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Two puppets on the locamotive
Image: BR

Augsburger Puppenkiste: 70 years of marionette magic

February 26, 2018

The "puppet chest" company located in the Bavarian city of Augsburg has been a part of many Germans' childhood memories. After decades on German TV, it still enchants with theater, museum exhibits and feature films.

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Monday was more than just the first day of the work week for Klaus Marschall. For the head of the Augsburger Puppenkiste (literally, "Augsburg's puppet chest"), Germany's legendary marionette theater, February 26 marked the 70th anniversary of the family-owned marionette company that formed a staple part of many West German childhoods since its first performance in 1948.

Yet Marschall was all business on Monday. "We don't want to make too much of the 70 years," he told German media, adding, "We don't want to throw a big celebration every five years."

Perhaps because he is the third generation member of his family to run the marionette company, Marschall is content to hold off on the big celebrations until 2023, when the Augsburger Puppenkiste will celebrate its 75th birthday.

His patience doesn't detract from the cultural significance of the marionette company, however: from its early stage productions to its decades-long programming on German state broadcasters, and its ongoing draw today as a museum and maker of films, the Augsburger Puppenkiste has delighted children for over seven decades.

Read more: How Germany's film age-rating system works

People stand and film a puppet Tv production
Behind the scenes of the TV puppet show, in 1961Image: ullstein bild - Bethke

A mainstay of German TV

The Augsburger Puppenkiste was the project of Marschall's grandparents, the husband-and-wife team of Rose and Walter Oehmichen. Their daughter, Hannelore, whittled many of the wooden puppets by hand. After the end of World War II, the duo set to work building a puppet theater in a former hospital in Augsburg. The company's first performance on February 26, 1948, was a production of "Puss in Boots."

The Augsburger Puppenkiste first appeared on state broadcaster ARD in January 1953, just one month after the state broadcaster's launch. Its numerous TV series — which included "Jim Button and the Luke the Engine Driver," based on the tale by German children's book author Michael Ende — stayed on air until 1995.

In addition to presenting fairy tales, operas and contemporary children's stories, Oehmichen's puppet company also developed its own original stories.

Despite its departure from TV, the Augsburger Puppenkiste continues to be visible in German culture. German media has described it as a "national cultural good," and the puppets can be found today on pedestrian traffic lights in Augsburg, as well as on the playing field for the city's soccer team, for which they are the mascot.

Read more: 10 myths about culture in Germany

Klaus Marschall holds one of his puppets in his arm while standing before a pedestrian light in the shape of a puppet
Current head Marschall has diversified the company's offerings. Augburg's traffic lights even reflect the Puppenkiste's widespread influence!Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Puchner

Business for the future

Since Marschall took over the company in 1992, he has tried to diversify its activities. The company still gives performances at its theater in Augsburg, attracting some 90,000 people per year to its roughly 420 performances. Audience members are both young and old and help the theater reach an attendance rate of 95 percent.

In addition, the company opened a marionette museum in 2001. Called Die Kiste ("The Chest"), the museum displays the past puppet stars of its shows, as well as sets, costume sketches and other drafts that provide a behind-the-scenes peak into the world of puppetry. It also offers rotating special exhibits. The museum, which bills itself as "Europe's most successful puppet theater museum," recently celebrated its 1 millionth visitor, according to its website.

Read more: 6 things to know before going to the movies in Germany

The Augsburger Puppenkiste's plans for the screen in its 70th year also continue. The company will undertake its third Christmas film project, a production of Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol." And Marschall announced that he would like to begin a staging of Richard Wagner's monumental mythological operas known as "The Ring Cycle."

"Four operas in two hours," he told dpa. "When we have accomplished that, then we can celebrate our 70th birthday belatedly."

marionettes handg in the museum
The marionette figures in the Puppenkisten museum is extensiveImage: Markus Siefer
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