Bigger on the Inside

Thursday, March 5, 2020, 20:24 · 3 min read

To my delight, the hostel I stayed in in Hamburg had shower facilities in the rooms (ensuite style hostel dorms). So my morning routine was a little more concise than it has been for the rest of the European portion of the trip. Anyway, The reason I stayed an extra day in Hamburg was to see the Miniatur Wunderland, but it wouldn't open for a bit so I used the extra time to walk over to the train station and grab a croissant and watch the trains pass through the station. It amused me that what I was watching during breakfast was just a bigger scale version of what I'd be doing at the Wunderland layout later.

Once it opened I took the quick walk over to the warehouse building that houses the enormous model layout and paid the price of admission. Unfortunately for me I didn't happen to have any 1 euro coins to pay for a locker so I had to carry my jacket through the warm entire exhibit for what ended up being 2 and a half hours. But my excitement to see the largest model railroad in the world overwhelmed that tiny problem.

The model is truly enormous. There are sections for America, Scandinavia, Hamburg, Germany, a fictional German town of the model makers' imagining, Switzerland (with peaks reaching through 2 floors of the building), Italy, and soon Monaco and a German theme park.

In the Scandinavian section the water is real, with remotely controlled shipping container boats that dock at the port. There are even locks to join the larger waterway with some rivers at a higher elevation. All over the layout there are buttons that activate different little touches on the layout: a fire breather in a carnival, a gondola in Switzerland, a police patrol causing street vendors to hide their illegitimate wares in Venice, or a dragon flying around a castle in Germany among many, many others.

This isn't just a model railroad layout either. The roadways are magnetized and automated. Scale road vehicles with operational lights will drive around mountain roads and city grids, even following the traffic laws of the region. Emergency service vehicles will patrol and be suddenly called to some disaster—I saw a fire truck called to get a cat out of a tree, an ambulance was called to the other side of a mountain, and police engaged in a shootout (in the America section of course).

Not limited to just roads and railways, the model even has a functional model airport. The whole thing is computer controlled and has a departures and arrivals board. Planes simulate boarding and then will actually taxi from the gates, queue along the tarmac, and take off on a runway that leads to a backstage storage area where they pretend to fly off while being recast as one of the arrival planes. It was truly incredible to watch it unfold. There were even simulated delays!

The model also has a day/night cycle that shows off millions of brilliant LED lights all over the layout. The runways at the airport are properly lit, Las Vegas shines just like the real thing, and every single streetlamp turns on. In places where the real-life lights aren't instant, the "turning on" effect for lights is simulated. Warehouse lights flash a few times before slowly brightening to full intensity, apartment blocks slowly turn on their lights as individual residents flip on the lights, and street lights simulate being triggered by sun sensors.

Even the rotation of the earth is expressed as sunset and sunrise move from "east" to "west" (the geographic regions of the layout aren't actually correctly laid out I assume due to the order in which they were constructed) and as the yellow lights of the sun fade there are brief reds and oranges that show the "sunset."

I could go on and on, but suffice to say it's a must see in Hamburg. After examining every facet it was now just past noon and I was starving. I found an Italian place (this time I was able to communicate with the waiters just fine) for lunch and then I had some boring activities to get done. Chiefly, I needed to get my laundry done and in between loads I ran a few small errands. I guess you get what you pay for, as the machines were smaller than any I've seen and it took me 2 loads and therefore twice as long to do what has been one load for the entire rest of the trip. By the time I was done it was close to dinner time and getting dark out.

For dinner I chose a local hamburger joint (can't leave Hamburg without eating a hamburger!) and then got packed for the morning. Now I'm off to Denmark to find the origins of the Newt family!

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