Sandman in his Soyuz space capsule in Babelsberg. 
Sandman in his Soyuz space capsule in Babelsberg. 
Photo:  Berliner Zeitung

Berlin - Every night in Germany, hundreds of thousands of children believe they grow tired because of a bearded, stop-action puppet who arrives on their flat-screens in a variety of vehicles. He interacts with a handful of characters and, after 10 minutes, opens a bag of sand and throws it in viewers' eyes as his Sandman theme plays, ushering in bed time. 

The Sandmännchen, or sandman, was developed in 1959 in then East Germany and has been on televisions in both Germanies ever since. The East German programme put pressure on West German rivals, who developed a near-simultaneous knock-off, but kids on both sides of the Wall preferred the more likable East German version. 

The western sandmann aired for a last time in 1991 and the more popular East German original continues to lull children to bed at 6.50pm every night on public kids channel KiKa. The shows always start with the arrival of Sandman on a ship, in a horse carriage or even in sputnik-era Eastern European space vehicles, sometimes traveling to Russia, Vietnam or even Angola. 

The aging episodes give a glimpse into East German aesthetics and priorities. His arrival is followed by small sketches involving a broad cast of animals and Pittiplatsch, an odd fairy-like creature with a patch of white hair. 

The shows always return to the sandman who, before leaving in the same vehicle he came in, opens his bag and spreads the sleep sand – my nephew would often cover his eyes in hopes of being able to stay up later.

You can visit the Sandmann studio at the Babelsberg amusement park.

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