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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.