Berlin 24-7

Berlin 24/7: The German capital in miniature

Berlin's latest attraction, "Little Big City," shows a tiny version of the capital. In real life, Berlin is a lot tougher than the model, says DW columnist Gero Schliess.

Little Big City exhibition (Little BIG City Berlin)

Finally! Let's admit it - we all love being the biggest. Who doesn't want that? And it works pretty well with the 3D model "Little Big City" Berlin. The scale of 1:24 makes it possible, and even a dwarf is turned into a giant. Well, at least it works for me, 1.85 meters (6 feet 1 inch) tall, though slightly shrinking with age. 

Chaotic Berlin 

It's great to finally get a clear overview of this chronically chaotic city. That's my first thought as I enter the dark show room - until I take a closer look.

Berlin is sprawled out in front of me, but it's rather cluttered. Almost 700 years of history have been squeezed onto 270 square meters (2,900 square feet). It includes more than 5,000 figures ranging from Frederick the Great  and John F. Kennedy to the protesters of former East Germany's peaceful revolution.

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The figures are hand-painted, and the buildings were created with 3-D printers. Everything was produced by a creative team in London over a span of just 18 months. My advice to Berlin Mayor Michael Müller and the managers of the never-ending construction site at Berlin's new, but unopened, airport: Why don't you just try it on a smaller scale - like 1:24!

Watch video 04:12

Little Big City: Berlin in miniature

As I make my way through the exhibition, I almost stumble across the Berlin City Palace, first built as a fort for Frederick II of Brandenburg (1412-1471). He owed his nickname, "the Iron," to the "hospitality" he practiced in the castle's dungeons.

My critical thoughts verge on lese-majesty, but are interrupted by a wildly flickering light ahead. The Reichstag, the parliament building, is burning with the help of seven projectors.

A (much too) tiny panel tells visitors that the fire once served the Nazis as a pretense for a massive wave of arrests. Another event that has been recreated in the exhibition is the burning of books on Berlin's Opernplatz square, where the Nazis set 25,000 volumes on fire. Here, they just constitute a small pile.

A historical currywurst

German actress and singer Marlene Dietrich makes her appearance in 1:24 not far away. And on a pedestal nearby, Russian tanks usually roll through the war-ravaged city - but not today. A friendly staff member explains that the tanks are resting due to a technical problem. 

Little Big City exhibition (DW/G. Schließ)

The Reichstag, here in miniature, really burned in 1933

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Her job, however, is not to make excuses for malfunctions, but to entertain us with little stories about each scene. For example, about Konnopke's snack bar, which sells the most famous currywurst in Berlin, made since 1960.

And of course she has stories about the fall of the Berlin Wall, which visitors can set in motion themselves by pressing a button. How practical! Click, and the Wall is gone. That's one of the few interactive parts of the exhibition that entertained the child in me. Apart from that, there's little to do or touch, even though the Little Big City organizers have raved about their "interactive miniature city."

But there is at least one person who's interactive - and that's the guy at the cash register taking a whopping 16 euros from each visitor ($18.80). 

Addicted to Berlin: Little big gateway drug

I do come across another button that's fun, in front of the Palace of the Republic. The ugly building constructed by East German leader Erich Honecker, known colloquially as the "lamp shop," was where the communist country's pseudo-parliament convened. It was torn down after German reunification in 1990.

Little Big City exhibition in Berlin (DW/G. Schließ)

The Palace of the Republic looks less menacing in miniature

The building that was intended to rest eternally in peace has been revived here - and even embellished, if only very rudimentarily. There is also a button. When you press it, East German soldiers start marching loudly.  

Passing by Potsdamer Platz as I leave the exhibition, I start having doubts. Does the idea work? Or does the Little Big City trivialize important historical events? 

In any case, mini-Berlin is missing the real city's tough demeanor, and it certainly doesn't wow me. Let's put it this way: It could serve as a gateway drug for tourists - as a joint for Berlin beginners, so to speak.

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