Why German model train sales are in full speed amid pandemic

Gerhard Berndt's model railway has been three decades in the making, but this year it's really been full steam ahead for the 72-year-old Berliner.

Why German model train sales are in full speed amid pandemic
One of Berndt's model trains. Photo: John McDougall/AFP

The retired carpenter has had more time on his hands in 2020 because of coronavirus restrictions — and he has dedicated it to building up an intricate small-scale village in his living room.

“This stuff takes time. And I have used that in this corona situation,” said Berndt, who would otherwise be too busy jetting off to railway conventions to spend hours a day working on his hobby.

Berndt is one of many Germans who have turned to model railways and other analogue toys this year as restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 leave them looking for ways to entertain themselves and their families at home.

READ ALSO: The German words and phrases you need to survive the holidays

As a result model train sales have surged.

Forecasts from the Association of German Toymakers (BVS) predict total turnover for the toy industry will be €3.7 billion in 2020, an increase of eight percent on last year.

The boost is being driven by board games and puzzles, outdoor toys and construction kits, according to the BVS.

Toy market boom

The country's toy market grew 11 percent, or €172 million, on-year in January-October, according to the market research company npd Group.

Germany has the largest toy industry in Europe in terms of both employment and turnover, accounting for a quarter of all people employed in the EU toy industry.

Demand for toys has soared with bars, restaurants and leisure facilities closed for large parts of the year and social gatherings limited in the country, which has seen more than 1.3 million cases of the virus so far and more than 22,000 deaths.

The model railway market in particular has seen a boost after years of stagnating sales.

The pastime is especially beloved in Germany, which has the world's largest model railway system — the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg — and whose Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is a self-confessed fan.

A close-up of one of Berndt's toy train constructions. Photo: John McDougall/AFP

Market leader Maerklin saw orders jump 50 percent on-year in November as Germany entered a second round of restrictions to combat the virus.

“We are one of the few industries that have been given a small boost by corona,” company CEO Florian Sieber told AFP.

“This is certainly due to the fact that many people are staying at home and trying to think of meaningful activities they can do at home without getting infected,” he said.

Hobby for life

Orders also rose during Germany's first lockdown in March and April, though not as sharply since the spring is traditionally not a popular time for railway building.

Overall, Maerklin is looking at increase in orders of 10 percent compared to 2019, according to Sieber.

Maerklin has employed an extra staff member to help with an increase in enquiries to its help centre, though it is not predicting a substantial increase in earnings since restrictions have also forced up production costs.

But Sieber hopes the higher demand will continue after the pandemic.

“We suspect that those who start now will stay with the hobby for a few years or even longer. This is not a hobby that you start today and stop tomorrow,” he said.

That is certainly true for Berndt, who bought a starter kit for 30 deutschmarks with his first paycheck and has never looked back.

Today, his model with 30 trains, 300 figures and fully functioning miniature street lamps takes up the whole of his living room — but if virus rules are eventually lifted, it can be winched up to the ceiling to make space for normal life.

Member comments

  1. Model train set: The perfect gift for the control freak with a personality of a tooth brush. No suprise there.

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.