One of Hamburg's most popular tourist sights isn't a medieval church or an ancient ruin, it's a gigantic model railway next to an incredibly realistic miniature airport. As a passionate aviation geek, I put a visit to the Miniatur Wunderland at the top of my to-do list. It's a little airport terminal complete with tiny people, moving jet bridges and aircraft parked at the gates. And these airliners actually taxi across the field to a runway before taking off and "flying" away through a hole in the wall. At the other end of the room, they return to land.
The airport, which opened in 2011 after six years of construction, is a jaw-dropping sight to behold. Everything from the baggage carts to the taxi rank outside the terminal is created in exhausting detail, even down to the engine sounds that match each of the 45 mini-planes. Oh yeah, and the trains were cool, too.
The view from the other end of the room shows the full expanse of the Knuffingen Airport (its official name). Aircraft types and airlines are widely represented, from a Thai Airways Airbus A380 (that's the double-decker commercial airplane) to Lufthansa regional jets.
Look way in the background on the left side. See anything unusual?
As an EasyJet Airbus A320 lines up for takeoff, other aircraft wait in line on the taxiway. A British Airways Concorde makes regular flights to and from London, even though it's no longer flying in the full-sized world.
As aircraft arrive and depart they fly through plastic flaps covering a hole in the wall. Though it's difficult to see in this photo, planes lift into the air on two thin rods that rise out of the runway surface. Our video gives you a closer look.
I desperately wanted to see how it all works -- where do the planes go when they fly out of the room? -- but the guided tours were booked. For a behind-the-scenes look, check out this video.
In front of the terminal are parking garages, a commuter rail station with a working train, a radar tower, and a white zone for the loading and unloading of passengers (there is no stopping in the red zone).
There's also a large hangar for repairing airliners and a small aviation fair.
The entire model, which spans 150 square meters or 1,615 square feet, has 75 buildings, 6,000 trees, 15,000 figures and 4,500 cars. In all it cost 4.01 million euros, which converts to around $4.6 million, £3.2 million or AU$6 million.
A departures and arrivals board lists the 180 daily flights. Five up from the bottom of the arrivals screen, you can see that the Falcon is an arrival from the Death Star. The aircraft type? (A YT-1300). See? I told it was detailed.