Germany's Cutest Export
Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/dpa) The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was followed by German reunification in 1990. In celebrating the 20th anniversary of the peaceful revolution that brought down the Wall, Germany.info in 2009 profiled important East Germans who have shaped beyond all physical borders the cultural, intellectual and political life of postwar Germany and Europe.
After German reunification in 1990 the days of most tried and true East German consumer goods and entertainment staples were numbered as they were rapidly usurped by well-marketed West German wares.
Only a few eastern superstars managed to buck this trend, including a popular sparkling wine called Rotkäppchen, an adorable little traffic light crosswalk dude known as the Ampelmännchen, and perhaps East Germany's most übercute export of all - the Sandmännchen, or Little Sandman.
Since 1959, the short but sweet Unser Sandmännchen (Our Little Sandman) program has helped tired tots head off to bed in the early evening, providing a welcome ritual for their equally tired parents too, namely as a reason to pack the kids off to bed! (As in: "So you know it's definitely time for bed after the Sandmännchen appears on TV.")
Enlarge image Sandmännchen creator Gerhard Behrendt at the studio where the East German show was filmed in the Berlin district of Mahlsdorf on October 20, 1989 - shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. (© picture-alliance/dpa) Aired exclusively in the former German Democratic Republic but adopted in place of his West German TV counterpart across the nation after 1990, the Sandmännchen is one of the few "eastern imports" to have not only survived but thrived in unified Germany - in this instance, the eastern version ousted the western version, though of course no one likes to think of the Sandmännchen as a ruthless, cutthroat kind of guy.
Most Germans would probably, however, agree that the East German Sandmännchen - with his simple round eyes and more streamlined design - was just a heck of a whole lot cuter than his western counterpart. (Check out our Sandmännchen photo gallery to draw your own conclusions!)
The Sandmännchen has in any case achieved a kind of cult status among eastern Germans who grew up with him, as well as with western Germans who have grown to love this adorable little puppet going about his business amid quaint little props and with puppet friends. He is definitively Germany's most popular televised bedtime buddy for children.
The Sandmännchen even had his own 15 minutes of celluloid fame when he was featured in the poignant 2003 international German hit film Good Bye Lenin!, starring Daniel Brühl as a young man in eastern Berlin shortly after the fall of the Wall who keeps trying to convince his ailing mother nothing has changed.
Brühl shares a touching Sandmännchen moment in the film with some West Berlin children who are blissfully unaware how nostalgic he feels about a particular episode of the nightly kids' show featuring the Sandmännchen as an astronaut.
Enlarge image The pre-1990 East German Sandmännchen strikes a biker dude pose on a motorcycle, one of hundreds of different kinds of vehicles and props used on his show. (© picture-alliance/dpa ) In honor of the Sandmännchen's 50th birthday and 50th anniversary on television, he will moreover soon be coming to major movie theaters across Germany. A new children's film called Das Sandmännchen und der verlorene Traumsand (The Little Sandman and the Lost Sand of Dreams) is due to be released in 2009. It tells the tale of how "the sand of dreams" is stolen by an evil nightmare and must be reclaimed by the sandman.
My three fathers
As the Sandmännchen's official website puts it, he has three fathers: Gerhard Behrendt, who created the Sandmännchen doll and story line, Harald Serowski, who composed the famous Sandmannlied (Sandman Song) played during every episode, and Wolfgang Richter, the show's dedicated Fahrzeugbauer, or vehicle builder, who provided ever-changing sources of locomotion for the little fellow.
The East German Sandmännchen program first aired on November 22, 1959 and the little puppet was subsequently featured in over 40,000 episodes. There were some 50 different sandman puppets in use as the time. They drove, flew or sailed through the program in more than 240 different types of vehicles.
Sandmännchen inventor Behrendt created Germany's oldest and most enduring television figure based on the fairytale The Sandman by Hans Christian Anderson.
Now a co-production of three regional German broadcasters, the Sandmännchen has been bidding children in many other countries a good night for years, including Israel and Sweden. He was also picked up by the Arabic Aljazeera network in fall 2006.
To find out just how international the Sandmännchen is, tune in to the Sandmannlied (Sandman Song) on his website, where it can be heard in Hebrew, Swedish and Norwegian, among other languages.