I have been visiting Berlin, Germany with a friend (www.macfilos.com) for a few days. Ostensibly we are here to take in the InnoTrans Railway Technology Messe happening right now. Today however we decided to hop on a train to Hamburg and visit the Miniatur Wunderland, located in the vast former harbor warehouse area called "Speicherstadt". It is in itself well worth a visit. These warehouses or "speicher" have now been converted into fancy offices and expensive condominiums. Among those is the building which houses the Miniatur Wunderland. It is indeed a wonderland of four floors of trains. Billed as the largest HO model train layout in the world, it is now reportedly one of Germany's biggest tourist attraction.
To see the entirety of the train lay out I would allow at least two to three hours. It is advisable to book a reservation on the Miniatur Wunderland web site, as this allows one to circumvent the often very lengthy waiting lines. No worries about going hungry or thirsty: the place actually has two cafeteria style restaurants with seating arrangements mimicking a German rail dining car.
The statistics regarding the Miniatur Wunderland are staggering: so far they have spent a little over $15 million on this whole affair. The yearly visitor numbers have now reached close to 2 million people.
The lay out has about 8 miles of HO track, over 3000 turn outs, a little over 930 trains of which the longest one is 47 feet long. There are 1270 signals, over 335000 lights and 8850 cars, trucks and buses. All this is controlled by 46 computers from a sizable control center.
The whole lay out is spread over three floors at the present time. A fourth floor will be added soon. It is divided into different "countries", with, unsurprisingly, Germany taking up the largest area. There is Switzerland, Norway (Scandinavia) and the USA! This must be the only place were one can travel by train from Germany to the US. The United Kingdom, Italy and Africa will be added on the aforementioned fourth floor during the next few years.
The scenery has been constructed with incredible detail. There are HO scenes of just about every imaginable activity, some actually x-rated. Tiny lights are everywhere. Lots of animation is possible by just pushing a button.
I am a train fan, however even I have to admire the totally computerized vehicle system. Based on the Faller Car System they are guided by tiny magnets, which follow a thin wire embedded in the roadway. All these buses, trucks and cars have head lights, tail lights and blinkers. The batteries in the vehicles last roughly for four hours. Once the battery discharges to a certain level, the vehicle automatically drives itself into a charging station located behind the scenes. There it is recharged via an inductive charging process and, once done, the vehicle goes back out onto the lay out to continue on its merry way.
The "airport" has also opened now and is quite interesting. Not to be missed is the fire department response to a fire in the local castle. An official five minute video about Miniatur Wunderland is here:
And here is my video from the "behind the scenes" tour:
Anybody who has a chance to go to this attraction ought to consider the "behind the scenes" tour. It is a guided, 60 minute experience with a maximum of ten participants. One sees the nuts and bolts of the operation, the miles of wiring, cameras, relais, computers, the train storage yards among other things. Be warned however: spaces are tight and some crawling around is required. Folks with some girth will not be able to make it.
A few more shots from the tour (all photos by Ralf Meier):