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Film Review: Wonderland
by Pat Frickey

Sabine Howe, Germany 2023

Sabine Howe has made a fascinating documentary about Miniatur Wunderland, the largest model railroad in the world. At the center of her documentary are the twin brothers Frederik and Gerrit Braun. Howe has embedded original home movies of the boys growing up full of spirit and camaraderie. Two animated miniature boyish figures of Frederik and Gerrit pop up throughout the film, inviting the moviegoer to see enchantment through their youthful eyes. Though always portrayed as enthusiastic and full of fun, they were not from the happiest of homes. They were raised by their single-mother and often escaped into their own twin-world including entrepreneurially collecting/selling Mickey Mouse comics. Later in their lives, they reconnected with their father Jochen. Jochen appears in the film describing Frederik as the ambitious, optimistic, confident one, and Gerrit as the exacting perfectionist. After graduating from school, they owned the successful disco Viola and EDM Records in Hamburg which they eventually sold to help finance their dream to build the model railroad, beginning in 2000, along with Stephan Hertz and father Jochen.

The documentary and the magic don’t end there. In 2017 Frederik absolutely fell in love with the South American section of a less than impressive model railroad exhibition he was visiting in New York City. It had been built by the Martinez family from Argentia. Standing nearby eavesdropping was Jorge Martinez, one of the constructors, who jumped at the chance to meet one of his idols. Within months, Frederik and his team were visiting the family enclave in a suburb of Buenos Aires. He became enchanted with their model constructions in their homey compound where even the dogs had custom made doghouses. A collaboration on two continents complicated by COVID-19 had begun which culminated in the opening of the Rio de Janeiro section in Miniatur Wunderland in December 2021. It’s the delightful story of two diverse cultures merging with spectacular results.