Monday, February 3, 2014

Its A Small, Small World

The American interstate system
(in miniature)
During our recent stay in Hamburg, when it was simply too cold to spend an extended amount of time outside, we were desperate for an activity that would get us out of the hotel room while staying warm and allowing Sidney to burn off pent up energy. On a recommendation from, one that was enthusiastically seconded by the hotel concierge, we found ourselves at Minatur Wunderland, a truly German gem of a museum/exhibition space that entertains kids of all ages. (If fact, on the blustery Saturday we visited, over half of the visitors were adults-young, old, and in between-without children in tow). So what exactly is Minatur Wunderland? Honestly, we weren't one hundred percent sure ourselves as we bundled up and headed out into the cold. My only desire was that it be warm. Sidney wanted to see trains. Glenn said we were going to see a model railway. But Minatur Wunderland proved to be all this and so much more.

Housed in a renovated 1,300 square meter warehouse on a canal, this museum is a fantasy world for big kids and little kids alike; a place where no detail is too small. The three museum floors bring eight distinct communities and countries to life in miniature form moving from day to night-complete with dawn and dusk- every fifteen minutes. I felt as though we were giants as we wandered from the Swiss Alps to Austria and Germany to Scandinavia and back again taking in the most minute of details. Whether it be trains, buses or airplanes, all modes of transportation were fitted with tiny passengers toting even smaller pieces of luggage. And speaking of airplanes, the Knuffingen Airport includes planes landing and taking off (with sound effects of course), baggage carts and trams whizzing around the tarmac, and a parking garage complete with traffic jams. It was virtually impossible to pull Sidney (and Glenn) away from the airport but the enticement of more trains winding through the Alps, complete with snow capped mountains, hang gliders, and avalanches did the trick. In Scandinavia we saw a cruise ship navigating the fjords and a busy commercial port filled with barges and container ships all floating atop real water. In Germany we saw modern cities complete with lights and traffic jams as well as snow rural hamlets with grazing livestock.

And then we had America. It is always interesting to see what American stereotypes Europeans use to portray my motherland. And the stereotypes were all there. Naturally there was the Florida exhibit complete with palm trees and a space shuttle that launched every few minutes. And what American scene would be complete without throwing in a big of Vegas? Yes, Las Vegas was recreated in miniature form right down to the flashy casinos, Elvis impersonators, scantily clad dancers, and the neon filled Strip. Rounding out the American scene were the red rocks of the American southwest with a winding interstate snaking its way through the cliffs. A close look at the red rocks revealed ancient Hopi settlements, cowboys astride horses, and even a pioneer wagon. Yes, the creators took some historical liberties and blurred the centuries with the depiction of America but it was impressive none the less.

For me, the best part of each montage was finding the hidden bits of whimsy. It actually became a challenge to find them all. On a mountainside slope a woodsman used an axe to chop persistently at a tree until it fell. A naked couple frolicked in a field of sunflowers in another scene while a scuba diver was attacked by a crab in a Scandinavian harbor. Traffic clogged bridges and firefighters rushed to douse the flames in a burning building. Each urban montage seemed to include at least one traffic accident complete with ambulances, police officers, and tow trucks. These are just a few of the details that could be missed if you didn't look carefully. And despite all of the time we spent there, I know we missed numerous other details. The hotel concierge was right when he told us that we could get lost in the museum for hours. (Or as he said, I hope you don't have any appointments for the rest of the day).

Scandinavia, complete with real water

The parking garage and tower of the Knuffingen Airport

Trains meandering through the Swiss Alps
Glenn and I decided that working as an engineer (or in any position for that matter) at Minatur Wunderland would have to be one of the coolest jobs ever. Or how about spending a summer there as an intern? The thought almost makes me want to go back to school. And maybe they will be hiring in the future; scenes depicting Italy, France, Great Britain, and parts of Africa are all being planned. But even if you can't work there, make it a priority to visit if you are ever in the neighborhood. Regardless of your age, I promise you won't be disappointed.

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