HAMBURG, Germany--It all started when two brothers who owned a dance club and a music label decided to ditch that business and build the world's largest model train collection. Despite the guffaws of the skeptics, they raised a few million dollars and started putting it together. Their project resulted in what's called Miniatur Wunderland, which has grown from nothing in the year 2000 to draw more than a million visitors a year and become the largest attraction besides the zoo in this port city.
The collection--which features eight miles of train tracks, more than 900 trains, 5,000 cars and other vehicles, and even a full reproduction of the Hamburg airport--is hard to be believe. It has reproductions--some faithful, some fanciful--of Switzerland, Germany, Austria, a special Hamburg section, Scandinavia, and a small U.S. piece.
The collection is on two floors, and though not all the tracks are visible to the public, the entire eight miles is contiguous. (Otherwise, it wouldn't qualify to be the world's biggest)
This is a wide view of one of the Switzerland sections, including the Matterhorn.
Being Hamburg, it only makes sense that the collection would have a major section on its home city. Indeed, the Hamburg piece is one of the largest parts of the collection, and it features many of the city's landmarks. This is a large representation of Hamburg Central Station.
This is a scene from the Scandinavia section of the collection, showing what a train station there would be like during a snowy winter.
This is a scene from the U.S. section of the collection, featuring a rail bridge spanning a Southwestern canyon, most likely a fictional one in Utah.
In this picture, we see a major train yard, while a Germany Intercity Express (ICE) train approaches.
This picture shows another scene from the U.S. section of the collection, and we see a train on tracks going underneath a freeway that is itself underneath a rail bridge. The highway has its own traffic, featuring cars and trucks that drive themselves back and forth and, due to a homemade positioning system, manage to avoid collisions with each other--most of the time.
Besides a gigantic collection of trains and eight miles of train tracks, the collection also has 250,000 tiny people spread around an endless number of little dioramas, each of which tells a story of some kind. Here, we see a giant concert, with 25,000 "people." There is music playing, and the little screens show video from real concerts. Out of the frame, there is also a giant field of little tents and cars, and all the other things--like portable toilets--necessary for a large outdoor musical event.
This is another scene in which the planners at Miniatur Wunderland took an opportunity to tell a story. This is from the American section of the collection and depicts what appears to be a group of aliens taking over a U.S. military plane. Presumably, this is supposed to be Roswell, N.M.
Many of the stories being told in the collection are hidden away and you have to either spot them by accident or go looking for them. This is directly under what is seen in the previous picture and shows what is supposed to be a hidden UFO, and a whole underground base for dealing with aliens. Again, this is likely supposed to be Roswell.
This is the command center for the entire Miniatur Wunderland collection. Here, technicians can monitor all the train tracks, the lighting built into the system, and all the little cars and other vehicles. They can also control more than 200 cameras to see how things are going, and whether there are any situations that must be dealt with.
This is a close-up of the command center, showing a technician monitoring a number of screens, each of which shows a section of track. Though the trains have pre-set routines, the technicians can also intervene and direct the trains.
Behind the walls, there are endless sections of train track, like the ones seen here. This is because the train tracks must be continuous in order for the collection to be considered the world's largest, and there is not enough room in the building for all the track. So, each of the eight major sections are connected by tracks that are under the floors, in the ceilings, behind the walls, and sometimes even on little bridges in doorways.
Here, Sebastian Drechsler, one of the three brothers who run the collection, ducks down as he explains how the behind-the-walls parts of the track system work. He's ducking because the ceilings are extremely low behind the walls.
In this picture, we see some climbers scaling a Southwestern canyon wall, even as the pilot of a plane that seems to have crashed into the wall parachutes to safety.
Here, we see a group of bicyclists in the peloton of a race crossing a big bridge.
This picture depicts a scene from the Mille Miglia auto race, built into the side of one of the Swiss Alps in the collection.
Here, we see a train exiting one tunnel and about to enter a second in an Alpine section of the collection.
During the construction of the Gotthard Tunnel--the longest tunnel in the world, at 57 kilometers--planners who were trying to figure out how to divert half of the truck traffic through the Swiss Alps also thought they might want to build the world's deepest train station.
Eventually, they decided to excavate the area where the station would go, but also decided not to build the station any time soon. However, because they excavated it, they can choose to go back and build the station when the need arises.
At Miniatur Wunderland, that time has already come, and this is their representation of what the platform in the station would look like.
This is a look through a second in-the-wall window at the Porta Alpina station, this time at what it would like beyond the train platform.
Here, we see an Alpine ski resort alongside a small train station.
This is a monorail system in the Scandinavian section.
Daytime in Miniatur Wunderland lasts 15 minutes. Then there are three-minute nights. This is a look at the Las Vegas Strip during one of the "nighttimes."
In the Switzerland section of the collection, there is a scale model of the Lindt chocolate factory, including this diorama, where a little conveyor belt pushes tiny chocolate bars through a wrapping machine. The little bars then come out on a small tray, where visitors can grab and eat them.
This is a scene depicting a burning building and the fire department response from the Hamburg section. The scene features lots of flashing lights and siren sounds.
The brothers who built the collection are very technologically savvy, and built many of the back-end systems that control all the trains, cars, and so on. These are the processors responsible for running the vast train system.
These are the servers that control the entire system.
This is a scene that is supposed to be a depiction of St. Moritz, Switzerland. Apparently, however, the town thinks its name is a trademark, and so the collection renamed the town St. Max.
This is a scene from the Swiss section featuring trains and three hot air balloons.
Here we see a scene in which a train is arriving at a small Swiss train station.
This is a high-angle look down at a large train station in the collection. You can see all the platforms on which trains arrive and depart.