We had an all-encompassing view of Rio de Janeiro and its surroundings: Sugarloaf Mountain, the Christ the Redeemer statue, Copacabana Beach. Architectural novelties just like the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum and the Metropolitan Cathedral stood out among the many sea of buildings, as trains and streetcars passed by, and 1000’s of dancers swayed and strutted through the city’s Carnival celebration.
Yet Rio was greater than 6,000 miles away, while my husband, son and I stood in a constructing within the Speicherstadt, the historic warehouse district in Hamburg, Germany.
The scene we admired is certainly one of greater than a dozen sprawling exhibits at Miniatur Wunderland, home to the world’s largest model railway and largest miniature airport. The meticulous replica of Rio got here on line as Wunderland’s newest exhibit in December 2021, constructed over 4 years in partnership with a family-owned model-making company out of Argentina.
“Mind-blowing,” my husband said several times during our five hours of marveling at reproductions of Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, the US and other sites, complete with tiny hand-painted figures participating within the myriad activities of day by day life. Through all the landscapes, trains continually chugged along a complete of 16,138 meters (almost 53,000 feet) of track.
The project began in 2000 when the dual brothers Frederik and Gerrit Braun, then 32, dreamed of making the most important model railroad on the earth. The siblings, who grew up as train buffs, wound up running a Hamburg nightclub and record label within the Nineteen Nineties, but eventually they wanted a life-style change. With help from family and friends, the Brauns opened Miniatur Wunderland’s life-size doors in 2001.
Within the 21 years since, the attraction has drawn greater than 21 million visitors from around the globe, becoming certainly one of Germany’s top tourist draws. Yet in the US, Miniatur Wunderland is primarily known amongst railroad buffs and other hobbyists.
Count us lucky to have a son, now 15, who has been obsessive about planes, trains, cars and anything that moves mechanically since he was sufficiently old to point. Lucky because I hadn’t known about Miniatur Wunderland, despite having made quite a few trips to Germany, because the daughter of two German-born parents. My son, alternatively, had been talking about Wunderland for years, ever since he discovered some YouTube videos of it. He was particularly eager about the working airport, which averages 500 takeoffs and landings a day, displayed on a flight monitor (the difference: these model planes are all the time on time).
So after we planned a visit back to Germany in August to see family in Munich, we added a detour to Hamburg to go to Miniatur Wunderland (and purchased tickets online a month upfront for the timed entry). My husband and I desired to indulge our son, an only child, but what we didn’t anticipate was our own enchantment with this tiny world, filled with painstaking detail and technological wizardry, sure, but additionally bursting with whimsy and humor.
Take the diorama of Italy, for example. Among the many faithful reproductions of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum and Mount Vesuvius (complete with regular eruptions), there are little moving vignettes, activated by pressing a button (200 such buttons exist throughout Wunderland). In a single, Pinocchio’s nose grows six inches across the room of a tiny cottage. Elsewhere, a small Michelangelo bounces on a trampoline to succeed in the Sistine Chapel ceiling together with his paintbrush. Creative license? Absolutely.
“That was the model builder saying, ‘I could have put Michelangelo on scaffolding, but no person would see it. What could I exploit as a substitute to point out him painting?’” said Thomas Cerny, a software developer and spokesman for Miniatur Wunderland, in a recent phone interview. “The model builders are what make the entire exhibition special. Should you know them, you may even tell who built what, as every one has their very own humorousness,” Mr. Cerny added, while sharing with a chuckle that the 100 or so statues of saints on the colonnades in St. Peter’s Square wear clothing made from paper napkins from the Wunderland bistro.
As we moved from exhibit to exhibit, directing one another this fashion and that to indicate some latest fascinating feature, we appreciated that the landscapes were anything but static. Along with the trains, cars and boats that travel about (within the Scandinavia section, ships navigate tides in real water), most of the virtually inch-high figures are doing something, animated of their depiction if not through actual movement. “As time went on, the model railway became less vital, and the storytelling and the creativity became way more vital,” Mr. Cerny said.
On the fourth floor, we passed by the central command for all the exhibits, full of large screens and electronics. It was like an open kitchen. Not only do the systems that control the trains, vehicles and lighting originate here, but video cameras let staffers monitor things like train derailments and other glitches that may occur with so many moving parts.
We discovered that it’s not all the time sunny in Miniatur Wunderland, either. Every 12 minutes, the exhibits shift from day to a three-minute-long night, and the true rooms darken as almost half one million LED lights twinkle inside the dioramas. Each of those lights is programmed to activate in sequence moderately than suddenly, making a condensed simulation of nightfall. “The brothers are perfectionists,” Mr. Cerny said of the founders.
Indeed, as our son took close-up photos and videos of his favorite scenes, he commented that it might be hard to inform the difference between the true world and his iPhone images of this faithfully rendered diminutive one.
The most well-liked attraction is Knuffingen Airport, based on Hamburg’s own. It took almost six years to construct and to date has been Wunderland’s engineering masterpiece. Forty-five different aircraft taxi down runways and park at gates, propelled by individual battery-operated motors and steered by magnets and wires embedded within the road. The tricky part was devising a way for planes to take off and land on their very own, Mr. Cerny said. Trial and error led to a moving belt under the runway; two thin metal rods extend from it to speed up and lift each plane for takeoff (the reverse happens during landing).
Though we had spent way an excessive amount of time in the true airport on our journey to Hamburg, with a five-hour unplanned layover en route, we happily stayed for near an hour on the miniature Knuffingen, taking within the countless little scenes that unfolded: emergency vehicles responding to a fireplace, catering trucks servicing planes, jetways coming out from gates. When special aircraft like a “Star Wars” Millennium Falcon, Concorde or Airbus Beluga taxied out for takeoff, a murmur rippled through the gang of tourists who stood across the runway, phones in hand.
The airport’s technology is about to be eclipsed, nevertheless, by a latest feature that’s been even tougher to enact: a Formula 1 racecourse inside the upcoming Monaco and Provence exhibit. After 4 years ago of experimentation, the Wunderland team found a solution to program the small cars to run actual, randomized races. A tiny magnetic field around every one powers and controls the cars. “Many said it couldn’t be done,” Mr. Cerny said. In early November, two cars successfully finished a race, followed by one amongst three cars the following week. The goal is to get some 20 cars racing directly, and the exhibit will then open, likely sometime next yr.
Other latest attractions are within the works, too, and they’re going to go in a latest wing of Miniatur Wunderland that opened in tandem with the Rio exhibit. The expansion had been within the works for 10 years and added greater than 32,000 feet of exhibit space. Up next are Patagonia and Antarctica in early 2023, the South American rainforest in 2024 and parts of Central America and the Caribbean in 2025. Eventually, areas of Asia and Africa will probably be added to the Wunderland universe.
A glass-enclosed walkway connects the unique constructing with the expanded space, spanning certainly one of the canals that runs through the Speicherstadt, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walkway itself houses an exhibit, “The World From Above,” and, after all, trains run across it, too. Also latest are two virtual reality experiences that put visitors inside the Miniatur Wunderland landscapes.
After we arrived in Munich the following day, the three of us filled in my cousin in regards to the visit. “Yes, I do know of those two guys — the most important nerds,” she said, laughing, after we mentioned Wunderland’s founders. As we recounted the main points, it was hard to inform who’d come away more impressed: the child who had been enchanted by videos all those years ago, or his parents, who never thought they’d be so captivated by a model world.
Follow Latest York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And join for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips about traveling smarter and inspiration in your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or simply armchair traveling? Try our 52 Places for a Modified World for 2022.