Sign Up For Dr. Toy's Newsletter ... The Toy Times!


Dear Santa: Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

By John McCafferty

Nuremberg -- Now that Santa Claus (or St. Nicholas) has spread joy and left new toys for millions of little boys and girls throughout the U.S., is he really returning to the North Pole? Or, could he be driving his miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer to Nuremberg?

Why Nuremberg? Because it's the "toy capital of the world" and has been for centuries.

Nuremberg's toy-making tradition stretches back 600 years to its "dockenmacher" (doll makers) who fashioned figures from clay and then wooden dolls with moving parts. First mention of a toy maker in the city's tax records was for a doll maker around 1400 A.D.

Wooden toys established Nuremberg's reputation as a toy city by the 16th and 17th century. Since then, local merchants have exported to the world the toys made here and elsewhere. Even today, the Nuremberg area remains an important toy production center.

Each year Bavaria's second largest city hosts the world's biggest international toy fair. On Feb. 2-7, about 77,000 trade visitors from 100 nations will attend the Spielwarenmesse International Toy Fair. More than 2,700 exhibitors from over 65 countries will show off a million or more products, including some 60,000 new lines and improvements.

The best place to learn about Nuremberg's long toy-making history is at the Nuremberg Toy Museum. Located in the heart of Old Town with its timbered houses and narrow, cobblestone streets, the Toy Museum has a vast and very high-quality collection of toys from antiquity to the present, with emphasis on the 18th to 20th centuries.

When my wife, Regina, and I visited the museum in November, we met with its director, Dr. Helmut Schwarz. When we arrived, he was working on an exhibition of "spiel gut" toys on loan from an association that awards its seal of approval for toys meeting specific quality standards in educational value and design.

Dr. Schwarz said the association is independent of the toy industry and trade and uses toy experts and families for testing before granting its "spiel gut" award to toys. Thousands of toys have been granted the award since the association was founded in 1954.

Originally in Wurzburg, the toy museum is based on the private toy collection of the late Lydia and Paul Bayer. It was moved to Nuremberg and reopened in 1971 at its present location at 13-15 Karlstrasse in a house with a Renaissance facade dating back to about 1610. Only a rococo stucco ceiling and the doors of the same room remain from the original building.

The museum's collection comprises about 65,000 objects but only about five percent of these are displayed at one time. We saw many historic wooden toys, dolls and exquisite doll houses. The doll houses are replete with period furnishings and tiny household items, down to plates, cups, pots and pans.

Like many toys on display, the doll houses are extraordinary because of their fine craftmanship. We took special note of a lavishly-furnished, 1882 dolls' kitchen owned by the Royal Bavarian family, the House of Wittelsbach. "The three princesses of the last ruling Bavarian King, Ludwig III, all played with it," Dr. Schwarz explained.

With some 110,000 visitors a year, the Toy Museum is one of Nuremberg's most popular museums, along with the Germanisches Nationalmuseum and the Verkehrsmuseum (Transportation Museum). Its oldest exhibits include a baby's toy rattle from 8 or 9 B.C.

"No other German toy museum has such old artifacts," said Dr. Schwarz. "Hundreds of toys were found during excavations in the 19th century when the city had to change during industrialization and had to dig up a lot of things." He said the ancient toy rattle came from the border between Germany and Poland.

On our tour, we also saw optical toys, clowns, puppets, mechanical toys, posters, rocking horses, musical toys and many other play things of the past, including a 1905 Steiff Teddy Bear. We also saw many early European toys from Nuremberg and other German regions, such as Thuringia Forest, the Ore Mountains, and Oberammergau.

When Dr. Schwarz escorted us into the only original room from 1610, he said, "I wanted to show you both this room and this cabinet which shows the development of the tin soldiers in Nuremberg. The famous Tin Soldier was invented here."

The museum houses the world's largest collection of Lehmann tin toys, said Dr. Schwarz, explaining that E. P. Lehmann "was the world's best maker of mechanical tin toys."

The company, in Nuremberg since World War II, is well-known in the U.S. today for its large, LGB garden train which can be used indoors or outside because its tracks are made of solid brass.

Speaking of trains, the museum has a large model train layout built by a German geologist, Dr. Wolfram Bismarck, and several helpers between 1950-74. It recreates Union Station in Omaha, Nebraska around 1940-65, and consists of 37 locomotives, 89 freight cars, three high-speed trains, two local trains, two snowploughing and three auxiliary trains. Many of the locomotives, cars, tracks, switches, all buildings and about 300 figures were hand-made by Dr. Bismarck and his helpers. There's even a model of "Tom Thumb," the first American-built locomotive.

What's really remakable is that Dr. Bismarck never was in the United States. "He worked worked from pictures sent to him from friends in the U.S." Dr. Schwarz said. "This was his American dream."

In recent years, the museum has been expanded and refurbished to accommodate a "Kids on Top" supervised play area on the top floor. Here, children can play with toys and games, draw or work on crafts, or even try out toys that their parents or grandparents used to play with. Birthday parties are also popular here. About a dozen children were having a wonderful time when we paid a visit.

I'm no expert on toys or toys museums. However, Dr. Stevanne Auerbach of San Francisco, is, so I contacted her for an appraisal. Known as "Dr. Toy," Auerbach has a PhD and is a frequent speaker and writer on toys and children's products. She visits the Nuremberg Toy Museum every February while attending the international toy fair.

According to Dr. Toy, "The Nuremberg Toy Museum is perfect in every way possible. It houses the most amazing collection of toys from all over Germany and other places. The rotating collections and shows are always excellent."

Auerbach founded San Francisco's first toy museum until an earthquake forced her to shut it down. The author of 15 books, Auerbach includes Nuremberg's Toy Museum on her web site (, which is replete with information about toys and educational products for children.

Auerbach said Nuremberg's museum "is valued for its amazing collections and historical information, plus being a link to the past and reminder of the value of play and toys over the ages."

For more information, contact the Nuremberg Toy Museum at Karlstrasse 13-15, D-90403 Nuremberg, Germany; Telephone: +911 231 3164; or check its website at

Home Copyright Arrow Up