Movers & Shakers

During the fall of the Berlin Wall: handmade rocking horses

Interview with Erika Neumann
Header_handmade rocking horses during the fall of the Berlin Wall


Ms Neumann, you worked at Spielwaren Ohrdruf. Please describe your job and tell us how long you were employed there.

handmade rocking horses
Producing rocking horses before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall

Erika Neumann:

I worked at Spielwaren Ohrdruf for about 30 years; I started in 1970 and I finished in January 2002. I was in involved producing rocking horses, for which I did every step of the work: I nailed the frames together, screwed in the hoof screws to attach them to the board on the legs; I painted the hooves black, cut and sewed the canvas, then gave the horses their shape by stuffing them with wood shavings, and after cutting the fabric or, more rarely, the hide, then came the covering and sewing on. Finally, I nailed on the eyes and ears, mane and tail and attached the saddle and bridle to the horses. The horse heads were delivered from Catterfeld by the carver who also belonged to the combine. From the 80s onwards, the heads were made of plastic.

Before the fall of the Wall, there were five of us in two rooms – four women and two men. The men mostly just stuffed and made the frames; two women covered them and one did the mane, eyes, ears and tail and packaging. I worked as a floater. Because not all the women were able to do the stuffing, the others would then work on the covers and I would stuff. I think we were supposed to make about 30 horses a day, which was just about manageable. Because it was all manual work, the assembly was physically very strenuous.

How did the company fare after the collapse of the GDR?

Erika Neumann:

After reunification, the toy company went bankrupt. The successor company took over the people who wanted to continue working there. Since hardly any horses were still being produced, I worked a lot in the carpentry workshop, making windows, doors and gates. I only made rocking horses to order. There were at most 100 a month, and I always made them on my own. Twice we were represented at the trade fair in Leipzig. But that was no longer worthwhile. The last 300 horses were made sporadically; then no more horses were made.

The sales market disappeared in one fell swoop with the fall of the Berlin Wall, because the horses were then too expensive.

You continued to work in a toy company after 1990 – how did the work change for you?

Erika Neumann:

For a long time, the machines were still the old ones, but over time, they were replaced. The work was still very physically demanding. When I retired, I still restored old horses. Because I found it enjoyable to do that without any time pressure. In those days, also more often with real hide.

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