Finding things to do when we travel that won't completely bore a toddler, aren't super "kid-centric" and are interesting for parents can be tricky. As our daughter had gotten older, we have to find more and more things that she will enjoy when traveling. Aaron and I would love to just wander sometimes, eating at street-side cafes and stopping for a beer or glass of wine, but, a two year old finds those things boring. When we were in Hamburg, we knew we wanted to visit Miniature Wonderland - it's actually on our European Bucket List - and we were delighted when Evelyn found it just as cool as we did.
So what is Miniature Wonderland? It's the world's largest model train installation. Stick with me now, I know that description sounds boring and, well, nerdy. I thought the same thing when Aaron said he wanted to go. But this place routinely has wait times in excess of an hour to get in, so it must be interesting to see! I'm proud to report, it was cool!
First of all, this place was PACKED. We were there during shoulder season, so I can't imagine how busy this place can get during the summer! We brought the stroller, but it really would have been more convenient if we had left it. Still, it was a good place to stash our coats and for Evelyn to crash in when she got tired after running from exhibit to exhibit.
When you visit, you start at the top floor. Stepping out of the elevator, you are greeted by the command center and wall of video feeds that monitor all the exhibits. Turning to the right, you enter the main exhibit area. To your left are Switzerland and Austria - complete with the Alps - middle Germany and an airport. To the right, various locales in the US are depicted. All nine exhibits - which are spread over two floors - are painstakingly constructed, often requiring thousands of hours of construction, and their attention to detail is impeccable. Each exhibit, or Theme World as they are called, have not only model trains and the landscape depicted, but also tiny little vignettes or scenes. From a tiny protest and people enjoying a local fair, to a murder scene and people at work, nothing is overlooked. Over the course of the hour, the sun "rises" and "sets" so that you can see all the exhibits as if it were night time. The worlds are so detailed and realistic that, as I was looking through the pictures to write up this post, I came across a picture of Trevi Fountain and wondered to myself, "Wait, when did we see Trevi from that angle?" before realizing it was from a model train display! Peppered throughout the exhibits too are push button activities that cause special effects. Sometimes it's as simple as a lights going on and off, or as elaborate as a space ship blasting off.
With 9 theme worlds, 17,000 rail cars and 11,00 vehicles, most of these in constant motion, a monstrous traffic jam or collision seems almost inevitable. But this rarely, if ever, happens because the motions and the entire exhibit is closely monitored by over 60 computers. You can view their command center for yourself to see how the operators manage everything - there are even video feeds from tiny little cameras placed on the front engines of some of the trains!
I'll admit that I was not only blown away by the exhibits, but actually found myself standing there just watching everything. The extreme level of detail the creators have gone to means that one could easily spend an entire day here spotting little nuances in the worlds. But I have to say, my favorite part of the whole day was watching Evelyn standing there, watching everything so intently. Her face would light up as she saw something cool, point to it, and exclaim, "Ooh!!!" I lost count of how many times this same scene unfolded over the course of the day, but it never stopped being adorable. While I love traveling and seeing the world, it's almost better to be traveling with Evelyn (and soon, Julie!) and watching them experience things for the first time. I often have to remind myself that this world is completely new to them and I love that I get to experience their amazing reactions to it.
Where: Kehrwieder 2-4/Block D, 20457 Hamburg, Germany - located on the harbor with easy access by public transportation
Tickets: Children taller than 1m 7.50 euro, Adults 15 euro - book tickets ahead of time to avoid the long wait times and be guaranteed entrance!
Open: Every day of the year- even on the many German holidays! - from 9:30 AM - 6:00 PM, later on certain days