When Peter Tamm was six years old, back in 1934, his mother gave him a small model ship, probably with no inkling of the obsession it would lead to. Tamm, who became head of a major German publisher, ended up with thousands of model ships, incredible volumes of other maritime memorabilia, and a role as founder of Hamburg's International Maritime Museum, largely based on his collections.
We visited there last September, after half a day out on the harbor, seeing the bigger boats in action, so the contrast was considerable, though the connection was clear. Not only is the museum housed in a historic Hamburg Speicher, or warehouse building, it also contains large scale models of portions of the harbor.
The harbor models are, in a way, a reminder that model ships are not always toys or collectibles; one of the earliest uses of accurate ship models was by navies that used them to simulate war games, or plot actual formation in times of war.
The Museum's model collection isn't limited to the tiny scale models that Tamm originally collected; there are also quite a few detailed larger ones as well.
We spent the bulk of our time on the upper floors, in the model collection, before we ran out of steam and out of time before the museum's closing, but there's much, much more, including hundreds of paintings of ships and scenes at sea, a 3,000-year-old dugout found in the bed of the Elbe River, letters of Admiral Nelson, uniforms, weapons, decorations, and the reproduction of a lifeboat from Shackleton's Arctic expedition that was used by a German explorer to re-create the trip in 2000.
Oh, and if you're more into the passenger experience, the museum has over 15,000 cruise ship and passenger liner menus.
Navies of the world are well-represented, each on its own set of shelves, as are all kinds of commercial and specialized ships.
If you have a chance to visit the museum, my suggestion is not to leave it to late in the day, and to tear yourself away from the models after a while to see the rest of the museum. There's a cafe and gift shop that can give you a stop between the models and the rest.