Germany special: Spooky travels at Playmobil Fun Park

Playmobil men are three inches high, right? Wrong, says Adrian Mourby, who with his son found they could be, well, almost human

Stepping into the park is like waking up to find you've shrunk and, yes, the toys have taken over. They're manning the fort, playing sheriff in a full-size Wild West township and sailing that pirate galleon you last saw in the bathtub across a life-size lake. Visitors are free to wander and make up their own games within a landscape that replicates, in almost obsessive detail, the pictures you see in the company catalogue.

My John was off to the castle straightaway. A maze of rope ladders and slides led him up an artificial hillock on which the castle of his dreams had been built. Once inside, he was able to draw water up from a real well, scale the battlements using rope nets and lock his father in a life-size replica of the Playmobil dungeon. There was a drawbridge to cross, a throne to sit on and stocks to be stuck in, all the details as close as possible to the three-inch originals.

The Fun Park follows the ethos of the Brandstätter company, which makes Playmobil in the gleaming white factory next door. Toys are there to stimulate a child's imagination without resorting to aggression, horror or complicated mechanisms. There are no soldiers, no tanks or jet fighters in the Playmobil catalogue, not even UN peace-keeping forces. Similarly, the park is very low tech and touchy-feely; no rides but masses of things to climb under and over. There's plenty of water to fall into around the pirate ship, where a raft made of real logs can be commandeered by kids who want to paddle out to the ship.

Once on board this 55-footer, John was up into the crow's nest in no time. Looking similar to Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind, the Playmobil galleon has a ship's bell which rings out clearly, a turnable captain's wheel, a hold with eating quarters for the crew and a four-foot ship's monkey sitting impudently on the rigging. He was, of course, an exact replica of the ship's monkey we have at home.

The Playmobil men strike poses with their moveable arms. You can swivel their smiley heads and sit them down. but their legs do not move independently. I was worried there might be actors inside, as at Disney, but no. All these guys do is grin. But still you wonder what they're thinking.

We gun-slung our way through the Wild West, with its saloon, bank and post office, and then took a quick look at the Playmobil farm before going in search of food. I was delighted to find the café full of junk food. Everything in Zirndorf is so damn wholesome that it was a relief to treat John to chips and Coke.

We found a fenced-in area with heaps of toys. John had great fun with a tractor, bulldozer and mobile crane, never once noticing that he was being observed by fresh-faced designers. Playmobil's 45-strong design team often bring prototypes down to the Fun Park to see how young visitors relate to them. With its cheap entrance fee, the park will never recover the £11m it cost to build.

"Mr Brandstätter is not looking to make a profit," a spokeswoman said. "Every- thing that does not pay is seen as a gift."

We looked at the toy museum in old Zirndorf, which shows how Playmobil developed from the "Clickies" designed by Hans Beck, Horst Brandstätter's top designer, in the 1970s. Brandstätter was uncertain whether Beck's three-inch figures would catch on, but in Playmobil's first year of production a Dutch retailer bought up his complete stock and the little men with swivel necks have never looked back. It's been estimated that 1.5 billion of them have been sold world-wide. That means that, hand in clicky hand, they would go round the Equator several times. I find that thought rather scary.

Playmobil Fun Park, (Brandstätterstrasse 2-10, Zirndorf, (00 49 911 96 66 700; playmobil-funpark.de) is open 9am to 6pm every day. Admission off-season €6, high season €7.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital