To be honest, it isn’t the kind of place to which I would normally go.
I typically avoid attractions billed as “top tourist”, in part because I find they seldom live up to the hype. Hype is expensive and usually oh so crowded.
But, when I mentioned we were going to Germany, my kid brother perked up and said, “You should go to Miniatur Wunderland. They have the coolest model trains there.”
Dad had built a model train table before we came along, hammering in every track-tie nail himself before they were available in strips. From chickenwire and papier-mâché he’d constructed a mountain pass, and set up a village and crossings. The table found a home in our basement, and later was transferred to my brother. Occasionally I catch them talking in foreign code that (to those in the know) reveals secrets of locomotives, cabooses and rail track gauge.
So do I.
When we realized our itinerary would take us near Hamburg, we reserved an afternoon to visit Wunderland. Our friends recommended we park on the outskirts of town and opt for the train because the chance of getting a parking spot was ridiculously slim due to the harbour festival happening simultaneously. This, however, meant a significant backtrack to reach our lodging, so we decided to try.
We found a parking spot immediately, a mere four-minute walk from the attraction. I sent my brother a text and told him we’d see it for him if the wait wasn’t too long. I admit, I was a little hopeful, since the website indicated it could be up to four hours.
“Welcome to Miniatur Wunderland,” said the cashier with a broad smile as she handed us our tickets. I admonished my claustrophobic introverted self. This was a good thing.
Everything in Wunderland is crafted in 1:87 scale, the standard for model railroad enthusiasts. Much of Germany is represented–including the entire city of Hamburg– but so too are famous buildings like the Bavarian castle of Neuschwanstein, St. Paul’s Cathedral in Rome, and the Las Vegas strip. Swiss ski hills dominate one corner while Asian jungles take care of another. Trains leave busy bahnhofs to connect the countries. Trucks transport goods on North American freeway systems, airplanes head down the runway for parts unknown and pleasure craft take their place beside cruise ships and freighters on the oceans.
The streets in the villages are filled with thumbnail sized people–in cars, on bicycles, and on skateboard. Office towers, stores, apartments, and even the beaches and nudist camps are filled with characters. Figurines are dancing at rock concerts, roasting marshmallows around a campfire or shopping for groceries. My favourite surprise was a concert hall which, when “night” fell, opened up to reveal a full house, the tiny audience leaning forward to hear the micro-maestro conduct his mini-orchestra.
Every whimsical, charming, monotonous, comical, and unsuspecting detail of life it seems, was captured. We laughed at ourselves, squeezed in between others to capture pictures, and marvelled at what complex creatures we can be. Nevertheless, we weren’t there for ourselves.
I tried to find the things that would fascinate my brother so that I could share the details later. We took pictures of the construction offices, close-ups of the trains and tunnels, and even the details of how they got the wind-surfer to ride his wave so convincingly. We found a book discussing the minutiae for him and Dad to dissect.
More than once I mentally fought the race of time as day turned to night and back again, easily two weeks passing in the hours we were there. Time seems to be slipping by for him too.
I remember him being introduced to me in a wicker basket the neighbour made. The memory steals my breath and disappears as quickly as a train slips into a mountain tunnel.
There is much to appreciate in this space, and I’m glad we went. To see it as my father might, as my brother could have meant trying to place myself in their shoes, searching for what fascinates them. We saw much–but we missed more.
It’s all relative–as most things are–but keenly so in this case. That’s made Wunderland precious and unforgettable.
Oh, how sweet the light of day,
And how wonderful to live in the sunshine!
Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.
Take delight in each light-filled hour,
Remembering that there will also be many dark days
And that most of what comes your way is smoke.
Ecclesiastes 11:7-8 (MSG)