When we were home in Michigan for Christmas this year, a few funny things happened relating to our upcoming semester in Germany. First, our Uncle Dennis dressed up in Lederhosen to send us off…
…but that has nothing to do with this post.
The funny thing that does have to do with this post is that the first night we were in Michigan, Derek’s dad sat us down and showed us an online video of the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, saying over and over again, with incredulity: “It’s like a whole miniature world!” We watched the video and chuckled at his excitement, turning his quote into an inside joke for the rest of the holiday, but on Feb. 12 (thanks to another Germany gold medal), Derek and I went to Hamburg for half a day and spent a chunk of that time in the Miniatur Wunderland. I have to say, it was pretty amazing. Yes, it is a kitschy tourist attraction, but honestly, those can be pretty entertaining sometimes (they’re like the occasional french fries in an otherwise doctor-approved, culturally high-road diet).
There were trains and cars that moved along the rails and roads, and little figurines doing regular things like walking the dog or weeding the garden throughout. Parts of it looked so real, too! (Especially if you zoomed in close enough):
In addition to big above-ground displays on Hamburg (complete with an awesome depiction of the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, which opened to show members of the orchestra playing their instruments with actual moving parts!), the U.S.A., Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland, and more, we found out the truth about the moon landing.
We also noticed some elements in the midst of the chaos that made us blush (I’ll spare you photos, but suffice it to say it’s not just fun for the kids, if you know what I mean…). 🙂
The precision of the displays was really amazing, and every 15 minutes or so the overhead lights would dim and the buildings and grounds would be lit up in an artificial night.
But perhaps the best part of the exhibit was a section at the end that did an incredible job helping visitors visually realize what history can look like as played out on a micro scale. In one room, there were six “dioramas” (for lack of a better word) depicting the same small section of Berlin at different times in a 50-year span. The first one was before WWII, the second was after the bombing during WWII, the third showed the first night of the Berlin Wall going up (pictured below – with barbed wire, guards, bricked-up buildings, and relocation of cemeteries to prepare for the next phase), the next one showed the Wall as it was during much of the next 25 years (with three different barriers and the “death strip” in the middle), the fifth was the night the Wall came down in Nov. ’89, and the sixth was the day of reunification in 1990.* The small changes that happened between each diorama really made it feel more real in a way. As a crude example, it’s kind of like seeing the progress shots in a home renovation in addition to the before and after: you’re able to visualize how each step plays to the whole. It was unbelievable.
And so, this blog post is dedicated to my father-in-law, Larry, with love. I’m sorry we ever doubted you on the Miniatur Wunderland thing! (Here’s a link to the English version of their website, where you can see more photos and even watch videos of airplanes taking off and landing at the airport, too! It is, after all, a “whole miniature world!”)
But the Minatur Wunderland was not the only thing we saw while in Hamburg. We walked from the train station to the harbor and ate crepes and had cider at a little French place overlooking one of the canals, actually! It was interesting imagining that the Hamburg Harbor was the last piece of the “old country” that many immigrants experienced before departing for the U.S. We saw some more beautiful churches and went up the elevator in St. Nikolai Church spire to look at the city in the fading light of the day (the building with the cranes is the concert hall mentioned above).
We then took the stairs back down and walked through several other areas (forgoing the evidently excellent shopping and, perhaps more tragically, the world-class art to make it to our train on time).
But for me, one of the highlights came in the last 10 minutes of our visit. When we first arrived, I smelled an amazing smell while walking through one of the squares. It seemed to be coming from a group of businessmen holding what looked like cones made from newspaper, inside which I could barely glimpse fish and chips. I searched everywhere for the stand selling it, but to no avail, so I wrote it off. But then! On the walk back to the train station, I saw someone walk away from a little vendor with that same newspaper cone, and I ran for it! I ordered and then promptly devoured the amazing fish and chips, covered with remoulade. Derek held out for a hamburger in Hamburg, but shared some of mine, too, and said I won hands down on the dinner choice. (I would have taken a photo when the fish was still in it, but it didn’t have a chance, so this is the last fleeting glimpse before boarding the train.)
And look! Our Uncle Dennis made it to Germany after all – he’s there, front and center in the Lederhosen, complete with the green hat!
*I am not sure if these were the exact dates depicted in each square, as I didn’t take photos of all of them, but it’s close enough to give you the idea.