When I was a young boy, I was the proud owner of a Hornby train set. Fair enough, it wasn’t the most impressive thing in the world – with it’s circular track and faulty cables that would give out mild electric shocks at every available opportunity – but it was still a lot of fun to play with.
I’ve noticed in recent years that the humble model railway has been somewhat overtaken by the technological mastery of Playstations and i-pods when it comes to successful kids’ toys. I suppose when you have thousands of songs and video clips at your fingertips, as well as millions of computer pixels to blow up through your joypad, the lure of an electric engine chugging slowly around a track isn’t exactly going to provide many hardcore thrills.
Unfortunately, this means that the modern-day model railway fans are the type of anorak-wearing, sandle-clad types you expect to see on the platform at Waverley station – jotting down numbers onto their pads with gusto whenever an InterCity 125 hoves into view. And despite the best efforts of celebrity fans such as Rod Stewart, model trains just aren’t cool enough for today’s younger generations.
However, I’ve found something on-line this week that even the most technologically-minded 10-year-old would have to stop and admire. Or at least take a lingering look before proclaiming “oooh….shiny!”
Yes, it’s a museum in Germany that houses the world’s largest model railway, sprawled throughout a giant warehouse in Hamburg. It’s split into different countries and continents (yes, you read that right – continents), and provides the world’s most impressive model rail experience. Apparently.
Now, I’m impressed at the amount of work that’s gone into this, as well as the fact that the museum has an internal control room which would make NASA proud. I also like the fact that the lights dim from “day” to “night” every 16 minutes or so, which is a nice touch.
But the thing I’m most impressed about is the fact that this works as a tourist attraction. I love that this sort of thing crops up across Europe all the time and is considered normal, whereas in the UK we would scoff and scorn it as being ridiculous.
It reminds me a little of my favourite European museum, which is based – perhaps unsurprisingly – in the supremely mental land of Sweden. It consists of a 17th Century warship which was dredged, fully in-tact of course, up from the depths of Stockholm harbour and has now been restored for people to walk around on it.
The story goes like this: Back in the 1620s, a huge ship was commissioned which was intended to be the pride of the Swedish Navy. It was enormous and designed to hold more guns, more soldiers and more grandeur than anything that had gone before.
The only trouble was that – like the Mary Rose before it – the shipbuilders and designers made the bloody thing too big and top-heavy to float properly. So, on its maiden voyage out of Stockholm, it keeled over and sank into the harbour to be lost forever.
Well, not quite. Some bright spark read his history books and realised that – as the harbour floor was made up of a huge silt flat – the warship Vasa was probably still down there. He sent down some depth charges and made a few radar readings and found the spot he thought the ship (or what was left of it) would be. They got some cranes and started heaving what they thought was just the remains of the ship’s hull…..and were a bit surprised when the whole thing suddenly emerged from the murky depths, completely intact.
Obviously they did what any sensible historians would do, and made a museum out of this ship and it’s now one of the most popular attractions in Sweden. Which is brilliant. Especially as we British would probably just break or destroy it before it could even be dragged ashore.
Moral of the story? If you want to see something a little unusual and a bit crazy, go to mainland Europe – they’ve got plenty of this kind of stuff going on and much of it goes completely unheralded. In comparisson, the best we can do is Alton Towers or Blair Drummond. There’s no contest, really.