Puppets, Sandmännchen and Mister Rogers

During my time interning at the Wende Museum, I have come across a lot of items to accession. Many commemorated the GDR in the forms of plaques, plates, scarves, handkerchiefs, towels, medals and porcelain statues. Other times, the items were far more personal, such as electric razors, shower curtains, cups, headphones and other every day items. Sometimes I wonder what role some of these every day items play in how we view the cold war and what we can truly learn from it. It was not until a couple of weeks ago, when I came across a box of items that I started to realize how connected some of the personal items where to the narrative of the Cold War and the lives of East Germans. This happened through my encounter with some hand puppets. These hand puppets were simple and clearly personal items but it their sentimental value that makes them important in this story.

I know it seems silly but at the moment that I saw these hand puppets I thought of one thing and one thing only, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and his Kingdom of Make-Believe with his many puppets and of course, the trolley. All this excitement over remembering the many days I spent as a child watching PBS and learning stuff from Mr. Rogers made me wonder about the history of these puppets. Did the kids in East Germany have a Mister Rogers? Maybe West Germany did? Well, I set out to search and see if I could find anything on an East German Mister Rogers and I could not but it was not until I approach John that I found a show, Sandmännchen, or the Sandman, that held fame and popularity similar to our American Mr. Rogers.

Sandmännchen was a German children’s bedtime television program using stop motion animation created in 1958 in the West as Sandmännchens Gruß für Kinder (Sandmännchen’s Greeting to Children) and lasted until 1991. However, East German television DFF created its own version called Unser Sandmännchen the following year and has continued on till today. It has been said that this East German version of the show was used as a vehicle of propaganda for the GDR’s technological advances and Soviet successes, but its continued success as an accessible television show today cannot be denied. For a better detailed account of Sandmännchen visit the German Missions in the United States website with an article featured in February telling the tale of the Übercute Sandmännchen.

East and West Sandmännchen
Further investigation into East German children’s program allowed me to find out that one of the puppets of a fox with a scarf in our collection, which had stood out to me while being accessioned is oddly familiar to Herr Fuchs of Herr Fuchs und Frau Elster, a prominent show among the children’s program circuit of the DFF.
Coming back to Mister Rogers and my failure at finding his East German character counterpart, I wanted to point a series in the Mister Rogers’ collection that evaded syndication past 1990 roughly at the end of the Cold War. This series (episodes 1521-1525) was the follow up for the ABC broadcast of The Day After, a film about the aftermath of nuclear war during the Cold War. This series lasted a week where Mister Rogers and his colleagues in his neighborhood discussed issues that occurred in the film such as bomb building, shelters and how to use gas masks. It can be thought of as controversial but it just goes to show the extent of the Cold War and how it can be found in the oddest places.
It is with this that I would like to end this entry, it might seem like a stretch to make this connection where we initially started with a simple item found in our collection then compare it to an American children’s cultural icon then to an East German children’s cultural icon and finally end with it’s connection to Cold War but it just goes to show how personal items found in the museum fit into a broader picture and at least make for interesting tidbits.
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5 Responses to Puppets, Sandmännchen and Mister Rogers

  1. YK says:

    Interesting about the non-syndicated episodes! That actually reminds me: The Museum owns several 'Burt the Turtle' and 'Duck and Cover' pamphlets, which teach children to avoid nuclear catastrophe by ducking under a desk…you may find them interesting.

  2. YK says:

    Very nice photographs, by the way!

  3. Pingback: Aus meinem Leben | From the Vault

  4. Sabina Mulloy says:

    Hello, I found this blog as a result of Googling for East German handpuppets, and I wasn’t disappointed! I was born in West Berlin in 1986 in a British Military hospital and lived in Charlottenburg until 1990. My mother used to go to East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie to go shopping, and she amassed a number of East German handpuppets for my elder sister and myself. One of them was the exact same fox handpuppet you pictured above, and our other puppets look very similar to the others you posted. Though not identical, it’s clear that they were made by the same manufacturer. 🙂

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