...and part of what they're looking at 
In this blogposting….
* Robinson’s German Journey:  Day Ten
Proceed with caution…

...will take place at 1100 next Thursday 21 June at Birkheads Nursery, just off the Sunniside to Stanley road.

I invited the Queen to attend as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations but have received no reply from Buckingham Palace, probably because of the images in blogposting 367.

Despite Her Majesty’s absence, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.



There’s something odd about the human condition that struck me for the first time on this tenth day of my German Journey - a blustery, cold and quite deeply unpleasant day in Hamburg, meteorologically speaking.  And it’s this:  we seem to like things that are smaller - often much, much smaller - than they were intended to be.

We coo and gurgle inanely at the sight of a baby creature of any kind, human or (say) crocodile.  We transform some of the world’s mightiest tree species into bonsai pot plants.  We shove our gawping faces in at the windows of dolls’ houses.  We breed dogs small enough to fit inside our handbags or pockets.  We squeeze brains the size of a small planet into the thinnest, flimsiest smartphones we are capable of designing.

It seems to me that the only small things we don’t like are those things that are, and always were, meant to be small - like cockroaches, wasps, Barrow-in-Furness or Nicolas Sarkozy.  Otherwise - and given a choice - we definitely appear to prefer the scaled-down version to the giant, economy-size.

No-one is immune.  Willows are generally tall and graceful trees with enough botanical and aesthetic interest not to warrant an alternative.  But, many years ago, when I discovered an unusual, dwarf species called Boyd’s Willow, there was no stopping me.  I investigated an area of horticulture previously unknown to me; not just dwarf trees, either; dwarf willows.
Boyd's willow
It was an obsession.  By the time I moved away from Sheffield, my postage-stamp garden was graced with 23 different types of dwarf willow gathered from specialist nurseries all over the country, and including (I’ve just remembered) the Scottish Mountain Willow - arguably, the world’s smallest tree.

Until this Friday morning, I’d never ‘homed-in‘ on this miniaturising tendency of humanity, as it were.  I’d never had reason to.  Until now, it had been a comfortably ignorable aspect of the way we all are - like snoring or breaking wind.

It wasn’t going to be so easily ignored for much longer, though. 

I stepped out of the metro and into Hamburg’s rejuvenated dockland.  Around me were offices, flats, new bridges and walkways - even a new concert hall.  There were cafés and bistros, restaurants and bars.  Amongst them all, in a gaunt, 19th-century dockside warehouse, I was to find breathtaking evidence of the pleasure we get not just from scaling down our world but with it, ourselves.

Miniaturland (which should need no translation and isn’t going to get one) started life a few years ago - and is still often described - as the world’s largest model railway.  And, having seen an internet video of it, I suppose that’s pretty much what I was expecting.  I knew it was going to be big, of course, so in my mind’s eye I was imagining an area roughly the size of seven or eight bedroom floors.  There would be lots of intricately modelled scenery and the layout would be complex, with several unwashed, bearded, bespectacled German nerds gleefully flicking switches and slurping mugs of tea.
The coal mine
So much for the naivety of expectation.  In the years since its inception, Miniaturland has grown and developed and grown again and been extended and further developed - a process which is continuing as I write and which has produced an imaginative, world-beating and complex snapshot in miniature of what seems like the whole world and everyone in it.
A village birthday party
You can’t see the other end when you start at the beginning.  Partly, this is because it’s so big; but it’s also because, like the human world it depicts in such breathtaking detail, Miniaturland is not one ‘scene’ - one layout - but at least a dozen.  To get from tableau to tableau, you have to walk round corners, climb a few steps, walk through a few archways and even stand on a few balconies and mezzanines (so that you can view the tableaux from up-a-height, like God).
A village fete
The modellers have tried to present as great a variety as possible of the kind of environments most of us would recognise.  Wild open countryside, mountains and forests, villages, small towns and grand cities.  Factories, quarries and mines.  Castles, ski resorts and funfairs.  Loud and boisterous football matches.
The grotto, with tourists and - bottom right - a pot-holer
The alpine tableau features mountain railways, hot-air balloons, rock-climbers (about an inch high and complete with crampons, ice-axes and ropes), ramblers and even a couple of base jumpers.
The allotments outside the airport's cargo apron
The village scenes include markets, parades (which move), wedding parties, tractor-pulling races and beauty contests.  There’s a show-jumping arena (Germany v UK), a swimming pool, an entire beach with sunbathers.  There’s a village fete and animal-show - complete with love-making in the long grass. 
The canal and boat-lift
There’s a large and busy dock, with canals and locks.  There are angry hold-ups on motorways while traffic of all kinds moves freely on others ( - I’m still not entirely sure how they do this).  Elsewhere, cranes are unloading lorries in trading estates or accidents have just happened - the police and ambulance have just arrived.
A dunch - the police have just arrived
One townscape features a burning building, with fire engines in attendance and more on the way.  Another shows the cross-section of a dam, with the rotting and derelict buildings of a drowned village underwater on its reservoir side.
The sunken village is on the right
The closer you look at each tableau, the more you notice.  The open-air pop festival looked almost exactly like the ones I’ve been to.  There’s the field of food-tents, here’s the security tent and the lighting rig, there are the long lines of toilet cubicles, with people waiting to use them.  When the band comes on, hundreds of tiny pinprick flashes from the audience show that, as in ‘real life’, photos are being taken.
The music festival
Elsewhere, there’s a performance of Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet; the audience rises to a standing ovation at the end.

