Let’s face it, we’re all kids at heart. No matter what birth date is stamped on your passport, you’ll feel like a young’un when you decide to follow the Deutsche Spielzeugstrasse, the German Toy Road.
Now, this 300km (186mi) route kind of zings around Thuringia and Upper & Middle Franconia in Bavaria. But, hey, who cares if you back track a wee bit — this is Germany! It’ll give you a chance to just see more of the countryside anyway (like that’s a bad thing?).
Of course this route does have some of the more mature “adult” sites (NO, I don’t mean ADULT sites ;-) — but, it has plenty to keep the younger ones (and those of us who never grew up) happy and entertained!
The Start Of The German Toy Road
The German Toy Road starts in the Thuringian city of Erfurt. With everything to see in Erfurt, the “toy” theme might get a little blurred. Standing in front of a monastery church and a bazillion timber framed houses, you’d think you were on a “historical” themed route instead (especially since this is where Martin Luther went to college).
However, Erfurt boasts both an aquarium AND a zoo! I know, I know, what’s this got to do with toys? Nothing really, it’s just that toys & kids kinda go hand-in-hand — so it’s nice to do an honorable mention.
It’ll be an even bigger effort to leave Erfurt (sounds funny, yes?) especially on the 2nd weekend of June during the Krämerbrückenfest when thousands (and thousands) of folks come to party — which involves lots of music and food.
Oh, good — you’ve managed to leave Erfurt and now you’re on your way to Waltershausen; and its 17 (!) German doll factories. And every doll should have a doll house. Maybe you can model one after Waltershausen’s 12th century Schloss Tenneberg. Every little girl wants to live in a castle — even if you can’t, there’s no reason why your dolls shouldn’t.
A stone’s throw from Waltershausen is the Kneipp health resort town of Tabarz. After hiking the Märchenwiese (Fairytale Meadow) your kids will want to splash in the TABBS Wellness & Spa-Ressort. Oh, and be here when the Märchenfest, the Fairytale Festival, takes place. Plus, Heinrich Hoffmann, author of the Struwwelpeter fame, used to housed here.
Just about 20km from Tabarz is the town of Ohrdruf, the old stomping grounds of Johann Sebastian Bach. Better yet, the Kewpie Doll was invented here in 1913. All kids love their dolls — boys just call theirs “action figures.” ;-)
If you liked Ohrdruf, you’ll LOVE Arnstadt — another one of Bach’s towns (he played at the Church of Our Lady) and known as the Puppenstadt or Puppet City. Arnstadt’s Old Town district is a pedestrian only zone, so walking around is a pleasure. No worries about the little ones running of into traffic! A great stop along the German Toy Road is the Palace Museum with its magnificent collection of Baroque period dolls.
Your next town along the German Toy Road takes you from Bach to Goethe, who used to live in Ilmenau. I know, kids don’t care — but, mommies & daddies do. The Rathaus (Town Hall) on the Marktplatz is simply charming. But when the little ones have had their fill of “grown up” stuff, take ‘em to the DDR Toy Museum filled with all sorts of toys & trains from the East German period.
Oberweißbach is next on the route and where you’ll find Thuringia’s largest church with Europe’s biggest pulpit (it holds up to 2000 people!). Whether you spend 5 hours or 50 hours here, don’t miss out on having a look out over the countryside and a nosh at the Fröbelturm (both an observation deck & restaurant).
But, what’s that got to do with the German Toy Route, you ask? It’s because of people like Friedrich Fröbel, founder of the “Nursery School” as we know it. Starting an educational revolution wasn’t all that Herr Fröbel was known for; he also designed toys, too!
OK, the Deutsche Spielzeugstrasse splits here just a bit as it’s got two sideways. You can head towards Lauscha to see the town’s huge collection of Christmas toys and decorations (hey, what’s Christmas without TOYS?). The best part? It’s Christmas all-year round with all sorts of glass and decorations that can be purchased anytime the mood strikes you.
Then in Steinach there’s the Museum Steinacher Spielzeugschachtel with historical toys and toy boxes. The town is also known for its toy manufacturer, Marolin.
Or, you can travel towards Sachsenbrunn and visit the only Marble Museum in Germany. No, I don’t mean marble as in the stuff to make statues — I mean marble, as in the little round pebble things kids play with (and hopefully don’t get stuck up their nose — sorry, Mom! ;-)
Either choice you meet up again at Schalkau and the Deutsches Gold-Museum or German Gold Museum (Theuern district). Also pay a visit to the Puppet Museum in the Schildkröt manufactory in Effelder-Rauenstein and the Porzellankabinett (China Cabinet) in Schloss Rauenstein.
Sonneberg, our next stop on the German Toy Road, is where the Toy Museum is dedicated to 19th/20th century dolls, rocking horses, and teddy bears. Everyone in the family will just love the Marine Aquarium afterwards!
