Playing with imagination

There was a time when Nuremberg was the toy capital of the world. Things have changed in the modern era – but you can’t forget the history at this museum.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Toy Museum, Nuremberg, Germany

Even when it seems like there’s nothing, there’s still imagination. And no imagination is as vibrant and engrossing as that of a child.

It’s why children always manage to create their own play worlds with whatever they have.

Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany

Just have a look at some of these old toys. They are not the sophisticated things you would see today in the toy shops.

They were made from what was accessible. Blocks of wood, scraps of metal.

For the children who played with them, though, they were as real as the belief their creators had in them.

Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany
Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany

These are the toys made by and for the children of Nuremberg in the post-war years.

Their city lay in ruins but these German children still managed to find happiness in the rubble.

It was the beginning of the regeneration of the city that had borne the brunt of so much destruction during the Second World War.

Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany

This period was not the start of the deep connection that the city of Nuremberg has with the creation of toys, though.

This history is excellently presented at the Nuremberg Toy Museum in the centre of the city. These exhibits of imagination in the post-war period are just a small temporary collection on display when I visit.

It’s in the other rooms that the extent of the city’s story is revealed.

Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany
Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany

Toy-making began in Nuremberg in the Middle Ages and we know from tax records of the time that people making dolls were registered in about the year 1400.

The first dolls were made from clay and over the centuries materials like wood and porcelain were also used.

The dolls were detailed and intricate – all handmade, of course, with the care and love appropriate for their uses.

Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany

It was the ability to mass produce toys, though, that really saw Nuremberg’s reputation rise as an international toy-making hub in the late 1800s. And the agent for this explosion in manufacturing was tin.

Tin was an easy and cheap material to use in creating all sorts of designs and the artisans here in the German city were already skilled metal workers. It also helped that the tradesmen here had good connections all over the world.

Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany

You might think that it was World War II that put an end to this epicentre of global toy-making but it was actually the invention of plastic and cheap manufacturing in countries like the US, Japan and China that really curbed the big businesses here in Germany.

But, as you can see here in the exhibitions, production did continue on the more artistic and high-quality items.

Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany
Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany

There are around 85,000 items at the Nuremberg Toy Museum – enough to satisfy the child inside of us all. From the old dolls and hand-carved animals, through to the replicas of domestic life, and the metal cars and train sets.

There are even some modern games and toys that I recognised from my childhood (which, unfortunately, is longer ago than I would like to admit).

Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany
Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany

Most interestingly, you can trace the shifts in society through the toys that the children played with. It can be as simple as the old toys being horses and carts, while the new toys are planes and spaceships.

The ways the dolls are dressed show an evolution in clothing styles as well. But there’s also the way that women are depicted in domestic roles in the older centuries but not in the most modern creations.

And let’s not even touch the older toys with the semi-naked black children shown riding ‘exotic’ animals.

Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany
Nuremberg Toy Museum, Germany

It’s comforting to see the consistent elements of all the toys, though. No matter the era, no matter the cost, no matter the production style, all of the items on display here give just enough for a child to transpose their own imaginations on top of what they’re playing with.

The creation of the toy is important but even more important is the creation it enables.


From the train station, head into the old town to find the most interesting accommodation – there are lots of options in historic buildings.


Set in an old building next to the castle, Jugendherberge Nürnberg makes you feel like you’re part of history!


Although it’s relatively simple, I think Hotel Fackelmann is the best value budget option in town.


Right on the central square, you can’t get a better location than the modern Sorat Hotel Saxx.


And for modern four-star luxury, I would recommend the stylish Park Plaza, right near the train station.

Time Travel Turtle was supported by the German National Tourist Board but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

7 thoughts on “Playing with imagination”

    • The quality of some of the old toys is amazing. I think a lot more time and care went into toys back then. Although machines these days can do quite intricate stuff quite quickly, there isn’t the same care and love as before. It’s all about mass-producing as efficiently as possible.

  1. Really interesting post. It is so cool that we can watch the changes in culture and society by observing the trends in toys, and it is also interesting to see the types of toys and attitudes of children during or after large impact events like war. Thanks for the post!

    • I was particularly interested in those toys from right after the wartime. It makes all the high-tech stuff that kids play with these days seem so over the top. I wonder if a child in 2015 would be happy with a car carved out of a block of wood. I hope so.

  2. I spent a couple years as a US serviceman’s dependent in Furth. We found what was billed as the biggest little toy store in the country/world (?) just inside the alt stadt of Nurnberg, near Konigstrasse and just, by memory, a few excited strides from Strassenbahn #21’s stop near the Bahnhof. As I recall, it was named Vernicht’s? I don’t see it any longer on Google maps or searches. Does anyone else recall this wonderful shop?

    It was at least 3 floors, with the top floor dedicated to model kits and pewter soldiers. The proprietors seemed to prefer for us to be in and about our business and out again, but we would linger, and perhaps in American shopping fashion, be very hands on about examining models we wanted. I made the trek across the city via strassenbahn frequently as a pre-teen aged boy, and could spend a long time looking at the Napoleonic era displays of painted soldiers and the Marklin trains.


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