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A touch of whimsy

June 1, 2006, by Bill Cawthon

Peter Lustig explains a point to his audience while having an alfresco breakfast in front of his construction trailer home. Photo courtesy of ZDF.

On German television network ZDF, there is a long-running children's show called L÷wenzahn (Dandelion). It first aired in 1978 under the name Pusteblume (another word for dandelion) but use of the name was challenged and the showed was re-launched under its current name in 1981. The show explores the way things work in both the natural and technological worlds, covering a broad range of topics from how an automobile works to how cheap bananas in Hamburg affect the ecology of South America. L÷wenzahn combines education with a bit of comedy in a formula that has kept it popular for a quarter-century; an impressive record.

L÷wenzahn is the creation of a former radio engineer named Peter Lustig. After training as an audio engineer, Lustig went to work for the U.S. military's Armed Forces Network and later worked for Radio Free Berlin during the Cold War years. He also authored several radio shows and plays. After spending some time as one of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's followers in the 1970s, he began writing children's shows and caught the eye of programming executives at ZDF. Lustig created L÷wenzahn and hosted the show from its beginning until declining health forced his retirement last year (Lustig, who will be 69 in October, survived seven operations for lung cancer in the 1980s but was left with only a single lung). On the show, he plays the role of an offbeat handyman who is frequently in conflict with his assertive, but invariably wrong, neighbor, Hermann Paschulke, played by Helmut Krauss.

Peter deals with a mole problem in his front yard. In the background is probably the most famous construction trailer in Germany. Photo courtesy of ZDF.

The primary set of the show is a converted construction trailer that serves as Lustig's on-air home. As you might expect from the creators of a children's show, the L÷wenzahn trailer isn't just any old trailer. Among the many unique additions are a fancy bay window and a rooftop deck one reaches by climbing a series of chairs arranged as stairs. There's a lavatory and tub out back and on the L÷wenzahn website (in German only) Lustig himself admits he seeks out warmer quarters in the winter.

A generation of German youth has grown up with L÷wenzahn, so perhaps it's not too surprising that Herpa announced a 1/87 scale replica of Lustig's construction trailer as one of their March-April releases. It's part of a set Herpa lists as "Bauwagen mit Citroen 2 CV und Figur 'Peter Lustig'" or "Construction trailer with CitroŰn 2CV and 'Peter Lustig' figure."

The new Herpa set hasn't shipped; the folks in Dietenhofen seem to be running a bit behind these days. However, from the pictures there's no doubt the trailer is based on Lustig's unique mobile home right down to the awning with its bamboo support.

Herpa's No. 152181 is listed on the Promotex website as a CitroŰn 2CV - with mobile home trailer and "Peter Lustig" figure, but it's a 1/87 scale model of the primary location set from L÷wenzahn. Check out the added details. Photo courtesy of Herpa/Promotex.

Perhaps German fans of L÷wenzahn can correct me, but I have a feeling the 2CV was added to the set as it is the most offbeat of the cars in Herpa's extensive selection. While a bicycle seems to appear regularly, the only picture I was ever able to find of Mr. Lustig with a motor vehicle of any sort was a shot of him driving an old farm tractor while towing the trailer. In addition, I am sure the figure won't look quite as much like Peter Lustig as the computer-enhanced version in the catalog and photos, but his salt-and-pepper beard shouldn't be too tough to add, if you wish.

However, it really doesn't matter. Even if you have never heard of L÷wenzahn or Peter Lustig, the new set is perfect for adding a touch of whimsy to a model railroad layout or diorama. While the set probably has special meaning for millions of Germans, the charming eccentricity of the customized trailer can be added to a scene set almost anywhere, including North America. You don't even need to replace the car; the CitroŰn 2V was sold here for a few years and there are still a few Charlestons running around the U.S. On the other hand, you might want to replace the 2CV with one of the Promotex Volkswagens or an old pickup.

To add some color to the scene, Busch has a growing line of HO scale flowers that now includes roses, tulips, daisies and sunflowers. No dandelions as yet, though. Busch can also supply a pumpkin patch, which would add an offbeat touch.

Rear view of the trailer showing the fair-weather plumbing facilities. Photo courtesy of Herpa/Promotex.

You will definitely want to add some Preiser animals to the scene. Peter Lustig counts four dogs, two cats and assorted frogs, hedgehogs and bats among his pets and it's hard to imagine this scene anywhere without at least a dog or two.

Considering the incredible variety of accessories available in 1/87 scale these days, the possibilities are almost literally limited only by your own imagination. It would even be possible to recreate a filming of the live action sequences for an episode of L÷wenzahn using figure sets available from Preiser and some scratchbuilt fixtures.

When I first saw the L÷wenzahn trailer, I was reminded of some of the fantastic vehicles of some television shows of my childhood. Like the Air-O-Doodle from Howdy Doody which was part boat, part airplane and part steam engine (yes, it's been some years since I was a kid) or Supercar. Over the years, there have been models of everything from Fred Flintstone's car to the Monkeemobile to a seemingly unending series of replicas of the "Mystery Machine" from Scooby-Doo. There was even a plastic model of the flying car from The Jetsons. But these have all been in larger scales. Of course, to be really honest, I am not sure there would be any great demand for an HO scale version of the Monkeemobile though it might be fun to have the Leakin' Lena from The Beany and Cecil Show for a rustic harbor scene.

While I wouldn't want Herpa, or any other modelmaker, to make fantasy vehicles instead of the beautiful models we enjoy, it is nice to see a touch of whimsy in their new product offerings. Busch has been doing this for a number of years, turning everything from a VW Beetle to a Smart Fortwo into a monster truck or making Santa's jet-powered ski car from a Messerschmitt KR200.

Kelley Wright built his award-winning Dodge Power Wagon with some add-on parts from Roco, Preiser and Artitec. He added real wood for the front bumper and pickup bed and wire cable for the winch. Kelley Wright photo used by permission of the 1/87 Vehicle Club.

Of course, whimsy doesn't have to be store-bought. Talented modelers have been adding a humorous touch to their models for years. I am reminded of Kelley Wright's "Redneck" Power Wagon, which earned an honorable mention in the 1/87 Vehicle Club's 2005 Model Contest. Taking a basic Busch Dodge Power Wagon, Kelley added details like a rifle in a gun rack, a nice buck in the bed and even a sprinkling of leaves to create a model with loads of character.

By the way, the 1/87 Vehicle Club will be having another contest this year. We're in the process of choosing the model now. I'll let you know when the announcement is posted.

You might want to take a look at the L÷wenzahn set and see if you don't get some creative modeling ideas of your own. Even if you're the rivet-counting type of modeler, this is one slightly offbeat model that is based on a real-world prototype!

See you next time!

- Bill Cawthon


Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.

In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant working with the information technology and hobby industries. He is an associate editor for Model Railroad News and writes a monthly column on the U.S. light vehicle industry. He is a member of the 1/87 Vehicle Club and the Texas Auto Writers Association.

He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.

Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.


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published by Cadabra Corp. This page was lasted updated: June 01, 2006