At first glance, everything is normal in the world of model trains, Germany's last pastoral idyll. Trains roll past the beatitude of timber-framed houses, the glowing colors of balcony plants and blissful farmers. The stag roars its mating call under the fir trees, the apples glow red, and the sidewalks are crowded with happy people in whose perfectly accomplished lives the trains always arrive on time. It's a perfect world that's on display at this year's International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, Germany.
The model train companies have set up their artificial landscapes in exhibition hall 4A -- landscapes that give solace because everything is more beautiful than in real life. But these companies aren't blind to the changing times. They're adapting carefully to the present. The Faller company has replaced the usual corner inn with a kebab stand. And, alas, the hay bales are wrapped in white plastic, just like on a real field.
Märklin, another German model train company, has found inspiration in politics and produced a series of models based on vehicles used by the German military. The series is called "4MFOR." (MFOR is the name of the 2001 NATO mission in Macedonia, which included some 500 German soldiers.) Now model train buffs can send vehicles with names like "Leopard," "Dingo" and "Fennek" on foreign missions without ever leaving the safety of their homes themselves. Märklin has hired young women dressed in olive T-shirts, short skirts, high boots and fishnet stockings to promote 4MFOR at the Toy Fair.
It may be a tongue-in-cheek allusion to the cliché of the model train hobbyist, whose thoughts at the railway crossing are often suspected to take a dark turn. But then again, fishnet stockings are harmless and just plain nice, and a walk through exhibition hall 4A remains a purifying experience for the soul -- at least at first.
Preiser, the company that produces the spruce figurines that populate the world of model trains, has now issued a series called "Open Air Concert." It includes a girl exposing her breasts. The Merten company has arranged six nude women in a scenario harmlessly titled "Nude Bathers on the Beach." But they're arranged as if they were posing for a Playboy photographer.
Another series Merten is presenting in Nuremberg is called "Nightlife." It includes a waitress wearing an apron and stockings without suspenders, but not much more. Two other scantily clad women are doing a pole dance. The Busch company is presenting a scenario that might be called "Police Raid at the Brothel." Policemen round up a dozen naked women in front of one of those perfect houses while the local preacher escapes through the back door.
From pastoral paradise to "Sexy Lovers in Motion"
One new item in the Viessmann company's catalog is called "Sexy Lovers in Motion." A man and a woman are having sex on a red blanket, in the missionary position. The man moves his buttocks and needs between 14 and 16 volt to do so, AC or DC.
As you walk further into exhibition hall 4A, you can't help feeling something has changed in the model train community.
You've grown skeptical by the time you're standing in front of a large artificial landscape modeled by the Fleischmann company. It's that same polished world: beautiful houses, beautiful woods, beautiful people. Some joker has arranged a stag to make it look like it's mounting a deer.
It's an old prank -- the kind we all enjoyed as children. But wait. Isn't that a soldier there in the bushes, aiming bis bazooka at the blue cog railway? It sure looks like it.
A hiker chased by a Yeti falls from a hill and into a pit. Heavily armed policemen arrest a group of foreigners at a train station, including a woman of apparent Muslim descent wearing a headscarf and a black lady. A horse in front of the Boggensags butcher shop is about to be beaten to death with a hammer. Next door, a metal worker has lost an arm. There are copious amounts of blood everywhere. Meanwhile, a man urinates on a wall and a woman watches him, looking pleased. A single suitcase stands by the train tracks. Will it explode?
Is this still exhibition hall 4A? Is this the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg? Is this the Fleischmann display?
The trains rush by benignly -- a model 003 train, a model 078 train, an Intercity Express high-speed train. They've gotten very good at imitating train sounds. The brakes squeak. Metal rubs groaningly against metal.
Swimmers scrimmage by the riverside. A heavily built and highly aroused man is standing there and getting a blowjob. His arms are outstretched. He's frozen in an eternal orgasm. The woman providing him with his public bliss is sitting on an inflatable mattress and wearing a straw hat.
Further up, on the castle, a group of marine soldiers has just executed a man. A row of black limousines -- the kind typically used by politicians -- is driving down the castle hill.
What's going on? What's happened? What is Fleischmann trying to tell us?
There's only one explanation: Playing in those pastoral paradises was no longer a source of solace, because afterwards the real world always seemed even more miserable.
Now Fleischmann is turning the tables. Spend a few hours playing in the horrible world of the Toy Fair and you'll be glad to return to everyday life.
That's the good news from the Toy Fair: We're still living in the best of all possible worlds.