By Marlen Kess
Walk into Stephan Birner’s living room in Berlin, and you might be excused for thinking you have stumbled across a toy exhibition. There’s a bilious green dragon, frame figures and elegant buildings. Everything on a miniature scale — and all made from Lego bricks.
Together with his life partner, Matthias Kornmaier, the 40-year-old Birner collects Lego in every colour and shape available.
“I loved playing with Lego as a child,” Birner says. “And a few years ago, I rediscovered this passion.”
He’s not alone.
Birner, who co-runs a Lego blog called promobricks in Germany, has been a member of the Lego club Berliner Steinkultur for three years now. There are also such clubs in Hamburg and Munich, Germany’s second- and third-largest cities, respectively.
People love Lego, a love story that began 60 years ago when Godtfred Kirk Christiansen of Denmark filed a patent application for his Lego brick: two-by-four studs on top, three tubes below. The design helped the bricks cling together better than any other plastic building blocks on the market.
The patent has expired, and there have been any number of imitators ever since.
Lego sales have declined, and the company in December 2017 announced having to slash 1,400 jobs. But in Germany, according to the Toy Retailers Association, Lego remains the uncontested market leader.
Association director Willy Fischel says this is due to the classic bricks and to the theme worlds that Lego keeps inventing.
Birner says the feel of the original is important. Imitation bricks do not appeal to fans of Lego like him. “The structure is different,” he says of the imitations. “They don’t feel good in your hand and they often don’t stick very well together.”
Then there’s the variety offered by the original — more than 3,000 individual elements in 67 colours. The combination possibilities are infinite.
As another Lego fan, 23-year-old Felix Fleischer, explains, the passion for Lego can touch something deep inside a person.
“You can explore your creativity and always make something new,” he says. This applies to young and old alike.
Fleischer is likewise a member of the Berlin club, which has been in existence for six years now. Once a month, the 25 members, ranging in age between 20 and 60 years meet up.
They will travel together to toy fairs and exhibitions, and the club even stages its own exhibition that translates as “Berlin Brick Craziness.” More than 1,200 people came to last year’s show.
Fleischer, who presented a model at that show, said he particularly likes science-fiction and adventure themes, and recently purchased the Millennium Falcon model — the famous Star Wars spaceship.
The model cost him 800 euros ($950), underscoring the fact that Lego is not a cheap hobby.
Birner estimates that he spends 200 euros a month on it, while the value of his collection is perhaps around 15,000 euros.
“This is also an investment,” Fleischer says. “After a few years, particularly rare models can be many times their original value.” For example, an original Millennium Falcon model from 1999 is now being offered at over 5,000 euros.
But when it comes to Birner’s favourite Lego model, no price tag can cover what it’s worth to him.
Using a special design software, he created a model of the landmark Berlin cinema, the Zoopalast. His partner then gave him the bricks to build it as a Christmas present, some of which came from the United States and Australia. Birner then built his favourite cinema, down to the tiniest detail, taking an entire week to complete it.
The 40-year-old exhibits his most dazzling creations on Instagram, some of them even set real-life locations.
In one post, a tiny painter, complete with easel and paint cans, stands with Germany’s Lake Constance in the background. Another creation was a Christmas scene framed by the Cologne cathedral. Birner is such a fan, even his engagement ring bears a Lego decoration — a tiny black brick on a silver ring.
“Lego is everywhere in my life,” he says with a laugh. — DPA
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