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.