Gerhard Dauscher has reduced the sugar loaf to two meters. Otherwise it would not have fitted into the former warehouse floor in the Hamburg warehouse district. Copacabana condos are waist deep. Each is actually on the waterfront. However, they are not next to each other.
For five days, 55-year-old Dauscher wandered Rio de Janeiro with his camera to select houses, churches and landmarks that his employees then recreated on a scale model railroad. In total they had an area the size of a large studio apartment: 46 square meters. But obviously that’s not enough for a city of six million.
Gerhard Dauscher wiped out entire districts. He created a new map of the city of Rio. He worked with Argentine model makers. The favelas have become their model. Just like the Sambodromo, the grandstand built by Oscar Niemeyer where the carnival is celebrated.
The largest model railway system in the world
For the employees, this meant that they had to stick 11,000 figurines on the spectator stands and paint the costumes there with fine brushes. An insane effort considering it’s just a backdrop for trains. 423 kilometers of tracks run through the Rio model. It is part of the “Miniature Wonderland”, the largest model railway system in the world.
Model trains are considered a hobby of the day before yesterday. Today kids sit in front of game consoles instead of transformers. In contrast, “Wunderland” became Hamburg’s number one visitor magnet with 1.4 million visitors in 2019. In a survey by the German National Tourist Board, foreign holidaymakers even voted it as the most popular in Germany. Because?
A footbridge across the inner harbor leads from Hamburg’s Old Town to the Speicherstadt. Merchants stored coffee, tea and spices here because the islands of Elba were part of the free port. In 2003 the barriers fell and in 2015 the neighborhood with the red brick buildings became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, half of the world is hidden in one of the warehouses. To get there you have to climb many stairs. The Speicherstadt is flooded during storm surges. Devastating for an electric railway system with over 1,000 trains and 10,000 wagons.
Gerhard Dauscher leaves for a guided tour. There is also water here between Rio and Italy. A glass bridge leads over a canal to the second building of the exhibition. There, Dauscher points to a mountain that lacks a peak. “Vesuvius”, he says. “Erupts every 15 minutes.”
Peter’s Basilica built from the photos
It runs between the rocks of the Amalfi Coast. The people of Dauscher painted the sunburns on the males on the beaches with pink paint. He asks for attention at the small trash corner above the beach, consisting of a washing machine and discarded household items. “It’s part of Italy,” he says.
They reconstructed St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome using 1000 photos. Production time: 22 months. At the end of Italy, where the Alps stand out, Dauscher stops and points to a figure lying on his back: “Ötzi”. The world as a three-dimensional hidden object.
To welcome Switzerland, Dauscher had the ceiling on the upper floor ripped open. The one-ton plaster giant is the Matterhorn. The mountainside village that looks like St. Moritz is called St. Max because the noble ski resort bears its name stamp, explains Dauscher with a laugh.
He knows a lot about mountain landscapes. In the 1990s he made model tracks in basements and attics as a freelance for private clients. At the Harz he designed an entire exhibition. Frederik Braun had visited them when he was planning the “Miniature Wonderland” with his twin brother Gerrit and their mutual friend Stephan Hertz – and Dauscher then hired him.
Welcome to Knuffingen
Frederik Braun – 54, glasses, hoodie, former club owner – sits in the conference room on the exhibition floor. Initially, he says, they built a country similar to Germany. “From the coast to the Alps,” says Braun. They allowed themselves a bit of irony when they called the town in the middle of the Knuffingen complex.
It wasn’t just train fans who came. On the wall opposite the conference room are photos of celebrities who would not have been associated with model trains: Jan Böhmermann, Helmut Schmidt.
Gradually, they added popular tourist destinations for the Germans: Switzerland, Scandinavia and Italy. The models, which meanwhile extend over 1,500 square meters, move not only trains, but also cars, ships and planes. Gerrit Braun has programmed software with which electric cars, guided by magnets and metal wires embedded in the road, appear to curve independently through the scenery.
Two and a half years ago the Braun brothers expanded into the real world and opened the Pierdrei Hotel a few hundred meters away. It is decorated with showcases of humorous miniature scenes such as a camping on the moon, with a clothesline and a Dixie toilet, created by Dauscher’s modelers.
His workshop is visible to all visitors in the middle of the exhibition. “They come from all kinds of professions,” explains Dauscher. For example, a former chef had a talent for sculpting mountains. Dauscher gives his team a lot of leeway when it comes to design. If you have an idea, you can suggest it and often make it happen. The little scenes are something like the hidden signature of the employees. In Scandinavia, for example, sweaty penguins with suitcases stand on a platform. In miniature Hamburg, a group is demonstrating for retirement at 30.
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Next, a Munich model will be opened. So let’s continue to build on America: Patagonia, later the Caribbean will be added. Both areas are not known for their railway lines. The scenery increasingly steals the show from the trains. However, they cannot be overlooked, says Gerhard Dauscher.
If nothing moves because there is some technical problem, the guests get nervous. “A model without vehicles is like an aquarium without fish.”
Travel tips: The ICE goes to Hamburg from 40 euros round trip at a savings rate. The Pierdrei Hotel has opened near the Miniatur Wunderland, double rooms from 150 euros, pierdrei-hotel.de. Admission to Wonderland costs 20 euros per person, 15 euros for children. This research was supported by Hamburg Tourismus.