Movers & Shakers

50 Years of the Nuremberg Toy Museum

Play as a dialogue with the world
Header_50 Years of the Nuremberg Toy Museum

A new central theme is intended to raise the museum to a global level 

Dr Karin Falkenberg holds construction site sign showing a teddy.
Dr. Karin Falkenberg, Museum Director, Photo: Berny Meyer

In 2014, Dr Karin Falkenberg became the new museum director, succeeding Helmut Schwarz. From the start, it was clear that the ageing building required a major overhaul. However, the historian, who studied economic and social history and European ethnology among other things, is also pursuing a new conceptual approach: “The previous museum depicts the history of toys in a scientifically correct way; toy experts love that. If we want to open the museum to the public, to visitors from all over the world as well as to children, we need a completely different approach, a central theme, a new narrative,” she explains self-assuredly. It is in particular “ethnology”, i.e. examining human ways of life in the present and in history worldwide, which provides her with a blueprint for this. 

“The Toy Museum is a global museum. In the future, it will tell people about what is important for the lives of all people in our world.” She developed this core thesis after considering the function of play itself. Right after birth, humans conquer the world as ‘playing beings’, and even though the methods and the toys may change, play remains a driving force throughout life, something “that is so self-evident that we are not always aware of it”. ‘Toys are emotion’ and ‘Play is what drives the world’, these are the two narratives that will guide the new ‘exhibition islands’ – initially on the ground floor, which will be renovated in 2021. 

Large themed islands instead of display cases make toy worlds intuitively intelligible 

The museum team used the coronavirus period to carry out some intensive planning: Christiane Reuter, Urs Latus, Mascha Eckert and Karin Falkenberg come from very different museal traditions. Together, they have now planned and thought out the new, big project, which will first be implemented on the ground floor. The new ground floor, which is now being completely renovated for a total of (only) EUR one million – including fire protection and modern air-conditioning – will be immediately identifiable as a ‘welcome space’. ‘Closer to the people’ is being restaged as a toy world that can be experienced by the senses. At the same time, the entrance is regarded as an ‘appetiser’ for the entire museum. Those who may now be fearing for their familiar favourites, for the wonderful exhibits of wooden and tin toys, dolls or stuffed animals made in Nuremberg, need not worry: “The objects are and will remain the stars in the museum,” says Karin Falkenberg with a smile. But they will be grouped in new contexts and tell other stories – stories of human feelings, of life, of love, of longings that do not know local boundaries or periods in history because they are universal. 

And where does that leave the toy city of Nuremberg? 

According to the organisers of the museum, most visitors do no longer have in mind the historical toy city of Nuremberg, its centuries-old economic and social history. It is, therefore, not told as a scientific research journey, but presented as an experience. A separate thematic area called “Toy City” illustrates this. Wooden buildings serve as a backdrop, as do elements from the contemporary worlds of Lego and Playmobil. Here, too, the motto is: “Complex contents have to be sensually and intuitively intelligible and comprehensible”. Thus, the museum abandons the distance to the visitor; the sublime becomes vivid and conveys strong emotions. “The new toy world is characterised by wit and courage,” says Mrs Falkenberg. This is also achieved by “playing with clichés. The crown glass and Bratwurst themes are playfully picked up on and Dürer's Rhinoceros winks cheekily just around the corner.”

Modern museum design as ambassador of the grand narrative 

The radically new, emotional narrative approach cannot be presented with historical toys locked in display cases. Admittedly, a few cabinets will continue to offer narrative moments – also for structural reasons. But, all in all, opening up what is on exhibit is a way of creating a ‘global museum full of emotions’. Stimulus was provided by Istanbul’s Museum of Innocence, which is based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, where on the one hand objects of a fictional story are exhibited and on the other hand the everyday culture of Istanbul in the 1970s is depicted. What a courageous balancing act! Mr Pamuk got the inspiration for ‘his’ museum by visiting the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, the Museum of Things in Berlin and the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in Milan. The tender for the Nuremberg museum design was won by the architects Sunder-Plassmann from Kappeln, almost 50 km east of Flensburg in the north of Germany. Not only were they the designers of the Istanbul museum, their project page reads like a who's who of Germany's most important museums. Exciting – isn't it? The first part of the new Nuremberg Toy Museum is scheduled to open to visitors in December 2021.

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About the author

Peter Budig studied Protestant theology, history and political science. He worked as a freelance journalist, ran the editorial department of a large advertising paper in Nuremberg for over 10 years and was the editor of the wonderful Nürnberger Abendzeitung. Since 2014, he has been working, once again, as a freelance a journalist, book author and copywriter. Storytelling is his favourite way of communicating with the public.