Inside the largest model airport and the largest model railway in the world

Inside the largest model airport and the largest model railway in the world
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(CNN) — There is a low rumble of planes landing and engines whirring. Bags are loaded onto airplanes. In the terminal, people sip coffee, wait for their flight and meet their loved ones upon arrival.

An Emirates A380 prepares for takeoff and accelerates before rising into the clouds. A crowd of onlookers gasped with delight as the superjumbo disappeared from sight.

But they aren’t plane spotters – or at least not in the traditional sense, because this isn’t a real airport. The planes are fake. The clouds are painted. The airport covers only 1,614 square feet.

Welcome to miniature wonderland. This is the largest model railway in the world, housing not only a working miniature airport but also tiny replicas of some of the world’s most popular travel destinations: Venice, Machu Picchu and Las Vegas to name a few.

Spread over several floors in an old warehouse in Hamburg, Germany, Miniatur Wunderland is a marvel of engineering and one of the German city’s most popular tourist attractions.

Its crown jewel is its airport – a meticulous recreation of Hamburg’s real-life transport hub, complete with 52 moving planes meticulously painted with a livery to match their real, larger counterparts.

The Miniatur Wunderland is the vision of the twin brothers Frederik Braun and Gerrit Braun. The couple once ran a nightclub, but a childhood spent with model trains sowed the seeds of an idea that brought Frederik back in 2000.

Frederik remembers calling his brother and telling him: “I have the best idea.”

Gerrit was on board immediately.

“We had a dream when we were kids to build a very big model world, but we forgot that dream when we were 15 or 16 years old – girls, cars and everything else came into our lives,” says Gerrit CNN Travel.

As soon as Frederik had spoken the words out loud, this childhood vision came back to Gerrit.

“It took seconds. All the images from our childhood – and what we could do today – came to mind,” he says. “And these images did not stand still. It was movement. it was life Lights went on and off, trains ran, planes moved and flew…”

Within weeks, the brothers were sketching ideas. Within a few months they had signed the lease for a building in Hamburg’s harbor district.

Frederik and Gerrit were convinced that the idea had legs. But there were many naysayers.

“Many, many people around me said to me, ‘No, you can’t do that. model railways? It’s for old men,’” says Frederik.

But Miniatur Wunderland had mass appeal and became a word of mouth hit when it opened in August 2000.

“It’s an exhibition for the whole family, for each person, one to 100 years old, women, men, it doesn’t matter,” says Frederik.

Designing a mini version of our world

A dream came true for the brothers Frederik and Gerrit Braun with the Miniatur Wunderland.

A dream came true for the brothers Frederik and Gerrit Braun with the Miniatur Wunderland.

Miniature Wonderland Hamburg

Before opening the doors of Miniatur Wunderland, Frederik, Gerrit and their third co-founder, friend Stephan Hertz, sat down and made a list of all the scenes they would like to see played out in miniature form.

The next step was finding a model maker who could help make her dream come true. A search on the internet led her to the talented German model maker Gerhard Dauscher.

Dauscher initially turned down the opportunity, as he was fully booked with work for the next two years.

“Two days later he called me,” recalls Frederik. Dauschler couldn’t shake the idea out of his head. He changed his schedule and joined the team.

Speaking to CNN Travel today, Dauscher said Miniatur Wunderland appealed to his longtime love of trains. He was also excited at the prospect of creating fantasy versions of our reality.

In the two decades since, the Miniatur Wunderland team has grown to over 250 employees, including an experienced team of model makers who are constantly breaking new ground to delight and excite visitors.

“Everyone has built part of the facility, everyone is interested in a little bit [them], [their] Heart is in the layout,” says Dauscher.

There are also electricians and a team of technicians who keep an eye on day-to-day operations from an internal control room.

Frederik and Gerrit’s younger brother Sebastian Drechsler is also on board. Drechsler is over a decade younger than the twins and says he spent most of his childhood accidentally destroying his older brothers’ model trains.

Today Drechsler is responsible for the marketing of Miniatur Wunderland. Frederik is now the dreamer and Gerrit the doer.

“Freddy always had the big ideas and I always had the solutions to implement those ideas,” says Gerrit.

