For the past 55 years, the the Sandman has been sending German children off to sleep.
Born in the former East Germany, the iconic bedtime character is an institution that has crossed borders – and walls. Despite the demise of the communist state, he is still much loved by adults and children alike.
Nowadays, episodes of the Sandman are shot at the famous Babelsberg studios just outside Berlin.
To mark a quarter of a century since the fall of the Wall, the studios have put on a special exhibition retracing the story of the legendary children’s character.
The first episode was produced in less than three weeks and first appeared on East German TV in November 1959. The goal was to trump the West Germans, who were preparing their own version of the Sandman.
Sandman expert Volker Petzold, author of ‘The Big East-West Sandman Encyclopedia’, explains: “Programme planners in the East found out about it and said ‘That’s exactly what we need for our evening broadcast, we’ve got to be quicker than the West.’ So they threw together an episode, which aired on November 22 – about a week before the Sandman’s release in the West.”
The Sandman’s West German counterpart floated about on a cloud and sported more modern attire.
But it was the East German Sandman who became a permanent childhood fixture. He boasted an impressive array of transportation, including a spaceship, a bulldozer, and a Trabant (the car produced in the GDR).
He even made a name for himself beyond the Iron Curtain, from Scandinavia all the way to Iraq.
After the Berlin Wall came down, threats to cancel the show were met with protests from parents and children alike. And so the Sandman lived on, while his Western counterpart bowed out in 1991.
A stop-motion animation film was released in 2010. In ‘The Sandman and the Lost Sand of Dreams’ the legendary character was given a mouth… and a voice for the first time.
Volker Lechtenbrink took on the role. “It has to be a character that children feel comfortable with; a kind, loving character that makes them feel calm and safe. The children should feel that when the sandman is there, nothing bad can happen to them,” he said.
Today, the Sandman is no longer just a TV character – he can also be found in various forms of paraphernalia ranging from doll to postcards, and it seems that at the age of 55, he has no plans to retire any time soon.