Walking in a Hamburg Wunderland
I knew very little about Hamburg when I agreed to move here with my boyfriend just over one year ago, but now it’s truly where I think of as home. To me Hamburg is a city of contrasts from the glamorous Neuer Wall to the bohemian St. Pauli. I’m amazed at how many new things I keep finding in the city, how many surprises it has tucked away amongst the beautiful buildings and winding waterways. Hamburg Minatur Wunderland was one of these surprises. I’m not sure I would have visited if it wasn’t on the top of the to-do list of visiting male relatives. I thought that it would only be an attraction for the model rail enthusiast, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The casual observer cannot help but be impressed and overwhelmed by the scale and attention to detail of the railways and surrounding landscapes.
The Wunderland is a constantly changing environment – trains come and go, cars stop and start at crossings, and a day lasts 15 minutes. Over a quarter of a million lights are individually controlled to simulate the days and nights. I loved the moment the main overhead lights started to dim because a silence came over the Wunderland, everyone watching the houses light up, and the cars put their headlights on. Each section of the museum was transformed and things I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed became apparent.
Children (and excited adults) will love the interactive elements of the Wunderland such as the on-demand fire engines and the Cape Canaveral rocket launches. My personal highlights were getting to see aliens in Area 51, the Austrian escapee prisoners, the ski jumping snowman and of course the prostitutes on the Reeperbahn at night. For the more dedicated model railway fan Hamburg Wunderland really delivers on the technology. The museum employees are happy to explain the workings of the computer control system and behind the scenes tours occur regularly. Almost the entire museum has been custom built by hand, a feat which has taken hundreds of thousands of hours. If you like statistics, the museum has them by the dozen – over 12km of track, more than 800 trains, over 5000 cars and more than 200,000 figurines.
The quietest times to visit are early morning or late evening, when you can linger undisturbed. Alternatively use the online queue prediction system to help reduce your wait. The Minatur Wunderland is expanding, with an airport due to be finished at the end of 2010. This will be followed by French and Italian sections, and in the distant future, even a British section. I’m looking forward to this – it will be a real treat to see British trains running perfectly on schedule!
Catherine Noyelle, English Teacher at Institute4Languages, Speicherstadt Hamburg