Build a model airport

The airport in Miniatur Wunderland is a replica of the real Hamburg airport.

The airport in Miniatur Wunderland is a replica of the real Hamburg airport.

Miniature Wonderland Hamburg

Frederik’s most ambitious idea was the Miniatur Wunderland Airport, which opened in 2011. This extension took almost six years to build and cost 400,000 euros (about US$400,150). The finished result includes 62 miles of wiring, 75 buildings and 40,000 LED lights.

Unlike most of the landscapes in Miniatur Wunderland, which are approximations of their real-life counterparts, the airport is an exact replica of Hamburg’s real aviation hub.

Gerrit explains that this is partly because it was easier to copy the airport layout and then scale it down than it was to “learn everything about planes, how they move on the ground, what spaces they need”.

Gerrit spent four months regularly visiting Hamburg Airport, speaking to workers and taking thousands of photos for inspiration.

The focus was on creating realistic aircraft and simulating takeoff and landing, but Gerrit also spoke to the airport fire brigade, airport cleaning and the team that defrosts the aircraft.

“We wanted a real airport atmosphere,” explains model builder Dauscher. That meant recreating every aspect of the transport hub.

When CNN Travel visited the attraction, a “fire” broke out at the airport and the airport fire brigade responded – all part of the simulation, of course, but seeing a plane go up in smoke was momentarily worrying.

The airport includes a detailed replica of the terminal building.

The airport includes a detailed replica of the terminal building.

Miniature Wonderland Hamburg

Ranging from A380s to Cessna private jets, the aircraft at Miniatur Wunderland are designed to feel as “real” as possible when they take off and land.

“You drive to the runway, and two tubes come out from under the construction, they lift the plane and give it speed. It’s technically very complicated,” explains Dauscher.

Much of what happens in Miniatur Wunderland is automated, including plane take-offs and landings and the periodic shifting of lighting to simulate the transition from day to night.

Dauscher explains that the technicians in the control room mainly focus on finding and then fixing errors. The most common cause of error? Dust.

“The more dust we have on the surface, the trains don’t run, the planes don’t fly,” says Dauscher.

Over a decade after its inception, the airport is a highlight of Miniatur Wunderland. The only problem, says Gerrit, is that if something changes at Hamburg Airport – even if it’s just the location of the taxi rank – the team feels pressure to adjust their model accordingly.

The Miniatur Wunderland team wants to amaze and delight visitors with their detailed creations.

The Miniatur Wunderland team wants to amaze and delight visitors with their detailed creations.

Miniature Wonderland Hamburg

Yet nothing is static at Miniatur Wunderland – it is an ever-evolving attraction.

The expansion of Miniatur Wunderland South America continues to grow and is expected to be completed within the next five years with a mini Amazon rainforest and Andean mountain range. Miniatur Wunderland also plans to add another building to support future growth.

In addition to the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest model railway and the world’s largest model airport, the Miniatur Wunderland 2021 also set a record for the world records longest melody of a model railway.

explore worlds

The latest addition to the Miniatur Wunderland is South America.

The latest addition to the Miniatur Wunderland is South America.

Miniature Wonderland Hamburg

The Miniatur Wunderland is open until 1 a.m. on certain days in the summer. When CNN Travel visited at 8pm on a weekday in the summer, the attraction was packed with visitors pointing out minute details and marveling at the different worlds.

Gerrit suggests that the appeal of Miniatur Wunderland is that it’s not just the culmination of the Braun brothers’ childhood ambitions. It’s the model world many of us dreamed of as kids.

“[Visitors can] spend two or three pleasant hours that are reminiscent of their childhood,” says Gerrit.

Walking through the building is surely pure escape. The appeal lies in the mixture of whimsy and technical ability.

There are over 1,000 trains, varying in size and speed depending on location. There are also mining caves, cruise ships crossing real pools of water, and a hot air balloon. And there are thousands of tiny figures and barely perceptible levels of detail. Wherever you are in the building, it’s exciting to get a bird’s-eye view of the world.

This is Frederik’s favorite part of the attraction. Stand and look down.

“Night is approaching and you close your eyes a little, you can imagine flying through the mountains,” he says.

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