April 2, 2009

Nothing Says 'Home' Like a Tourist Trap

Print More

Like people, there are tourist traps of all types, colors, shapes and sizes.
For example, a restaurant that is sparsely populated with native speakers but that also touts a near-perfectly translated English menu is a sure low-grade tourist trap. If you have just ordered “crude ham with broiled cheese and salad green,” you will be paying too much for that croque monsieur, monsieur.
Then there is the tourist trap that has no pretenses of being otherwise: the store where you can guarantee, without a shadow of a doubt, that you will be able to buy a seizure-inducing, light-up [insert most famous monument] with the given city’s name printed on it for 15 euro. This is also the place where you can buy postcards with photo-shopped teddy bears being struck by lightening on top of some of the city’s largest skyscrapers.
But finally, there is the crème de la crème of all tourist traps: the trap so trappy that it actually becomes an attraction in and of itself. People actually visit them knowing they’re going to be somehow ripped off. The U.S. is particularly notable in this category, especially since many Americans don’t visit within their own borders without good reason. And what better reason to visit Baker, Montana than to see the world’s largest stuffed steer?
This type of tourist attraction is not limited to America, though. A perfect example is the Minatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany.
Over 1,100 square meters of pure model railway bliss, this wunderland certainly is wonderful. And wonderfully weird.
Though sprawling and intricately detailed, Thomas the Tank Engine’s wet dream focuses only on the countries with Germanic dialects … and on America. One can see the Alps / Austria, a small German town called Knuffingen, Hamburg recreated in loving detail, all of Scandanavia and many of America’s most proud cities and attractions: Miami, FL, Cape Canaveral, Las Vegas, NV and the Grand Canyon.
The official website, www.minature-wunderland.com, says of its interpretation of America: “The Keys and Cape Canaveral directly pass into Las Vegas [,] and the Grand Canyon is only separated by a highway from Mount Rushmore and Yosemite Park. The United States of Wunderland are, compared to other areas, not very big, [sic] however they are full of attractions.”
Just like the real America!
For example, you might be pleased to know that more than 10 percent of all the lights used on this project are concentrated solely in Las Vegas’ strip. Who says models can’t remain true to life?
And indeed, Minatur Wunderland attempts to keep its insane level of detail both accurate and sensitive. The Wunderland video’s narrator says (in monotone, German-accented English, reminiscent of Robin Leach): “ … [There are] small inhabitants residing in the Wunderland, representing all possible real-life situations: thick people, thin people, animals on vacation [penguins holding flippers, wearing scarves, holding suitcases and walking across a snowy street], all strong, very famous children, working population, entertaining fire-eaters, very alive humans [people doing the deed in a sunflower patch], or no longer so-alive ones [a man had fallen into a ditch] … Above all, you examine the life as if it were real.”
But wait — “All possible real-life situations”?
Animals on vacation? Couples getting their freak on in public? “All strong, very famous children” — a population of people that I didn’t even know existed?
Certainly, I’ve heard of political correctness, but let’s not go too far. Miniatur Wunderland, let’s not call something precise when it is really just your conception of a hypothetical, albeit awesome, reality. (Frankly, the day I see an animal family embark on vacation is the day I know I have reached heaven.)
But let’s not discount that maybe something was lost in translation. Maybe they didn’t mean really real; maybe they meant “real”-nudge-nudge-play-along-it’s-just-a-freaking-model-don’t-take-us-so-seriously-you-imaginationless-American. Either way! Given that there remain five years of construction (its completion is scheduled for 2014), Minatur Wunderland has plenty of time to work out its kitschy kinks. And you have plenty of time to start planning your dream vacation to Hamburg, Germany to see one of the world’s most curious — and trappiest — tourist traps.