Spielwarenmesse: Toys and games – cults and cultural assets in Nuremberg

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Spielzeug und Spielen – Kult und Kulturgut in Nürnberg


Toys and games – cults and cultural assets in Nuremberg

from Peter Budig

She struts, beaming or pouting, and is world famous: the Barbie doll, a cultural asset and a cult figure. Originally, when she first started out in the 1950s, she was once a very Franconian self-confident girl. Her name was Lilli and she was a daring mixture: sometimes well-behaved and industrious but also a bit "bitchy".

Powerful influence of toys made in Franconia on Germany and the world

Barbies, Spielzeugmuseum Nürnberg

This Lilli was an invention of draughtsman Reinhard Beuthien for the first issue of the BILD newspaper in 1952. The disrespectful cartoons caused a furore and the toy modeller Max Weissbrodt of the toy factory O. & M. Hausser in Neustadt near Coburg created the blond doll to go with them. It was already quite successful when Ruth and Elliott Handler, who had co-founded the Mattel company in the USA in 1945, discovered it in a shop window in Lucerne, Switzerland, while on a trip to Europe, adapted it, presented it in New York on 9 March 1959 and turned it into the world's best-selling doll. Folklorist Susanne von Goessel-Steinmann inventoried one of the world's largest collections of around 2,000 Barbies for the Nuremberg Toy Museum. She is convinced that no other toy reflects social developments, the change in the image of women, and fashion trends in such a complex way as this fashion doll. (cf. nordbayern.de 29/01/2013)

Play is the beginning of everything

Toy soldiers Nuremberg Toy Museum
© toy museum Nuremberg

The famous doll’s houses made in Nuremberg were not toys, but cultural assets; today, the most famous one of them is the "Stromerhaus", built in 1639. "The highly detailed doll's houses were owned by rich noble families. They were objects of instruction: on the basis of these configurations, one could teach and learn how to run a good household," explains Dr Claudia Selheim, head of the Folk Art/Toy/Judaica collections in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. The cultural power of play can also be derived from the production of pewter figures, which brought enormous commercial success to Nuremberg and Fürth since the late 18th century. "They depicted celebrities such as Frederick the Great or Napoleon, entire Corpus Christi processions, fairy-tale figures – they were toys and teaching material all in one," Dr Selheim explains. The famous tin soldiers did not appear until the 19th century, when the craft was replaced by industrial mass production. The initially high quality of the pewter figures diminished, a mass product was created, and Nuremberg-Fürth was its centre of production. Children learned early on to develop an enthusiasm for the military – a high educational goal in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Turning away from feudalism: the jack rules in the German card game of skat

Occasionally, a game reflects a change in society – and fosters it. Economist Professor Jens Junge, founder of the "Institute for Ludology" in Berlin, can think of one famous example: "At the beginning of the 19th century, the card game of skat was invented in Altenburg in Thuringia. What we no longer notice, but what was something revolutionary at the time is that the highest playing card is not the king but the jack! This marks a turning away from feudalistic thinking. The citizens met in elegant salons, played skat and discussed the political situation."

Dr. Karin Falkenberg, toy museum
© toy museum Nuremberg

"Play is the basic prerequisite for all human development," postulates Dr Karin Falkenberg, director of the Nuremberg Toy Museum. The famous German poet Friedrich Schiller even claimed: "Man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays." The father of the "cultural asset of play", the prophet of Homo Ludens, the playing human being, who draws and appropriates culture from play, is the Dutch cultural scientist Johann Huizinga (1872-1945). "For many years the conviction has grown upon me that civilisation arises and unfolds in and as play," Huizinga writes. His Homo Ludens or "Man, the Player" is the antithesis of Homo Faber, the active human being, like the engineer, who is stylized in Max Frisch's famous novel of the same name as an emotionless yet successful man.   

Why do humans play?

In Karin Falkenberg's special exhibition "Nuremberg has what it takes to play" (2018) in the Nuremberg Toy Museum, the curators directly investigated the question "Why do you play?": 100 portraits of people playing and their "reasons" could be examined there. The meaning of the term "play" was deliberately kept broad. Contributors included a professional violinist, a cosplayer, and the quiz master Kevin Dardis, who "plays" at provoking the question-answerers into a competition – they all see their activities (also) as something playful. Because "play" lives from attempting to do things, from creative trial and error and from finding solutions. Sometimes, it plays with the possibilities of life and can even lead to true love. Eva von Neuhaus once met and fell in love with her future husband Bodo while playing at the "Ali Baba Spieleclub", a games club in Nuremberg. Where, decades later, they (along with their sons Noah, 14 and Benjamin 11) are still regulars.

Germany's largest games club supports Nuremberg's application to be named cultural capital

Christian Wallisch, Ali Baba Spieleclub
© Budig

The "Ali Baba Spieleclub", a private Nuremberg games club, is unique in all of Germany: "With over 800 members, we are the largest games club of its kind in Germany. With regional associations in Nuremberg, Regensburg, Ingolstadt, Cologne, Berlin, Stuttgart, Bamberg, Chemnitz and Erlangen as well as in the Hunsrück region, we deliberately operate nationwide so as to carry the idea of games and playing as far and wide as possible," explains Christian Wallisch, founder and president of Ali Baba since 1991. The club enjoys broad public support in the town, regularly receives funding from the Spielwarenmesse, is allowed to organise its game evenings (Mondays and Fridays) in the historic Pellerhaus and use the rooms rent-free. With Nuremberg's application to become the European Capital of Culture in 2025, or N2025 for short, the association has gained further significance: play is one of the main features of the city's application book and the club makes numerous contributions towards that aspect. "Culture is not an end in itself," says Karin Falkenberg from the Toy Museum. "Culture provides answers to the question of 'What is a human being?' – and play is the driving force behind it from the beginning of history. All of nature, all of life functions playfully."

About the author

Peter Budig studied Protestant theology, history and political science. He worked as a freelance journalist, headed up the editorial department of a large advertising paper in Nuremberg for ten years and was the editor of Nuremberg’s Abendzeitung newspaper. He has been freelancing again since 2014 as a journalist, book author and copywriter. Storytelling is absolutely his favourite form.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spielwarenmesse eG.

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