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Google Street View Goes Inside The World's Smallest Airport

Feb. 15, 2016
5 min read
Google Street View Goes Inside The World's Smallest Airport
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Plane and train nerd alert! TPG Special Correspondent John Walton recently discovered that Google Street View is now available inside the world's largest model railway and airport combo, Miniatur Wunderland. Get ready to geek out.

If you've ever used the internet and have even a passing interest in planes, you've probably heard of the amazing Miniatur Wunderland's Knuffingen Airport — it would be even more surprising if you hadn't yet had the video sent to you by friends.

Thanks to Google Street View, you don't have to travel to the converted warehouse in Hamburg's Speicherstadt district that houses Miniatur Wunderland to get up close and personal with some of the most intricate, fascinating models in the world.

I'll admit to being more than one of the nearly two million views for this YouTube video about the airport (below), which opened in May 2011, ten years after Miniatur Wunderland first opened its doors.

Now you can get up close with MiWuLa — as the Hamburgers call it — without leaving home. Google Street View sent tiny customized cameras into Miniatur Wunderland to capture a wide swath of the pint-sized world, including the amazing airport that bears more than a passing resemblance to Hamburg's own airport.

You can click through to board a Thai Airways Airbus A380 flight, fly through arrivals and pick-up, explore the Lufthansa hangar, wait in line for check-in — cooler than it sounds thanks to all the tiny models — watch the airplanes take off and head out onto the airstrip.

Google Street View can be handy for evading real-life airport lines as well.
Google Street View can be handy for evading real-life airport lines as well. Image courtesy of Google Street View.

The great thing about the Google Street View MiWuLa experience is that you can get much closer to the action and really see the detail that these talented model makers have created. Normally, you're kept out of arm's reach of the miniature world by barriers, but Google had the opportunity to set up cameras all over the replica airport in spaces and at angles that you'd never otherwise get to see.

Cameras inside a tiny airport remind you that Google Street View is also available inside real airports. This feature can be really handy when traveling, especially if you need to meet up with someone — just send them a screenshot of the spot where you want to meet them rather than trying to geolocate each other using phones. It's also nifty if you want to figure out which way the rental car desk is before you wrangle your testy, jet-lagged family through the arrivals area or if you need to figure out which door of the airport terminal has the premium check-in. No need to walk the entire length of the building after guessing wrong, not that any of us has ever encountered that before.

Emirates even invited Google to take Street View images inside an Airbus A380 so you can check whether there's a lavatory near your seat, if your window seat aligns with the actual window and figure out which seats you'd prefer, both upstairs or downstairs in the superjumbo.

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But it's not just the airport and the planes in Miniatur Wunderland — Google strapped specially converted cameras to the trains and cars that move automatically around the model complex, too, so you can Street View your way along the tracks inside and underneath the scenery as well. It's fascinating to see how the whole system is built and to try to spot the little Google Street View car easter eggs hidden throughout MiWuLa.

Special cameras were strapped to the Miniatur Wunderland vehicles. Image - Miniatur Wunderland (1).
Special cameras were strapped to the Miniatur Wunderland vehicles. Image courtesy of Miniatur Wunderland.

You'll also find footage of the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Mount Rushmore, Cape Canaveral and what looks to be a Cape Cod-themed Christmas Village in the America section of Miniatur Wunderland — tiny Teddy Roosevelt looks pretty cool, too.

Also awesome: the Bavaria section, where you can almost hear the oompah bands playing in the beer hall during Oktoberfest as you spin 360-degrees around the MiWuLa world.

Beer, anyone?
Beer, anyone? Image courtesy of Google Street View.

Miniatur Wunderland says it worked with Google and interior mapping company Ubilabs (whose European base is, as it turns out, Hamburg) for a year to develop and digitize the model world, with special vehicles created to explore every nook and cranny of the exhibition. The technical details from their statement are pretty fascinating, including the amount of time spent on this:

A team from Ubilabs completed some 600 hours of night shifts together with employees of Miniatur Wunderland – just to get the photos right. Their efforts resulted in more than 10,000 panoramic images, around 2,500 of which can be viewed at the microsite we designed and built. We spent two months before the start of the project carrying out experiments in order to find the right technique and develop a method for shooting the photos automatically.

With nonstop flights on United Airlines from Newark (EWR) and a wide range of connecting flights via European hubs from Iceland to Istanbul, it's easy to get there. Meanwhile, explore the Wonderland — or find it on the Street View app for Android, Google Cardboard or The App Store — and take a look at Google Germany's behind-the-scenes video, below.

Bottom Line

If all this has whet your appetite for the real thing — and it's seriously cool, whether you're toting a small family member or two along with you or you're geeking out with grownup friends — book yourself a trip to Hamburg and check it out in person.