GDR toys exhibition shows glimpse of East German childhood

A T62 remote-controlled tank and toy soldiers can be seen in a special GDR toy exhibition of East German toys in the eastern town of Gera.

Soviet missiles and remote-controlled tanks: A toy exhibition in Germany’s east is offering a glimpse into the childhoods of those who grew up in the former communist country.

The city museum of Gera, about three hours south of Berlin by train or car, is displaying some 350 pieces including talking dolls, a learning computer and aircraft model kits.

The exhibition is also evidence that children’s rooms were often not ideology-free zones in the GDR, and toys were in many ways a reflection of the era.

For example, children could play the Soviet lunar mission with the Lunochod moon mobile. A T62 remote-controlled tank and soldier figures were also part of the range of toys.

At the same time, it invites visitors to explore the toy production that took place in the GDR, which stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Erzgebirge mountains.

“Above all, we want to show things where people say ‘wow’: That’s right, I played with that too,” says museum curator Matthias Wagner.

He emphasizes, however, that the show is not only aimed at visitors who grew up in the GDR and pointed out that the country had exported many toys. Adults who grew up in West Germany are also likely to have their childhood memories awakened.

“What is striking is that toys from the West were repeatedly copied,” adds curator Tabea Pandorf. For example the East German board game “Chance or Logic” is very similar to the Western “Game of Life”.

And the success of the Japanese Monchichi – a monkey-like stuffed animal – was countered by East German company VEB Sonni with the much larger Tiemi. According to Pandorf, however, the Tiemi was actually more likely to be found abroad than in East German children’s rooms.

One of the curiosities of the exhibition is a remote-controlled car developed by an engineer in Gera in the 1950s. It’s equipped with four forward gears and one reverse gear, as well as turn signals, high and low beams and a horn. This made it not only a toy, but also a teaching aid. Connected via a cable, it had a range of 6 metres.

They exhibits are taken from around 3,800 objects in the collection of Ramona and Andreas Reissmann, a couple who live in the state of Thuringia.

The exhibition “Railway and Fire Brigade, Puppet Stove and Teddy Bear” runs until mid-March. One drawback: the toys are hidden behind display cases and may not be played with. While there’s a play corner for children, it’s almost exclusively equipped with today’s toys.