Miniatur Wunderland (Nathan)

Trip Start Sep 03, 2010
Trip End Oct 27, 2010

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

The 21st was a very busy day... we had originally planned to walk straight to Miniatur Wunderland, which was pretty much on the other side of Hamburg. However, it started to rain very hard as soon as we set out, and between the increasing cold and the drenching downpour, we decided to work out something else. We did see a very cool fountain before we turned back, though, featuring a pair of centaurs either wrestling for or working together to catch a huge fish, while weird mermaids and lizards spit water at them. After that we headed back to the train station where we'd first arrived in town the night before, and had breakfast at a restaurant there... I had some very good schnitzel, and Glennica had a baked potato that seemed to be entirely coated in some kind of mushroom stroganoff. By the time we'd finished eating, the weather had cleared somewhat. It was still cold and overcast, but no longer raining, and Glennica was feeling much better, so we decided to walk after all. There was always the chance it would start up again, but we were pretty much making up the whole trip as we went along anyway, so we decided we'd deal with that when and if it happened.

Hamburg is a beautiful city, and though it was quite a different experience than the rural areas we'd been exploring when we were in Germany earlier, I still feel like out of all the countries we visited, Germany was the prettiest and maybe the most visually interesting. In addition to all the old buildings and statues that we saw all the time in Europe, Hamburg had a lot of street art, some nice parks, and a few unexpected things. For example, when we got down near the water, we saw a black box that said "Camera Obscura" on the side. I thought that maybe it was an ad for a camera obscura at the local museum or something, but it turned out the little box WAS itself a camera obscura, though much smaller and simpler than the one we'd visited back in Edinburgh. You could step in and see a magnified, real-time image of the city projected on the wall. A little ways further, we saw a U-Boat that you could visit and explore, though the price was steep enough that we decided not to do it. And after that, there was the Hamburg Del Mar, which appeared to be a little tropical surfer-style getaway raised up on stilts, with surfboards, beach chairs, thatched huts and palm trees, closed for the season. It was completely out of place and inexplicable, and I wondered why they bothered when Hamburg didn't have an actual beach, but rather concrete docks that drop right into the water.

It was still a long way to Miniatur Wunderland, and I was starting to get hungry... not extremely hungry, but I really wanted something refreshing and fruity. Luckily, there was a gathering of little hut-shops by the waterfront selling snacks, and I bought a delicious tropical mango-passionfruit ice cream bar which was pretty much exactly what I wanted. It was the best purchasing decision I've ever made. We passed a huge rusty metal thing that I assume used to be part of some ship, but I couldn't read the plaque next to it, except to see that it weighed 25 tons. And then finally, after a lot more walking and crossing a bridge and walking some more, we arrived at Miniatur Wunderland. I was a little concerned that they might close early, but we'd arrived in the early afternoon, I think, so it seemed okay. It turned out that Miniatur Wunderland was housed in the same building as the Hamburg Dungeon. I don't remember if I've mentioned these "Insert City Name Here" Dungeons, but we ran into them in every large city we visited in Europe... I know we saw them in Edinburgh, London and Paris at least, and maybe a few other places too, and now there was yet another in Hamburg. We never actually visited one of these, but they had ads everywhere, and they're expensive, stupid, shallow and pretty much interchangeable. From what I can tell, they basically try to profit on a city's darker history by exaggerating it and making tours and rides that are supposedly based on it, though they seemed to just recycle the same ideas with minimal effort to make them actually relevant to the particular city they were in. All of them had the same gory medieval zombie people with bad teeth, the same dripping blood font for their sign, the same tower of terror ride with the nooses... they're the McDonald's of tourist attractions, and if you're ever travelling overseas, I'd advise you to avoid them entirely. Luckily, we didn't have to actually pay admission for or walk through the Hamburg Dungeon to get to Miniatur Wunderland.

So what IS Miniatur Wunderland, anyway? Well, the short answer is that it's the world's largest model railroad, with over 890 trains, 12,000 meters of track, and 1,150 square meters of scenery. And that's just how it is now, 7/10 finished... by the time it's completed in 2014, it will be even larger. It's more than that, though... I tried to capture the feeling of being there in my pictures and videos, but now that I'm back home looking at them, I think you really have to be there to understand what makes it so special. It's almost like you can physically sense the monumental passion and effort that went into building these magnificent landscapes from scratch. There's just so much to look at, so many little details to spot, that you get completely lost in it and forget everything else for a while. Unlike the Hamburg Dungeon, this place is unique... as far as I know, there's nothing else like this in the entire world. It's also very popular... when we got there, it turned out we needed reservations! This hadn't happened at any of the other attractions we'd visited throughout the trip, but luckily we were able to get reservations for later... it turns out Miniatur Wunderland is open until MIDNIGHT every day, which is absolutely unheard of for a tourist attraction, and in my opinion is a good indicator of just how popular and special this place is. We got reservations for around 8:30 that night, and were left with several hours to wander around killing time.

