It is totally no surprise that Miniatur Wunderland (MW) is THE number 1 tourist attraction in Hamburg. It works at every level, for everyone in the family; mums, dads & kids.
That’s because, not only is it endlessly fascinating, but it’s huge (the largest model railway system in the world), it’s a reflection in which we can see ourselves, and it’s fun!
Spoiler alert: I’m sorry but this review is going to be ‘gushing’ because everything about Miniatur Wunderland is amazing and I think it is easily one of the best, if not THE best, attraction of its kind in the world.
I am a huge fan, and I’m not alone – not only does it have a max 5-star rating from Tripadvisor based on over 5,000 reviews, but last year (2015) over 1¼ million people, including me, visited it!
And you can tell there are plenty of people worlwide who would like to visit when Miniatur Wunderland’s official English language video, published on Youtube in Nov 2011, has now been watched for an average 2:56 mins by over 20 million people! That’s every 36th American (8,731,183), every 22nd Canadian (1,561,387), and every 21st Taiwanese (1,077,525).
Never mind their official video (actually there are squillions of videos. Just do a Youtube search) here’s mine. Google Photos took it upon itself to auto-create a video from my clips & photos. Not sure I would have picked the same music though!
So, why is Miniatur Wunderland so cool?
Well, there are a number of reasons, starting with its sense of fun.
I grew up near a model village in Devon. It’s still there, decades later and still drawing in the crowds because it’s full of playful fun, with plenty of recognisable references, some of them tongue-in-cheek, to the local area and contemporary cultural events and people. Miniatur Wunderland does the same…
Exhibit A: The armed police laying in wait in the underground bank vault for the hapless burglars who’ve tunnelled their way to the vault and are about to break through.
Exhibit B: The dangling monk, trying to climb down to his bees and needing to be rescued.
It’s also the extreme detail: MW is a series of complete miniature worlds. Not just railways, though railways dominate, but cars, boats, planes, landscapes, buildings, street furniture, and people – a cast of thousands – all living in, for example, the fictitious city of Knuffingen, which not only has some detail…
“It’s a city of 10,000 inhabitants, idyllically situated between the Harz and the Alps, and one of the largest cities in Miniatur Wunderland. Knuffingen is known for its innovations and has a worldwide reputation for its automobile industry. The groundbreaking Carsystem of Miniatur Wunderland was initially installed in Knuffingen, and still is the largest in Wunderland with more than 90 cars. The police in Knuffingen are also well equipped. A radar trap regularly catches truck drivers who are putting the pedal to the metal. The fire department Knuffingen is working at full capacity, and the central computer system is afflicted by the work of an arsonist who sets fires on different houses in the city. We haven’t been able to catch the arsonist yet, much to the annoyance of the fire department and the joy of our guests. So, the siren will be heard as a characteristic sound in Knuffingen for a long time to come.”
…it also has its own website!
It’s the clever technology: planes landing, taking off & taxiing (to a schedule posted on an airport style departure board – everybody waits to see Concorde take off!) while airside support vehicles run around them at Knuffingen Airport, ships manoeuvering through rocky coastlines in Scandinavia, cable-cars in the mountains, cranes moving stuff around. And all this in a 15-minute “day” which transits into a pink sunset, night, and then morning again.
It’s the interaction: There are over 150 push buttons around the displays that activate animated scenes and effects, EG. two guys having a race on pallet trucks in one of the cargo areas at the airport, or the tractor pulling competition in Bavaria or the DJ Bobo performance at a huge music festival in Switzerland.
It’s the way MW shows us what we want to see and let’s us soak it all up: I love the way we are allowed to see ‘behind the scenes’. The control room, with all the techies watching the computers running the systems, and the CCTV screens displaying not only parts of the ‘worlds’ but also the perspective from some of the trains (they’re fitted with cameras), is also part of the ‘display’. And (this one is one of my pet issues) MW’s policy on photography. When I asked about it on my way in the reply was: “Of course! Photograph or film everything you want. We encourage you to!”
What’s there exactly?
Miniatur Wunderland, which this year is celebrating its 15th anniversary, is spread over three floors in a huge former warehouse in the docks area of central Hamburg. There’s a handy .pdf guide with cutaway views of the floors & track layout. It comprises eight zones, with a further four in the pipeline.
|1||Harz/Central Germany||August 2001||120 m2 (1,300 sq ft)|
|2||Knuffingen||August 2001||120 m2 (1,300 sq ft)|
|3||Austria||August 2001||60 m2 (650 sq ft)|
|4||Hamburg||November 2002||200 m2 (2,200 sq ft)|
|5||America||December 2003||100 m2 (1,100 sq ft)|
|6||Scandinavia||July 2005||300 m2 (3,200 sq ft)|
|7||Switzerland||November 2007||250 m2 (2,700 sq ft)|
|8||Knuffingen Airport||May 2011||150 m2 (1,600 sq ft)|
|9||Italy||Autumn 2016 (under construction)||190 m2 (2,000 sq ft)|
|10||France||2017 (planned)||130 m2 (1,400 sq ft)|
Table source: Wikipedia
The new Italy theme world was scheduled to open this spring, but it is already now the most elaborate and sophisticated theme world in the history of the Wunderland, and the launch has shifted to the autumn. MW say that the Amalfi coast is ready and the area of Pompeii is nearing completion, but they are only now starting to sculpt Tuscany’s landscape and there is only a rough draft of Liguria so far. Buildings in Rome like St. Peter’s Basilica and the Coliseum, which is one of the most elaborate models inside the exhibition due to its filigree construction, are taking a little more time than planned and the biggest holdup has been the erupting Vesuvius.
“After the initial promising tests with the kinetic sand it sadly showed, that this type of sand cannot be used long term and now we are working full pressure to search for alternatives.”
Is there a downside to Miniatur Wunderland?
Well, maybe just one. It is hugely popular, so there will be times (eg. school hols, weekends) when you have to endure long entry queues and packed viewing galleries.
If you go early morning, mid-week during the winter as I did, you can chill out & enjoy yourself for hours. Most importantly, if you pre-order your ticket with a booked entry time, you can walk past the entrance queues and straight in. I did, but when I went there weren’t any queues to walk past!
Miniatur Wunderland Modelleisenbahn Hamburg
Kehrwieder 4 20457
Miniatur Wunderland is located alongside the River Elbe in the Speicherstadt area, which is a historical warehouse district in the heart of Hamburg. The Rathaus (Town Hall) and the Mönckebergstraße (one of the most well-known shopping streets in Europe) are just 800 m away.
The closest train/bus main station is called the Hauptbahnhof, and the nearest subway (U-Bahn) station is Baumwall. To get to Baumwall station from the Hauptbahnhof, take the U-Bahn line U3 (the yellow line) in the direction of Rathaus/Barmbek.
To be honest, if you can afford it, the simplest way is to get a taxi there – every taxi driver in town knows where it is!
Tickets: Order these online. Mine turned up in the post in the UK 48 hrs later.
- Adult: €13.00
- Child (up to 15yrs): €6.50
- Students: €9.00
- Senior (over 65 yrs): €11.00
Prices include tax, but not postage.
- Mondays, Wednesday, Thursdays 9:30 – 18:00
- Tuesday 9.30 – 21:00
- Friday 9.30 – 19:00
- Saturday 8:00 – 21:00
- Sundays and holidays 8:30 – 20:00