different rooms. The city had typical German style buildings, a carnival, mini golf (mini golf in miniature world…love it!), even a crime scene complete with a dead body floating in the river. Of course, there were also trains throughout the city.
Then there was the imaginary Knuffingen Airport itself. Like everything else, the detail that went into it was amazing. Planes took off, landed and taxied on the runways and taxiways. Airport support vehicles drove around. At one point there was even a fire on an airplane that had just landed, and emergency vehicles rushed over from the other side of the airport to put out the fire. (Don’t worry, it was just the imaginary Knuffingen Airlines.) There was an electronic board listing all the arrivals and departures. They even had a parking deck and dozens of waiting taxis. It took nearly six years to build the airport, and it showed. It was amazing, and despite Andy’s fear of all things flight-related, we hung out here for quite a long time.
I hope you made it to the end of this post. I took a little more than 300 pictures here, so it was hard to narrow it down to what I ended up with in this post. And I skipped the Scandinavia section entirely. Miniatur Wunderland truly was wonderful. Andy and I spent well over three hours, but we easily could’ve spent four. (And we spent several more hours there on a second visit when we took Andy’s parents a few years later.) We had to pick up the pace when we realized it was getting close to closing time, and we only barely got to see Scandinavia before an employee shooed us out. This was by far my favorite thing in Hamburg, and I highly recommend it. Mini Europe, tiny countries, apparently I really enjoy miniature places!
Visiting Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland
Adult tickets cost 12€ (about US$16.50) per person, children under 16 years old are only 6€ each, and children shorter than one meter/three feet are free with an adult. The museum is located at Kehrwieder 2-4, Block D, 20457 Hamburg in the Speicherstadt district. Opening hours vary by day of the week and time of the year, so check their site here for more information. I recommend booking tickets ahead of time so you can skip the line.
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