In Hamburg, Germany, the sounds of the city are found indoors instead of outdoors. In fact, when walking the winding streets early in the morning and late at night, you can practically hear a pin drop from the other side of the city. But wander into into S. Michael's Church (or any church for that matter), the bustling fish market by the water, or even the Elbphilharmonie, and you'll find a city filled with beautiful organ music, crowds buzzing over fresh seafood, and the echo of a world-renowned opera or orchestra.
What I wasn't expecting to discover on my trip to the quiet city of Hamburg, however, was by far the most fun museum I have ever been to. Instead of hearing church bells ring on the last day of my trip, I heard the faint clicking, whistling sounds of model trains as I walked up the stairs to visit the largest miniature train system in the world—Miniatur Wunderland.
The huge scale of Miniatur Wunderland blew me away. The people, cars and buildings may be tiny, but the installation spans two levels of a warehouse-sized building in the historic Speicherstadt district of the city. Pictures can't do justice to the full miniature airport, lifelike models of tourist destinations around the world or even the smiles on peoples' faces (adults and children alike) justice, but I tried my best with the photos in this article. Many of them even look like real places at first glance.
The museum was divided up by location, allowing visitors to walk through hallways between each section, exploring various areas of the world, from the Las Vegas strip to St. Peter's Basillica in Rome. Most of the water seen in the images is actually real, and some of the boats slowly moved through the bodies of water similar to the model trains. It was easy to become overwhelmed by the different worlds, especially because of the immense detail in each vignette. Look closely and you'll see dark humor in the details, from peeing dogs to people getting eaten by giant clams under water to couples making love in a sunflower field. Every fifteen minutes or so, the whole building transitions from day to night, showing off a completely new set of sights to take in. To fully immerse yourself in the experience, I recommend staying for at least two hours.
On your way out, you'll pass through the operating room for the whole system, which is open for the public to view. In it a full staff is operating and checking up on each and every light and mode of transportation, which can be seen on old school monitors. For people as sad to leave as I was, the gift shop includes an extensive collection of tiny vehicles for you to bring home, all at reasonable price points and most made in Germany. It's rare to find the perfect small gift to bring home to family and friends, but I think fingernail-sized modes of transportation are as close to perfect as you're going to get. If you ever have the chance to visit Hamburg, be sure to reserve tickets to Miniatur Wunderland in advance.