We had an intensive view of Rio de Janeiro and its surroundings: Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer statue, Copacabana beach. Architectural novelties corresponding to the Niterói Museum of Contemporary Art and the Metropolitan Cathedral stood out among the many sea of buildings as trains and trams passed, and hundreds of dancers swayed and danced proudly through the city’s carnival celebrations.
However, Rio was greater than 6,000 miles away while my husband, son and I were standing in a constructing in Speicherstadt, a historic warehouse district in Hamburg, Germany.
The stage we admired is certainly one of over a dozen extensive exhibits at Miniatur Wunderland, home to the world’s largest model railway and largest miniature airport. The meticulous Rio replica went online as Wunderland’s latest exhibit in December 2021, built over 4 years in partnership with a family-owned model company based in Argentina.
“Stunning,” my husband said several times during our five hours of admiring reproductions of Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, the United States, and elsewhere, complete with tiny, hand-painted figures participating in countless day by day activities. Through all of the landscapes, the trains rolled constantly on a complete of 16,138 meters (nearly 53,000 ft) of track.
The project began in 2000, when twin brothers Frederik and Gerrit Braun, then 32, dreamed of making the biggest model railway on the planet. The siblings, who grew up a railroad lover, ran a Hamburg nightclub and record label within the Nineties, but ultimately wanted a way of life change. With the assistance of family and friends, the Brauns opened the doors of the life-size Miniatur Wunderland in 2001.
In 21 years, the attraction has attracted greater than 21 million visitors from everywhere in the world, making it certainly one of Germany’s top tourist attractions. However, within the United States, Miniatur Wunderland is thought primarily amongst railroad enthusiasts and other hobbyists.
Consider us lucky to have a son who’s now 15 and has been obsessive about planes, trains, cars and anything that moves mechanically since he was sufficiently old to point his finger. Fortunately, I didn’t know Miniatur Wunderland, despite quite a few trips to Germany, because the daughter of two parents born in Germany. My son, however, has been talking about Wunderland for years, ever since he discovered a couple of videos on YouTube. He was particularly interested by a working airport with a median of 500 take-offs and landings on daily basis, displayed on the flight monitor (difference: these aircraft models are at all times on time).
So once we planned to return to Germany in August to go to family in Munich, we added a detour to Hamburg to go to Miniatur Wunderland (and buy tickets online one month upfront for on-time entry). My husband and I desired to please our only son, but we didn’t expect our own enjoyment of this tiny world, filled with meticulous details and technological magic, true, but additionally filled with fantasy and humor.
Take, for instance, the diorama of Italy. Among faithful reproductions of the Basilica of St. Peter, Colosseum and Mount Vesuvius (together with regular eruptions) there are small movable vignettes, activated by pressing a button (200 such buttons exist in Wunderland). In one, Pinocchio’s nose grows six inches across the room of a small house. Elsewhere, little Michelangelo jumps on a trampoline to achieve the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with a paintbrush. Creative License? Absolutely.
“It was the modeller who said, ‘I could have put Michelangelo on the scaffold, but nobody would see it. What could I take advantage of as an alternative to indicate him the painting?’” said Thomas Cerny, developer and spokesman for Miniatur Wunderland, in a recent telephone interview. “The model builders are what makes the entire exhibition unique. If you already know them, you possibly can even say who built what, because everyone has their very own humorousness,” Cerny added, laughing that the roughly 100 statues of saints on the colonnades of St. Peter wear clothes product of paper napkins from the Wunderland bistro.
As we moved from exhibition to exhibition, heading this fashion and that to indicate some recent, charming feature, we appreciated the incontrovertible fact that the landscapes weren’t static in any respect. Aside from trains, cars, and boats that travel (within the Scandinavian section, ships sail on real waters), many of the nearly inch-long figurines do something, animated of their depiction, if not through actual movement. “Over time, model railroading has turn out to be less vital and storytelling and creativity have turn out to be way more vital,” said Cerny.
On the fourth floor, we passed the central command of all exhibits, full of large screens and electronics. It was like an open kitchen. Not only do train, vehicle and lighting control systems come from here, but video cameras allow staff to observe things like train derailments and other faults that may occur with so many moving parts.
We discovered that it shouldn’t be at all times sunny in Miniatur Wunderland either. Every 12 minutes, the exhibits transition from day to three-minute night, and the true rooms darken as nearly half 1,000,000 LEDs flicker within the dioramas. Each of those lights is programmed to activate one by one slightly than abruptly, making a condensed simulation of nightfall. “The brothers are perfectionists,” Cerny said of the founders.
Indeed, when our son was taking close-ups and recording his favorite scenes, he commented that it could be hard to inform the true world other than photos of this faithfully rendered diminutive on the iPhone.
The hottest attraction is Knuffingen airport, modeled on Hamburg. It took nearly six years to construct and remains to be a masterpiece of Wunderland engineering to this present day. Forty-five different aircraft circle the runways and park on the gates, powered by individual battery-powered motors and controlled by magnets and wires embedded within the road. The tricky part was determining how the planes could take off and land on their very own, Cerny said. Trial and error led to a moving belt under the runway; two thin metal rods protrude from it, which speed up and lift each plane for takeoff (the reverse is true for landing).
Although we spent an excessive amount of time at the true airport on our trip to Hamburg, with a five-hour unscheduled stop along the best way, we luckily stopped for nearly an hour in miniature Knuffingen, admiring countless little scenes: emergency vehicles responding to a hearth, catering trucks servicing planes, jets coming out of goals. As special planes just like the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, Concorde, and Airbus Beluga taxied for take-off, a murmur ran through the gang of guests who stood across the runway with phones in hand.
However, the airport’s technology will soon be overshadowed by a brand new feature that has been even harder to implement: a Formula 1 race track as a part of the upcoming exhibition in Monaco and Provence. After 4 years of experimentation, the Wunderland team found a option to program small cars to take part in real, random races. A small magnetic field around each of them drives and controls the cars. “Many said it was not possible,” said Cerny. In early November, two cars successfully accomplished the race, and the next week certainly one of the three cars. The goal is to get around 20 cars racing at a time and the show will open, possibly next yr.
Other recent attractions are also in preparation for the brand new wing of Miniatur Wunderland, which opened in parallel with the exhibition in Rio. The expansion took 10 years and added over 32,000 feet of exhibition space. Next in line shall be Patagonia and Antarctica in early 2023, South American rainforests in 2024, and parts of Central America and the Caribbean in 2025. Eventually areas of Asia and Africa shall be added to the Wunderland universe.
A glazed walkway connects the unique constructing to the prolonged space, embracing certainly one of the canals that runs through Speicherstadt, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the sidewalk itself there’s an exhibition “The World From Above” and, after all, trains go through it. Also recent are two virtual realities that transport visitors to the landscape of Miniatur Wunderland.
When we arrived in Munich the subsequent day, the three of us told my cousin in regards to the visit. “Yeah, I learn about these two guys – the most important losers,” she said with amusing once we mentioned the founders of Wunderland. As we went into the main points, it was hard to inform who was more impressed: the child who was enthralled by the flicks years ago, or his parents who never thought they’d be so captivated by the model world.
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