In 1976 I went to first grade in primary school. Towards Sinterklaas we had to fill out a multiple choice list in the classroom, with three choices. It was meant as a wishlist, and I ended up selecting ‘Playmobil’. I did not know what it was, I only knew that I definitely had no interest in the other two items mentioned. I clearly remember that decision because I was choosing ‘the unknown’ and still have a mental image of the form, except for what the other two things before the final option Playmobil were. We were given a small brown envelope to take home, and I returned it the next day with what I realised was a Rijksdaalder, a two and a half guilder coin. Then when Sinterklaas came to visit the school I received…

…the road worker shown in the image. It is missing either a pickaxe or a broom, I think it was a pickaxe. Back then Playmobil figurines came in three colors (blue, green, red). Now there’s a myriad of varieties. Playmobil came on the market in 1974, as a higher end product for plastics after the oil crisis. A Dutch company bought a year’s worth of production, and I suppose my first figurine may have been part of that batch.

“I would put the little figures in their hands without saying anything about what they were. They accepted them right away…. They invented little scenarios for them. They never grew tired of playing with them.”

It was like in that quote for me too. Some 45 years on I still have all the Playmobil toys I played with as a kid, and our 4 yr old Y is now playing with them. She has her own Playmobil stuff but gets to mix some of my old stuff into her play. Such as the pirate ship, knights and a queen (dubbed ‘the old queen’ by her, as she has a much nicer one of her own). My old stuff has held up remarkably well, despite its age and being in storage for almost 4 decades.

I caught the hint.

My 40 yr old pirate ship is roaming the living room. I used its treasure map to let Y find the crate with it in the garden, and we then hauled our treasure to the living room to unpack and reassemble my old Playmobil pirate ship.

This morning Y and I were reading a book together, which had a drawing of a medieval castle on one of the pages. “I would like to have a castle too!“, she said. I decided to unearth the old Playmobil guard/prison tower (It had a sign saying Schuldturm) I have from when I was in primary school, 40 years ago.

I put it together, and my hands remembered the configuration I mostly used (the balcony originally should be on the bell tower but as a kid I thought that was an odd place to have a balcony). I went through the Playmobil figures to find the guards, and also added a queen. Y took to it immediately, and then of course dressed as a queen too.

Duckduckgo tells me this tower was set number 3445, which came on the market in 1977 and was on sale until 1993. I bought it about 1979-1980 when I was around ten, from my own money (I collected old newspapers around the village and sold them to a recycler). 56,80 Dutch Guilders I paid. An online tool tells me it would be equivalent to 61 Euros now, serious money still for a 10-year old. I remember the price distinctly, just as I remember what I paid for the Playmobil pirate ship (98 Guilders, set 3550), and for pallisade Fort Union (47,50 Guilders, set 3420).

40 years on, the guard tower can still delight. 57-odd Guilders well invested, I’d say.

As a kid I was very into Playmobil. As a six-year-old I got my first one, a blue construction worker with an orange helmet and a grey broom, in 1976, about a year after they became available on the Dutch market. Over the years in primary school I gathered a mountain of that stuff, to a significant extent self-financed from collecting old paper around the village, and selling it for recycling.

Playmobil is manufactured in Nürnberg, or rather Zirndorf on the outskirts of it. We spent our summer holidays in Bavaria in 1976-1979, and on the way to our destination I once got my parents to drive to the factory. I had high hopes there would we some sort of shop or exhibition at the factory. There wasn’t. I remember standing disappointed in front of a grey building with closed gates, in the rain.

Nürnberg is also the birthplace of Albrecht Dürer, a key Renaissance figure. In 1493 he created the oldest known painted self-portrait.

The tourist office of Nürnberg had a Playmobil figure made of the painter in action, the city’s most famous son. On the easel is not his first painted self portrait, but one from 5 years later, 1498 when he was 26. By the looks of it because it shows the man in an outfit that lends itself better for use on a toy figure.

Albrecht Dürer 103
The 1498 self-portrait of Dürer, as it currently hangs in the Prado

During check-out in the hotel lobby after IndieWeb Camp in Nürnberg, I spotted the Playmobil Dürer in a vitrine. How could I resist?