If you skipped the Lauscha part of the route, you can still catch up on some awesome Christmas toys at the Christmas Museum in Neustadt bei Coburg — along with visiting a real live doll & teddy bear doctor.
Notice, too, that you’re now in Upper Franconia, Bavaria.
It’s not Christmas, but bumblebees that take center stage in the town of Rödental. There are lots of little bumblebee figurines (along with all sorts of other things) at the Porcelain Museum.
Make sure you get a few pics of the huge bus that greets you as you arrive. Visitors from all over also stop at Schloss Rosenau (Queen Victoria was fan!) for its walking trails and musical concerts.
Coburg is where the German Toy Road meets up with Martin Luther again. Luther came through Coburg not for toys, but to find sanctuary in the town’s fortress. Luther was here when the half timbered building that houses the Doll Museum was built (15th century) but the dolls weren’t — they didn’t come along until the 19th century.
You’ll find Luther’s influence again in your next town, Weitramsdorf and its village of Tambach, when the Deutsche Spielzeugstrasse meets up with the Martin Luther Trail. Not known so much for toys as it is for its natural beauty, Tambach is the perfect place to hike alongside waterfalls. Oh yeah, and the kiddies will want to pay a visit to the Jagd- und Fischereimuseum (Hunting and Fishing Museum) in Schloss Tambach.
If you think that’s nice — wait ’til you and your kiddies get a look at the Jagd- und Fischereimuseum (Hunting & Fishing Museum) with a totally awesome bat exhibit! Then a trek around Castle Tambach is in order — and not for reason you might think, either. Castle Tambach is now a Wildlife Park that’ll the whole family is able to enjoy!
It’s back to Bavarian dolls & doctors when you arrive in Michelau in Oberfranken! Here you can take a doll making class, pick up a dolly pram (stroller), and visit yet another teddy bear doctor. Afterwards some fun swimming and camping at the Rudufersee (a beautiful lake) is always a good idea.
I know this is SUPPOSED to be a toy route, but the town of Hirschaid is a beer town (making lots of mommies & daddies happy)! There’s nothing like sitting at a Bavarian beer garden after a day at the Museum Alte Schule (the local history museum), the Rural History Museum, and an 18th century manor house — known as Schloss Sassanfahrt.
The kids will have fun again in Muggendorf (part of Wiesenttal) and one of its attractions, the Modellbahnmuseum (Model Railroad Museum).
Over in Gößweinstein you’ll have the Franconian Toy Museum (Fränkisches Spielzeugmuseum) to see, with three floors of dolls, trains, and everything in between. There’s also a gorgeous 11th century castle, a natural history museum, AND a fabulous 18th century Pilgrimage Church that’s now a basilica thanks to Pope Pius XII in 1948.
More beer gardens are found in Eisenheim, a town of barely 1500 people. Although you might decide to not go there as it’s a bit far off the German Toy Road, you’d enjoy (lots) of wine tasting, after visiting the Toy Museum. It’s closed on Tuesdays, so make that your special beer & wine drinking day!
Give yourself time to recover before you reach Zirndorf, which has plenty of rides at the Playmobil Fun Park. For those of you that get a bit of motion sickness, the Heimatmuseum (Local History Museum) might be a bit more your speed.
Nuremberg is next — and it’s amazing how much history can be packed into one place! Not only is Nuremberg home to one of the world’s largest toy fairs, its Christmas Market welcomes over 1 million visitors a year; and there are lots of doll/teddy markets, the Nuremberg Castle, the old Nazi Rally Grounds (with visitors center), and one of the most beautiful churches you will ever see — St. Lorenz’s Church.
Did I mention this is only the tip of the iceberg of what to see in Nuremberg?
Ah, who cares about history when you’re on the German Toy Road? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. Nuremberg has not only a Toy Museum, but the National Germanic Museum has a collection of toys as well.
As much as anyone would love to just spend the rest of their time (and life) in Nuremberg, you’re not quite done yet.
Dietenhofen is another town not really known for dolls; more for the countless bicycle and walking trails throughout its 28 villages. After a visit to the Local History Museum — you have to see its St. Andreas Church, built in 1000 A.D. Then give your children a few hours to savor the 47 square meters (and counting!) of Germany’s largest N scale Model Railroad. Your kiddies will fall in love with it. You’ll find it in the Minuatur Erlebniswelt in Langenzenner Strasse 10.
Once you arrive in Schwabach, you’ve completed the German Toy Road. Phew! Well, only after you’ve visited Schwabach’s Marktplatz (Market Square), its former synagogue, a puppet stage performance, and its City Museum with a special collection of toys!
Can you believe you’ve gone 300km (186mi) already? I know I can’t! Time sure does fly when you’re having fun; and who doesn’t have fun when playing with toys?
German Toy Road Web Site
Here’s the Web site of the German Toy Road.