German Christmas gifts: Playmobil toys

Photo by José Pedro Pascual Moreno
Photo by José Pedro Pascual Moreno

German Christmas gifts: Playmobil toys

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

If up to now you’ve only thought of Playmobil toys as a slightly foot-friendlier version of the better-known Legos, perhaps it’s time to give a re-think to one of Germany’s best-known brands of playthings.

Playmobil toys are those little figurines with dots for eyes, helmet-like hair, no nose at all, rosy cheeks, unfailing smiles, hands poised for gripping and a rather wide stance. Their movable limbs allow them to engage in a number of both useful and recreational pursuits. Their standard height is modest, just shy of three inches. A mind-boggling three billion of these beloved playmates have been born since creator Hans Beck first breathed life to them back in 1974. They’ve proven remarkably adept at cultural adaptation, and they’re now distributed in some 100 countries worldwide.

The little figures feel right at home when purchased in tandem with their own little worlds, from Christmas-cookie bakeries to Mars-based space stations or luxurious villas. Themes to make kids’ hearts beat faster include horses, fire and police stations, dinosaurs, and lands inhabited by dragons. Several series tie into popular movie series from Ghostbusters to Pirates of the Caribbean.

Popular pastimes seen in our German host nation are reflected in the pursuits of these Playmobil figures: they watch the World Cup, engage in mountain rescue operations, and enjoy family ski holidays together. One box set includes a helmeted rider on his mountain bike and a backpack-wearing, bearded hiker, clad in a checked shirt and clutching a map.

When you dream of your child’s future, do you envision him or her as a reformer? If so, you might wish to reach for the figure of none other than Martin Luther. Dressed in a black robe and floppy beret, toting a quill and a Bible, the likeness of a man born over five centuries ago has trumped all other figures to become Playmobil’s best-selling figure of all time. The toy was created for the German and Nuremberg tourism boards to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, celebrated in 2017. They’re still available – I picked one up last week at a cost of about 3 euros in my local toyshop.

Travel tip: Younger kids might enjoy a day out at the indoor Playmobil Funpark, a covered park full of large plastic structures such as castles, fanciful houses and a rope climbing parkours. In the summer months, the fun move outdoors, where the Wild West, pirate ships and dinosaur lands beckon. The park doesn’t offer any fancy rides; it’s more a place where parents and kids can engage in gentle forms of innocent fantasy-fueled play. For those wishing to make the trip a weekend getaway, there’s even a family-friendly Playmobil-hotel, offering touches of that Playmobil magic and spacious rooms with plenty of space for all. The park is located in Zirndorf, just west of Nuremberg.

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