Friday, February 09, 2007

Sex and violence as life with model trains goes off the rails

Part of the attraction of model trains has always been the order of the landscape. The trains may sometimes fall off the rails but on the whole they run on time. Everything is prim and proper: the plastic fir trees are untouched by climate change; the towns are tidy clusters of gabled homes rather than slum tenements and the little people never talk back.

But visitors to the trade fair in Nuremberg have been gaping at the antics around the railway lines. Merten, which makes train-set figures, is offering a nudist beach, a waitress wearing only an apron and stockings and a couple of lascivious pole-dancers. One scene shows a man urinating against a wall, watched by a woman. Another shows a couple performing oral sex. Look carefully at the scene depicting a brothel raid and, behind the naked prostitutes, you will see the figure of a priest trying to make a quick getaway.

Steamy, irreverent stuff for the train set veterans. Sometimes the Lilliputian world of Exhibition Hall 4A resembles a splatter movie rather than a children’s paradise. A horse is about to be battered to death with a hammer by a butcher. A worker at the blacksmith’s appears to have lost an arm. Blood is spread around liberally. Near a castle, a squad of soldiers have just executed a man. And that’s just the start-up kit.

“It’s a brave and depraved new world,” said Der Spiegel, a magazine not easily shocked. Rolf Fleischmann, heir to the Fleischmann model-train dynasty, has a sober, commercial explanation. “We’re trying to make people chuckle,” he said. “You see so many poker-faced collectors in their 50s and 60s who make their trains operate according to their own tightly worked out timetables, and we just wanted to show, especially young people, that it can be a more relaxed world.”

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