A time machine made of 50,000 Playmobil parts
From the Stone Age to Hamburg: The Archaeological Museum tells the history of the world for families with Playmobil figures. There is something for everyone to discover – including small “mistakes”.
MOliver Schaeffer quickly passes some surfaces with a feather duster, and then his artwork collection is ready for the audience. In the past two weeks, the Playmobil collector, scenographer and organizer of the exhibition at the Archaeological Museum has put together a display “Playmobil – Archaeological Time Travel” of 50,000 individual objects. “It’s like painting a picture,” says the owner of Germany’s largest Playmobil group.
Nothing is left to chance when designing a diorama. “For example, each animal stands at a certain angle to the herd. It is always about the harmonious whole,” Schafer explains, pointing to a long procession of reindeer that roams across landscapes formed by streams. The scene takes place about 15,000 years ago in the valley of the Arensburg Tunnel, where Stone Age reindeer hunters hunted their prey.
“We explain the whole world of archaeology in 14 dioramas,” says museum director Rainer Maria Weiss. From Dinosaurs to the Paleolithic and Neolithic Ages to the Viking Age. Greek times come to life, as in ancient Egypt or the Khmer temple to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Apparently the museum director’s favorite diorama is Hammaburg, now built by Schaffer for the first time: inside the gravel parapet, life and activity unfold in the ninth century, ships are loaded and unloaded in the port, wagons pass through the castle’s two archaeologically proven gates, fat sheep graze on the banks Elbe River.
Another round of the famous hedgerows is similarly poetic: as a flight into the imagination, the artist also designed the precious village of Asterix, which does not cease to resist the Roman invaders, who are already advancing with a large fleet in the neighboring diorama.
Incidentally, Asterix and Obelix are among the youngest Playmobil characters whose history is told briefly on the show. Playmobil was invented by Hans Beck, lead developer of the game company Geobra Brandstätter in the Franconian town of Zirndorf. The first figures appeared on the market in 1974 and represented construction workers, jockeys, and Native Americans. You can see perfect Playmo actors of nearly 50 years, including ghosts, Easter bunnies, mermaids and aliens, as well as a clown with legs on stilts.
Focus on the story I want to tell
Speaking of clowns: The Playmobil Circus, which grew in size in his children’s room in Kiel, was the beginning of Schafer’s passion for collecting. Years later, while the collector was now working as a music actor, a call came from Zirndorf asking if he’d like to show “Zirkus Oliver” for Playmobil’s 30th birthday.
Since then, the collection, which now includes more than 300,000 characters and 1 million individual pieces, has been on tour. Schafer describes himself as a “collector of purpose,” which means he only buys what he can use in his dioramas. The exhibition organizer asserts that his home in Hamburg Neugraben is a “playmo-free zone”.
Above all, appreciate the versatility of the Playmobil – the pirate ship can be quickly reconfigured into Hanzi gear if necessary, while the numbers can be just about anything. “Focus on the story I want to tell,” says the artist, who works in close coordination with the museum team at the Archaeological Museum.
Now all Playmo fans can discover how the Stone Age people turned to agriculture and animal husbandry, how Roman warships advanced to the Elbe River, or how the Egyptians mummified their pharaohs. The excavations are also described in detail. The fact that archaeologists are also excavating the Playmobil Circus set is one of the small mistakes made especially for children – just like Homo sapiens in Dino-Land or the ghetto cannon in Hammaburg.