FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Model railway marvels in Hamburg

Posted in Germany, Hamburg by folkestonejack on December 3, 2018

There are two record-breaking model railways in Hamburg, but the chances are that you will only have heard of one of these – Miniatur Wunderland. It is absolutely stunning and entirely deserving of all the publicity it gets, but it is also well worth making the effort to see the other model railway in the city which is much older and ground breaking in a different way. It could also be your last opportunity to see it as it was originally intended…

Miniatur Wunderland

Miniatur Wunderland is the largest Model Railway in the World. It is also Hamburg‘s top tourist attraction drawing 1.2 million visitors every year. I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of model railways (not sure why, as I loved my model railway when I was a child and it clearly led to my interest in international railways) but this place had me completely engrossed for three hours.

The massive layout, split over two levels, currently features over 15,000m of track with 1,040 locomotives and more than 10,000 rail cars. However, it is the incredible attention to detail, sheer inventiveness and the playful sense of humour that has gone in to building the world that surrounds all of this that lifts this attraction to another level. On top of that, they have the largest working model airport in the world too!

I could say alot more about this place, but I think it is pretty hard to capture in words or numbers. I’ll let their own new video explain just what makes this place so amazing…

The only disappointment at the end of our three day stay was that no giant flap in the sky opened up when we took off from Hamburg!

Modelleisenbahn Hamburg in the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte

One of the star exhibits in the Museum of Hamburg’s History is an impressive model railway layout created by MEHEV, the oldest model railway club in Germany (established 1931). The layout is the largest Gauge 1 (1:32 scale) model railway in Europe, which was started in the attic of the museum in 1947. The current management are redesigning the museum and have not ruled out the possibility of forcing the downsizing of the 69 year old model railway to fit it into a smaller room.

The club recommends that visitors take the opportunity to see the railway in its original home while it is still in operation. It certainly seemed to be a message that the visitors to the museum had enthusiastically taken up on the day we visited, crowding the room to watch a demonstration.

The Hamburg-Harburg layout features a major station, docks and delightful background details such as a man playing a fiddle while his dog holds an upturned hat in its mouth for donations. Overseeing all of this action is a wonderful control room styled like a signal box. In short, it was a pleasure to see it running. I just hope this piece of the city’s history can be preserved in its original form to bring joy to visitors long into the future.

Three days in Hamburg

Posted in Germany, Hamburg by folkestonejack on December 3, 2018

I have been meaning to visit Hamburg ever since we made a brief stop at the main railway station on a long distance train journey in 1984. Somehow, I didn’t get around to it until now but better late than never!

City of Hamburg

Our short trip to Hamburg gave us an opportunity to visit some of the fascinating sights on offer in this port city and pick up a few delights from the bustling Christmas markets. Along the way we visited the world’s largest model railway, explored the remains of a church by George Gilbert Scott, took a tour round the impressive Rathaus and walked along the city’s oldest underwater road.

The Rathaus

The impressive Rathaus (Town Hall) in Hamburg was built in 1886-97 as a replacement for an older headquarters that was intentionally destroyed in 1842 to form a firebreak as part of the overall effort to stop the great fire of Hamburg from spreading. Thankfully, the ‘new’ building survived the devastation of bombing in the Second World War while buildings all around were wiped out. A bomb did fall on the Rathaus but luckily didn’t go off. The detonator is now on display in one of the 600+ rooms.

The lobby

The courtyard and entrance lobby are impressive enough, but a guided tour gave us the opportunity to see the even more sumptuous interiors which feature expensive leather wallpaper (essentially Victorian bling), marble staircases, intricate woodcarved doors and wonderfully elaborate lights (look for the chandelier featuring the castle from Hamburg’s coat of arms intertwined with serpents!). To put it simply, I have seen Royal Palaces that are less palatial than this!

Queen Elizabeth II visited the Rathaus in 1965 during something of a political storm, which saw some opportunists attempt to bring down the popular mayor, Paul Nevermann, by whipping up some hysteria around his failing marriage and the oddness of the protocols adopted during the visit (at a function at the Rathaus the mayor broke a long held tradition to greet the Queen at the main entrance rather than making her walk up the stairs to meet him at the top). Paul Nevermann resigned 13 days after the visit.

Hamburg Senate

At the time of our visit hour long tours were offered in English three times a day at 11.15, 13.15 and 15.15 for the modest price of 5 euros per person (with a 1 euro reduction for holders of the Hamburg Card). However, tours are not offered when the building is in use for official business. The basement restaurant, Parlament, serves up some good traditional German fare too in a beautiful setting.

St. Nikolai Kirche

The St. Nikolai Kirche was a gothic church designed by George Gilbert Scott (perhaps best known for St Pancras station) after its medieval predecessor was destroyed in the great fire of 1842. The re-built church was consecrated in 1863 and was the tallest building in the world for a few years (1874-76). Ultimately, the height of the tower would prove to be its undoing – it served as an orientation point for RAF pilots during the second world war and was badly damaged during a bombing raid on 28th July 1943.

Museum in the crypt

After the war the idea of re-constructing the church were dismissed but the tower was preserved as a memorial against war. Today, a viewing platform at 76 metres up the tower (reached by a glass lift) offers a splendid view over the city. The tower itself is still the fifth highest church tower in the world.

A fascinating museum in the crypt provides an insight into the history of the church, the terrible bombing raids that set the precedent for ‘Operation Gomorrah’ and the impact of the firestorm in the city. It is a terrible reminder of the human cost of war across Europe.

St. Pauli Elbe Tunnel

The St. Pauli Elbtunnel was constructed at great expense to connect the city ith the rapidly growing port on the southern banks of the Elbe and help tackle the strain on the existing ferry service. The tunnel officially opened on 7th September 1911 and is still well used to this today, though mostly by tour parties if our visit was anything to go by!

St. Pauli Elbe Tunnel

The shafts on each side contain six lifts – two for pedestrians, two for cars and two for goods. It is apparently the only tunnel of this type in the world stll in use by road traffic – something that we saw proof of as we walked from one side to the other and back again.

All of this might sound quite functional, but the entrance buildings on each side have real character to them – especially the majolica reliefs that adorn the walls, including representations of the architect (holding a model of one entrance). It’s well connected to both the rail and ferry transport networks so easy to fit into an exploration of the city.

And a little more…

Other sights that we managed to see in the city included the view from the Elbphilharmonie Plaza, the Warehouse district, the Chilehaus, the Museum of Hamburg History, the St. Petri Kirche, Mehr! Theater am Grossmarkt, Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, the rather unloved Bismarck-Denkmal and the Kriegerdenkmal am Dammtordamm with its associated memorials to the victims of war.