The Miniatur Wunderland has a lot going for it. It’s tiny, it’s built with Teutonic precision, and, as of the past year or so, it has captured the hearts of the Internet public. Therefore, I think it’s only appropriate to let it stand shoulder to shoulder with the big boys during our week of wonders.
There is really no better introduction to the Wunderland than this spiel from its gregarious hosts:
Yes, it is expansive. It rolls all the way from bustling (and fictional) Knuffingen through the great mountain ranges of Europe to the fields of Switzerland and beyond, even into glittery American attractions.
But it’s the little details that really complete the scene. After all, there are, at last count, 200,000 human figures making their way through their little universes- putting out fires, selling goods (and their bodies), taking planes, and watching animals go on trips.
Anyone who has stopped by the life-size brethren of the Wunderland’s Cadillac Ranch or Alps ski resorts will appreciate the tiny swipes of graffiti on the upside-down cars and the diminutive ski instructors on their slopes. There is a lot of fun to be had here, even if the closest many of us have gotten is perusing the intricate photography on their website.
Co-creator Frederik Braun was inspired by a visit to a model railroad shop in Zurich in 2000, and recruited his brother Gerrit, who the company literature calls the “rational and skeptical” partner, to dream up the plans for the Wunderland. Now, with million dollar Euro loans behind them and a warehouse space in Hamburg’s downtown, they employ 150 people.
Each employee spends their waking hours devoted to keeping the trains running on time and the little people busy on their errands. As the brothers say on their site, “We try our best to balance out the roles [of] enthusiastic hobbyists and responsible entrepreneurs – this is a main part of our philosophy. We are convinced that these two contrasts are complementary and not mutually exclusive.”
What really animates the Wunderland (beyond its thousands of little gizmos, switches, and circuits) is that it is a great example of adults working long hours, taking out extensive loans, and drawing up elaborate plans not to build a bridge or to make an investment or to wage a war, but to accomplish something whimsical and assemble the world’s largest model railway. It encapsulates that brilliant moment when parents scramble to put together the kids’ bikes before the holidays, when adult, practical effort goes into building something so carefree.
This sense of play has garnered the Wunderland a lot of attention, and the Braun brothers, while delighted, are a bit perplexed as to what makes the Wunderland so appealing. On their corporate site, they say, “For weeks many thousand people are visiting this page and are watching this video every single day. This is great, but we do not have any idea why.”
I’d say it has something to do with the fun of watching the trains and the little people- and being inspired by the larger people that built it all.