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June 17, 2021

Germany: Hamburg, Miniatur Wunderland


Giant humans or small buildings

Located in spacious brick warehouse in Hamburg’s Speicherstadt district is Miniatur Wunderland, the largest model railway in the world.  Inside the brick walls there’s more than model trains to see.  It’s really a small-scale reimagining of the world. 

On its surface Miniatur Wunderland seems the consequence of a model railroader who has run out of space in their basement, and out of ideas for new model railways.  But it isn’t.  Instead it is the ambition of serial entrepreneur Frederik Braun.  Braun came up with the idea for a world in miniature as a tourist attraction when he visited a model train store in Zurich Switzerland. 

Before Braun and his partners committed the considerable amount of capital necessary for the project market research was done.  Via an online survey 3,000 people were asked to rank a list of mostly fictional touristic places they would want to see while visiting Hamburg.  Male survey participants liked the idea of the “Miniatur Wunderland”.  It was their number 3 choice overall.  Females, on the other hand, panned the idea, giving the concept their lowest vote total.  Undeterred by the polarized feedback the founding team went forward with the project. 

The first phases of the construction of Miniatur Wunderland were completed in 2001.  In subsequent years there are have been numerous themed expansions.  Plans are in place for even more new worlds in the future.  It’s no small feat.  So far Miniatur Wunderland has taken 760,000 hours of construction time and cost more than €36 million.

Once inside visitors wander through the various themed areas at their own pace.  Along the way they see planes fly in and out of a model airport, emergency vehicles respond to a fire, cars move along a highway, ships navigate a 7925-gallon water tank, and trains travel 15 kilometers of track.  Behind the scenes computers control it all.  If something goes awry, a not uncommon event, a worker appears like a giant from the fringes to fix the problem and get things back up and running.

Despite the uneven market research Miniatur Wunderland has proved to be a success.  It employs 360 people, many engaged in building the latest worlds.  By the time we visited in 2019, Miniatur Wunderland had seen nearly 19 million visitors from nearly 200 countries, all tracked by an electronic tally board. 

Curiously the tally board shows there have been nearly five times as many visitors to Miniatur Wunderland from North Korea as from Monaco.  That ratio seems odd, as North Koreans really don’t travel for pleasure internationally and Monaco isn’t that far away from Hamburg.  Apparently when the North Koreans do travel a miniature world is high on their list of things to see. 

Per the tally board only 99 Monégasques have visited Miniatur Wunderland.  That’s 1/20th the number as from Liechtenstein, which has a similar population as Monaco.  I have to conclude that on a relative scale Miniatur Wunderland is particularly unpopular with the residents of Monaco.  Thus it is ironic Miniatur Wunderland’s next themed area will feature Monaco.  Its new Monaco/Provence area is scheduled to open in 2021

And despite the market research, many women actually do Miniatur Wunderland.  We saw them.

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Miniatur Wunderland’s website is here.  Admission costs €20 per person in 2021.

Inside Miniatur Wunderland’s control room
The visitor tally board

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