Where the toys live on without us

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Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

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

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Zurich Toy Museum, Switzerland

Looking through the glass, into the cabinets, you can start to get a sense of the joy that once existed.

Sedentary now, orphaned, these toys are merely relics. Like a car without a key, or a torch without a battery, they are not complete without their owners.

It’s the love of a child that brings these objects to life.

A museum is a fitting place for these toys to end up because now they are simply reminders of what once was.

Zurich Toy Museum, Switzerland
Zurich Toy Museum, Switzerland

That’s not to say that the collection can’t still bring joy… but it’s fleeting and detached.

For many visitors to the Zurich Toy Museum, there’s a connection with particular items – and a connection to a shared history. But it’s a nostalgic reminder, not a reconciliation.

Toys are for boys. Toys are for girls. Warm memories are for adults.

Zurich Toy Museum, Switzerland

The Zurich Toy Museum, like many a box of old playthings, is tucked out of sight – in a non-descript building in one of the more historic parts of the city, up an elevator to the fifth floor.

Once inside, sense of place is lost, though, as you enter the world of the toys.

Zurich Toy Museum, Switzerland

The ultimate toy collection

There are more than a thousand items in the collection – most of them antique. The toys date as far back as the eighteenth century and include trains and dolls, and soldiers.

They’re made of wood, of metal, of paper. Some move on their own, some are moved by children, others were made just to be looked at.

Most are from Europe but there are some from Asia, the United States and even Australia.

Generations of children are traced through the evolution of the toys here. Yet one thing connects them all – imagination.

Zurich Toy Museum, Switzerland
Zurich Toy Museum, Switzerland

Two women – elderly in comparison to the usual owners of toys yet sprightly enough without relativity – are working at the museum the afternoon I visit.

There is no entry fee, so they’re not here to collect that. They’re here to answer questions and share their knowledge (and love) of the collection.

Some of the items were originally theirs, or from their family, while others have been donated or bought from all across the world.

Zurich Toy Museum, Switzerland
Zurich Toy Museum, Switzerland

As I look through the glass, into the cabinets, one of the women hovers behind me. She occasionally offers a bit of information about the items I’m looking at.

I feel like she is waiting for questions, so I ask her about the oldest, the best, the favourite – any superlative I can think of.

She beckons me after each query and leads me to different display cases and different eras of toys. Despite the huge number of toys in the collection, she knows where everything is and what each of them represents.

Zurich Toy Museum, Switzerland

The museum is a plaything for the people who work here. It is their dollhouse. And for half an hour, or an hour, or however long is needed, they invite us in to remember what it was like to find inspiration in our imagination.

20 thoughts on “Where the toys live on without us”

  1. That looks like a fun place to work, although having a lot of toys behind glass cabinets does seem like a sad place for them to be. They need to be played with, poor things!

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  2. So lovingly written! Though the staring-straight-ahead dolls still freak me out and I can’t help but imagine that the whole place comes alive at night when the ladies leave like an unfunny version of Night at the Museum. Then again, my toys growing up were horses so what the heck do I know?

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  3. I’ve visited the dolls’ museum in L’Isle sur Sorgue in France and dolls were so creepy, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had followed me..

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  4. Looks like another cool museum to visit in Switzerland, can’t help thinking it would be torture for most kids, big and small just dying to get hands on those toys and play!

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    • I know! It would be even better if there was a little area where you could play with some of them. Perhaps even leave the kids there for a couple of hours while you explored the city! 🙂

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  5. It is probably because of too many horror movies, but really to me toys like that without kids around to play with them, control them, placate them, it is creepy. Ok, there are some great movies about toys coming to life for good, not evil, but still the eyes of the dolls are odd.
    I like the plane though. Are there more modern toys too? Like a room for Star Wars figures and models?

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    • There weren’t really many modern toys. The planes were probably the most recent. Maybe over time they’ll add some Star Wars figures and the like, as examples of the recent generation.

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