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Thuringia, Germany Tourism
A visit to the "Deutsche Spielzeugmuseum" (Toy Museum) in Sonneberg, Thuringia, Germany
Tuesday to Sunday: 9.00 am to 17.00 pm
For many years we sold wooden toys from the "Erzgebirge" and artist dolls in Canada. No wonder that we are interested in the history of toys. Unfortunately, Elizabeth, my wife was not with me when I had the opportunity to visit one of the most popular museums of this kind.
The museum was established in 1901 and moved in the just finished building shown on the left side. Besides many articles produced in the region it was already mostly dedicated to toys because Sonneberg was considered as "Santa's workshop".
One of the main attractions of the museum was added in the early 19 th century - the so called "Thüringer Kirmes" (Thuringian kermis) after it was returned from the World exhibition in Brussels.
Our web site is not intended to replace an actual visit. We just try to raise your interest to spend at least half a day in this place and to learn many things related to toys.
The "Toy Museum" in Sonneberg
I did not get scared away by the heavy wooden door which was the entrance to the museum. I just pushed hard enough and it opened.
Because of the age of the building and lack of funding only a small part of the museum was accessible for handicapped people.
The museum did not provide scheduled guided tours. It offers so called "self guided tours" where the visitors can read many information on boards as long as they understand German. Please use above contact information if you are interested as a group or a well paying visitor in any special presentations.
The missing information in any other language than German is a serious drawback in many museums in former East Germany. Just express your disappointment maybe it will change things in the future.
Nevertheless, if you are interested in the history of toys, don't use this as an excuse not to visit this great museum.
A little gift store is attached to the ticket counter
I was fascinated from the building and how everything was arranged and displayed in the "Deutsche Spielzeugmuseum" how it is officially called.
Much renovation work has been done in the years after the unification. But more work is needed to organize the archives to allow easier access for research.
Especially, the extensive library is used by an international clientele. It contains over 30 000 publications which can be used within the museum by anybody.
Naturally, the museum is always looking for supporters which pledge either money or anything of interest to the collections.
I recommended to look for volunteers who are willing to do translations to make the self guided tours more attractive to foreigners.
My pledge is this web site in English.
Not suitable for people in wheelchairs
In medieval times craftsmen mainly produced toys only for the nobles and the rich people who had the money to make their children happy.
The favorites were knights and horses.
Kids from poor families had to use home made toys or play with dices or use the popular board games.
Certainly outdoor activities and work kept the little ones very busy. When I was young, we had very often great fun without any toys - certain games kept us busy a whole afternoon and my parents did not have to spend any money. These games kept us also healthy and slim. Overweight was not a problem at this time!
Already in the antique craftsmen in Egypt, Greece and Rome produced toys, such as balls, marbles and spinning tops. Others were related to religion and cults. It is obviously not easy to decide today what was just a toy and what served in addition other purposes like bringing luck etc. At least I could not do that.
I was amazed about what I saw. Unfortunately, many of my photos are not suitable because of the glares caused by the glass cabinets.
If you are interested in seeing more, there is no better way than to come to the museum and see it with your own eyes. You will not be disappointed.
Toys from antique Egypt can certainly not be seen everywhere
Military toys were always popular
Many parents in Europe are against these kind of toys. After having experienced the war in person or seeing the results on TV or in magazines makes this understandable.
Nevertheless, when I was little I liked them too and I believe that it needs much more to make young people to peace keepers than to keep them away from the real world and isolate them for a limited time. After a certain age they are allowed anyhow to do what they want and parents have only a very limited power to influence them. It is better not keep them away from the reality and teach them to do the right things as long as they are young and listen to you.
The museum shows military toys from different periods. The real boom started in the 19 th century when all kind of figurines made out of pewter or lead became popular. Numerous battle situations could be arranged and children could play for hours to kill the "bad ones".
Toys made during the Hitler regime
Naturally, this all happened with the blessing of the governments in power and the industry had no objections - and as I can see not too much has changed in many countries. Just look at the violent computer games, certain movies, faked weapons and the situation at school. I do not know a single case of such things before the sixties, especially not in Germany.
For that reason see all the military toys as part of history and do not think about Germans as war mongers. Whatever the situation is, we are all militarists or we are too peaceful wimps. In realty, we just learned our lessons. When do other nations follow?
Most of these toys are certainly today very valuable collectibles. Whenever, I checked antique stores in Germany, I could not see any for sale.
Much more peaceful - wooden jumping jacks
Many of the shown wooden toys are still made in certain areas in Thuringia, Saxony and Bavaria. We offered them for many years. We traveled to the little home based companies and selected them. It was always a pleasure to meet the down to earth craftspeople and to make business with them.
Unfortunately, we experienced lots of breakage during shipping and transportation to shows.
More a collectible than a toy
Pewter was not only used for soldiers
Wooden toys have a long history in Germany. At the beginning of the 18 th century it started to become some kind of home based industry. This is still the case as you can see, especially when you visit the "Erzgebirge" in Saxony in the area around Seiffen. We saw the complete family, including grandma and grandpa and the children working on wooden miniatures, nutcrackers, smokers etc.
The quality of the wooden toys is amazing
The toys shown her are top quality which is difficult to find today where the little companies have to compete against cheap imports from far east. But you still can find suppliers who are committed to the traditional craftsmanship.
Figurines made out of pewter or even lead were very popular. They are still made for collectors. However, lead is banned today after everybody knows how dangerous it can be. We imported some from the United Kingdom.
This hand painted hunting scene is one of the many displayed examples. I am sure the children had lots of fun to arrange different sceneries and to use their imagination. Maybe some allowed the deer to escape and to disappoint the hunters.
I became convinced that many of the "old" toys inspired the fantasy of the kids much more than most of the toys which are offered today. Toy makers from all over the world should visit this museum to get some "new" ideas. I am sure the visit will pay off if they come with an open mind.
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The Toy Museum in Sonneberg, Thuringia
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