A Sunday afternoon in the fall, windy and cold… What to do without going too far? Ok, let’s go to Mendrisio, then. The ideas is to see the Baumgartner Gallery its model trains, but I have some doubts. I read the reviews on Trip Advisor, which are mostly positive to be fair, and I have the impression it’s a place that only train enthusiast and model train collector will like… and we are none.
A correct impression
My impression was correct: the Baumgartner Gallery is perfect for lovers of model trains, though the visit can be quite enjoyable to everyone – or at least to kids. It was put together by a collector named Bruno Baumgartner, and it’s located in a former industrial building over three storeys; the entrance floor, the basement and an upper floor.
Thanks to the Raiffeisen Member Plus card we went in for free. The majority of the “materials” on display are countless wagons and locomotives in scale G, H0, TT, N and Z all locked up in cases. If you don’t know what the abbreviations stand for don’t worry, neither did I. All these are of interest only to a selected number of niche visitors… but kids tend to find them boring; after all they don’t move, so why care? What my son Stefano really enjoyed, however, is everything else.
The three floors of the Baumgartner Gallery
We started our visit in the ground floor, where you see a large suspended model railway with trains that move: we spent quite some time looking up! Another thing we liked were the historic tin toys and some model ships – in particular an aircraft carrier.
Then we headed to the basement, where we found an old control panel that once belonged to a train station, with lights and all. As we were guessing the functions of the numerous buttons (which you cannot press!) a model train (kept in a long glass case) departed.
My son started running to its side, following it. This way he discovered an old TV (with a cathode-ray tube) where, thanks to a camera attached to the locomotive, one can follow the train along the tracks. This simple idea was a big hit: my son was all smiles and he said he had the impression to be on board a real train, sitting by the driver…
Finally, we went to the upper floor of the Baumgartner Gallery, where we could see the suspended model railway from above (a different perspective is always nice). We also discovered some small Lego locomotives in a corner, at the end of the exhibition hall.
Right there, we found a section with (old-ish) first class plane seats, where my son sat comfortably. The Crossair seats, precisely, with their tables which could be folded away in the armrest; he saw them as “toys” and enjoyed himself immensely.
At the very end, a nice surprise
The visit to the Baumgartner Gallery would have ended there, but there was still a surprise waiting for us, like the icing on the cake. As we were taking a look at the fancy carriage of the bygone days (it’s a replica, by the way), we met a very kind man named Eugenio. Eugenio offered to open to door to us, and show us the interior: this way we had a taste of this “forgotten world, where railway travel was a real adventure”. Did you know that the very rich had a private cabin at the far end of the train – with a private balcony?
Extra tips about child-friendly activities in Mendrisio:
- Ride your mountain bike on the pumptrack next to the local high school
- Spend a few hours at the new cultural centre LaFILANDA
- take a walk in the forest and discover the Cometa trail click to read our article)