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; is open 9am to 6pm every day. Admission off-season €6, high season €7.

general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before