World’s Largest Model Airport Completed In Hamburg, Germany -150 Square Meters Costing $4.8 Million

The world belongs to the energetic. If they be dreamers too, then theirs will be a beautiful world.

Frederik and Gerrit Braun, energetic twin brothers with no shortage of dreams, have just finished construction of the world’s largest model airport. With 40,000 lights, 15,000 figurines, 500 cars, 10,000 trees, 50 trains, 1000 wagons, 100 signals, 200 switches, 300 buildings and 40 planes, Knuffingen Airport is both a wonder to behold as well as a technological tour de force.  The best part of Knuffingen is that it’s alive. Forty planes and 90 vehicles move about autonomously.

Located in Hamburg, Germany, the model is based on Hamburg Airport. The level of detail throughout the 1:87 scale Knuffingen is phenomenal. Everywhere you look there’s an incredible amount of diversity: the miniaturized people’s clothing, the colors of the parking lot shrubbery, the different types of cars, all give the airport an impressive realistic feel. Like real airports the model is bustling with activity: packed parking lots, scores of passengers–albeit frozen–moving into and out of the terminals, circulating taxi cabs and busses, different types of aircraft from Airbus 380s to Cessnas, even a squad of fire trucks standing ready in the event of an emergency. Blinking lights and bustling crowds seem to be everywhere. Just looking at the model closeups gives me real airport anxiety!

Watch the video below to see this incredible model in action.

The technology controlling the vehicles is based on the Faller Car System in which a magnet, attached to the steering arm guides the vehicle along a steel wire beneath the road’s surface as it’s driven by a battery-operated motor. To manage the complexity of coordinating the movements of 90 vehicles the Brauns added a sophisticated computer control system. Each vehicle has its own processor that “assesses its situation” 20 times a second. The rules of the roads are determined by virtual street signs that tell the vehicles which roads they can drive down (TARMAC: DO NOT ENTER) or when they have to stop at a stop sign or red light. They even detect other vehicles and avoid them as when one merges into traffic. And a vehicle can either have a set destination–as a bus hitting its stops or a fire truck responding to an emergency–or it can simply cruise the streets. They even wait patiently behind other vehicles in the event of traffic.

Sophisticated indeed.

But an airport’s not an airport unless its planes can taxi, takeoff, and land. Knuffingen’s fleet can do all that. They don’t actually fly but are lifted off the ground by small wires. You can tell from the video that the Brauns made sure that the speed of their planes’ takeoff and landing motions were also to scale. The realism is impressive as the planes come in, back wheels touching first before the front wheel noses gently down.

The airport, roughly 150 square meters (over 1,600 square feet), is breathtaking to behold. But the Brauns’ masterpiece is even more than an autonomous feast for the eyes: it’s interactive. Visitors can push buttons on the railing surrounding the model airport to induce up to 11 different programmed scenarios. A visitor who pushes the button labeled “Fire incident” will see smoke begin to billow out of a house, and then actual flames. The fire house will sound the alarm and begin flashing its lights. Moments later the fire brigade–3-4 vehicles located randomly about the airport–will turn on their lights and start heading towards the fire. At intersections the fire engines will sound their horns and cars will yield the right of way. Meanwhile the fire grows bigger! After the fire engines converge on the burning house the PC decides whether or not the fire has been successfully put out. If not, another alarm is sounded and additional fire engines (up to 35!) from the neighborhood come to the rescue.

Now that’s just awesome.

The fire incident is the only programmed scenario described on Knuffingen’s website. I can only imagine what other fun scenarios visitors will be awed with. I wonder if they have a scenario called “Fight over parking space.”

If you’re anything like me you’re officially blown away right now and you’re thinking, “What else could they possibly do to make this thing cooler?” What if I told you that Knuffingen Airport is just the latest section addition to a world the Brauns have dubbed Miniatur Wunderland?

Seven sections came before the airport.

Begun in 2000, Wunderland’s eight sections cover 1,150 square meters (over 12,000 square feet). The seven sections in place before Knuffingen Airport include: Harz (Germany), Knuffingen (Germany), Austria, Hamburg coast, America, Scandanavia, and Switzerland. They plan to add the French Mediterranean coast and Italy by the end of 2012. Each of these miniaturized worlds is unique and beautiful in its own right. If you visit Scandanavia you’ll see multiple ships cruising the North Sea, guided by an autonomous control system similar to the vehicle control system of Knuffingen Airport. You can glimpse these amazing worlds on the Miniatur Wunderland website.

“We are going to build the largest model railway in the world,” Fred Braun told his twin brother, Gerrit, back in the summer of 2000. Even when they were children the two dreamed big. Back then they dreamed of compiling the world’s largest Mickey Mouse comic book collection. With the models of Miniatur Wunderland, the brothers’ fondness for childish things has matured into a very grown up endeavor.

The Knuffingen Airport alone took seven years to build and cost $4.8 million. The whole of Miniatur Wunderland is the product of more than 150 people and about half a million hours of work. Financed through tour fees, the attraction is one of the most visited sites in all of Germany. However money, according to the Brauns, is not why they built the Wunderland. As they state on the museum’s website: “For us, people are more important than money. People and employees aren’t factors and figures in our balance sheets, but unique individuals with different qualities and characters. Exactly this attitude is transparent on every single square meter of Wunderland’s ground.”

It’s reassuring to know that people like Frederik and Gerrit Braun, people who have the energy and courage to follow their dreams of questionable practicality. I can only imagine the armies of nay-sayers that stood in their path between dream and reality. Lucky for us the Braun twins don’t give up easily. Their dreams are now part of our reality too.

Peter Murray
Peter Murray
Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singularity Hub since March 2011.
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