Sandmann a Statesman

written on 05/10/2020
by Heidrun Strobl

„Sandmann, lieber Sandmann,...“

This is the beginning of the title melody with which one of the most popular children’s programmes on former GDR television made it into the living room of all Germans. Following reunification it even knocked out its competitor from the West. 

“Sandmann” is a little, white bearded man who appears on TV every evening to bring children a bedtime story, the “Abendgruss”, which is told by his friends Pittiplatsche, Schnatterinchen and Frau Elster, just to name a few (he himself is mute).

Afterwards he sends them to bed with his “dream sand”.

But did you know, that this little Sandmann was a product of the cold war?

The East German Sandmann flickered across the screens for the first time on November 22nd, 1959 and did so 8 days before the long-planned Western competitor. 

Just a few weeks earlier West German television had announced in a casual press release that they were planning a “Sandmann Story” for children which was to be broadcast starting December 1st, 1959.

Afraid that East German kids might watch this West German film and be influenced, the East created its own figure and storyline - in just under three weeks. 

The show was directed by Gerhard Behrendt and called ‘our Sandmann’. The now famous “Sandmann Song” was composed over night by Wolfgang Richter based on rhymes from the pen of the children’s book author Walter Krumbach.

Not knowing what the West German Sandmann would look like, Eastern television decided right from the start to broadcast its little guy as an animated figure. The West, on the contrary, used a hand puppet which, however, turned out to be far less successful and was discontinued after just 40 episodes. 

In an attempt to revive the show in 1962 the West also tried an animated figure which looked a bit like Captain Iglo. He travelled in different vehicles, includinga cloud ship and until 1983 appeared in approximately 75 different settings from which he hosted the Abendgruss.

In contrast, its East German competitor was a huge success. Until the reunification, the East Sandmann was featured in about 300 different settings and quickly became an all-rounder. He not only came on foot, by car or coach, but also travelled by boat, plane, in tanks, and even rockets.

He came in a bridge layer tank from the army or in a tractor during harvest time. Once, he even got into trouble because he used a hot air balloon when, just two days prior, two Eastern families had escaped the GDR in one.

The Sandmann was the GDR citizen with absolute freedom of travel and was also used to illustrate the prevalent political climate. When the first German astronaut, Sigmund Jaehn, flew into space in 1978 ‘Unser Sandmann’ joint him – in person.

Between 1984 -1989 the West German regional stations gradually discontinued the broadcast of the West Sandmann.

Following reunification, the East Sandmann, the senior figure among children films, was also set to retire. However, after a storm of indignation, it was decided that this cult series would continue. 

The Sandmann was rejuvenated a little and new episodes were produced for his 60 birthday. You can follow the Sandmann and his friends every evening at 18.55 on KIKA, rbb and mdr. An adult version, not always politically correct, started on rbb in June 2020.

Kinder, liebe Kinder es hat mir Spass gemacht...Ich wuensch euch eine gute Nacht


Photo 1: ©Hubert Rauscher, Photo 2, 3 ,4 , 8 and 9 ©rbb, Photo 5: ©Max Sammert, Photo 6: ©Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1984-1126-312, Photo 7: ©Uwe Seidenfaden/dpa,