We decided to first head for a large black tower we'd seen in the distance and been curious about. It actually looked a lot like the Walter Scott memorial we'd seen in Edinburgh, but when we got there, it turned out to be the Saint Nikolai Memorial, a monument to WWII's victims. We took a brief look and asked the ticket seller for directions to any nearby shopping areas, then left as the wind was beginning to pick up. The shopping areas were fairly unremarkable, except for a small indoor mall that had weird carvings of animals strewn over several surfaces, elephants and monkeys and rhinos and octopi all overlapping each other. There was a nice Christmas shop that sold nutcrackers and a lot of elaborate wooden ornaments and decorations that reminded me of Christmases in Coal Creek Canyon, back before my parents were divorced when I was still in grade school. There was also a conveyor belt sushi place, but neither of us was really hungry yet. We got the idea of trying to find Back to the Future in a Hamburg movie theater, since we'd seen posters for it back in Edinburgh, and it would be fun to watch it in German. After getting directions to the nearest movie theater, we walked a few more miles, only to discover that they weren't showing it, or any other good movies, and turned back. We were getting cold and tired by now, so we stopped for a while at the downtown train station (which, it turned out, was where we were leaving from the next day) and browsed the shops there. I had some tropical juice from a Mr. Clou (the name seemed to amuse Glennica immensely, I guess she was thinking of Mr. Plow from The Simpsons), Glennica had a waffle, and eventually we both had some decent sausages from the food court, where the guy serving asked where I was from and, when I replied the United States, told me to say hi to Obama for him. We also stopped by a chocolate shop (of course), where I bought some Halloween chocolates and saw a bunch of advent calendars, some of which were surprisingly risque.

It was starting to get dark now, and we headed back towards Miniatur Wunderland, not wanting to be late. We got lost a little on the way, but eventually arrived too early, and had to head back across the river on a footbridge to find somewhere to stay warm for about half an hour. We found a quiet, mellow, vaguely tropical-themed bar where Glennica had a glass of wine, then finally went back and got into Miniatur Wunderland. We stayed right up until closing, and even then I was still a little reluctant to go, though Glennica seemed to get bored with it after a couple hours. There were lots of buttons you could press to make things happen, such as triggering a shuttle launch, making lights flash, or, in one instance, getting a miniature chocolate factory to dispense a real piece of chocolate. It was divided into 7 regions: Switzerland, Knuffingen, Austria, Harz, Hamburg, America and Scandinavia, and each contained faithful recreations of real landmarks, as well as a lot of stuff that was imaginary. The train system itself was amazingly complex... they actually had a staffed computer room where employees kept track of it all, there was hardly a moment anywhere you went where at least one train wasn't rolling by, and they even had hidden elevators to transport the trains between different elevations for transitioning between countries. Beyond all that, I don't know what to say. It was a wonderful experience, but hard to describe the appeal. I'd highly recommend visiting it if you ever get the chance... I'd like to go back some day to see it when it's finished.

After that, it was time to head back to our hostel, but Glennica had the idea of heading back through the red light district instead of the way we came. I was a little surprised that Hamburg had a red light district (though I think we'd read about some tours of it while looking for stuff to do the previous day), but there it was, all gaudy and flashy and full of adult stores and strip clubs. It was actually racier than in Amsterdam! While they didn't have real prostitutes in windows (or any prostitution at all, actually), they did have enormous paintings of naked women plastered across the walls, showing much more than the real women in Amsterdam did, and everything felt sleazy and ridiculous. We went window-shopping at some of the adult stores for a laugh, turned down the dozen people trying to get us to come in to see strip shows, and hatched a plan for Glennica to sneak into a "males only" gentleman's club by wearing a fake mustache and a bowler hat. All in all, we had a fun time without spending any money, and after getting lost again (we didn't really mind, it was fun seeing the dark quiet neighborhoods of Hamburg), we finally returned to the Meininger hostel and went to bed.

Thanks for being so patient waiting for this update (especially you, Renac), and sorry I've been so busy. We're nearing the end now, and I'm hoping to have everything wrapped up by Christmas, except for possibly the final entry. :)

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Renac on

Wow.. clear to see which part of the trip you liked best!

nateandglenn on

(Glenn) - There was an Amsterdam dungeon. And look - they are converting the Blackpool Tower to one also:

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