There’s even a model of the Miniaturland building itself, which made me wonder if there was an inch-high audience inside it looking at another such model - and so on, in an ever-diminishing cycle that defies infinity.
Miniaturland within Miniaturland
Night follows day, too.  Every ten minutes or so, the warehouse lights are dimmed so that we can see the tableaux as they would appear at night.  Street- and vehicle-lights come on - the strip-lighting in the railway stations actually ‘flickers’ on, as such lights do in stations everywhere.  Parties, celebrations and discos suddenly flash into night-time life.
The cement-works at night
In houses and apartment blocks, lights in different rooms go on and off as the rooms are occupied and vacated by the inch-high inhabitants of Miniaturland.

If this is a description draped in sugary superlatives - well, so be it.  Miniaturland is a work of art that enthrals and amazes everyone who visits it.  It’s a masterpiece of its kind - a mind-exploding exhibition of imagination, observation and jaw-dropping delight.
Three of Miniaturland's creators
The last tableau exemplifies the concept perfectly.  It’s a fully functioning airport.
Terminal 1
There are two terminals.  Aircraft are being serviced and loaded or are taxiing to and from the runway.  Airport buses shuttle passengers around.  The metro station is underground here (as they usually are at airports) and is barely noticeable.  The airport apron is busy with cars and taxis and the multi-storey car park is busy too.
At night, it’s transformed into the bright, brash and restless place that airports always are.
The control tower; notice, lower centre right, the ludicrous bit of 
modern sculpture that airports always have
And opposite the terminals, aircraft take off and land in perfect imitation of the real thing.
The airport car park at night - a pleasing touch of detail
This last tableau, like all the others, teems with action, movement and detail and is the one where visitors linger and gasp the most.  Everyone from wide-eyes toddlers to gawping grandparents, pointing out the details to each other; making sure they don’t miss any part of this genuinely astonishing experience.

When I finally emerged from Miniaturland - over four hours and 105 photographs later - I knew already that this had been one of those life-enhancing experiences as unforgettable, in its way, as a first view of mountain scenery, of some great and noble building or of a celebrated painting or sculpture.

If art exists to divert, interest, amuse and challenge us - to make us think or wonder or ask questions - then Miniaturland is truly a stupendous and magical work of art because it does all of these things.


Here is a long, complicated and quite exhausting definition of what Art is.  I found it on an otherwise unimpeachable website.

‘Art is a term that describes a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities, which cover the creation of images or objects in fields including painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and other visual media. 

Architecture is often included as one of the visual arts, though like the decorative arts, it creates objects where practical considerations of use are essential in a way that they are usually not - for painting for example.  Music, theatre, film, dance, and other performing arts, as well as literature, and other media such as interactive media are included in a broader definition of art or the arts. 

Until the 17th century, art referred to any skill or mastery and was not differentiated from crafts or sciences, but in modern usage the fine arts, where aesthetic considerations are paramount, are distinguished from acquired skills in general, and the decorative or applied arts.

Many definitions of art have been proposed by philosophers and others who have characterized art in terms of mimesis, expression, communication of emotion, or other values. During the Romantic period, art came to be seen as ‘a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science’.

The nature of art, and related concepts such as creativity and interpretation, are explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics.’

Not a word about model railways.


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